Next game: Vs. No. 23 Arizona State at Stanford, 4 p.m., Sept. 21 TV: FOX
THE SCOOP: No. 5 Stanford was less than dominant in its wins over San Jose State and Army, and it needs to play better to win its Pac-12 opener against Arizona State on Sept. 21 at Stanford.
Arizona State, which moved into the top 25 in the Associated Press poll at No. 23, is the first ranked opponent Stanford will face this season. Stanford's defense, which figured to be among the best in the nation, has been average at best and will need to show marked improvement against the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils are coming off a controversial but confidence-building, 32-30 victory over then-No. 20 Wisconsin. And their quarterback, Taylor Kelly, is the kind of mobile quarterback that has given Stanford's defense problems on some occasions.
The Cardinal did not face Arizona State last season, but Arizona's Matt Scott, whose ability to roll out and throw on the run is similar to Kelly's, went 45-for-69 for 491 yards and three scores while forcing the Cardinal to go overtime to beat the Wildcats at Stanford in 2012.
The fact that Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson will not play against Arizona State because of a leg injury will hurt the Cardinal's pass rush. But Stanford has plenty of depth in the front seven.
Even though the Stanford run defense looked surprisingly shaky while yielding 284 yards on the ground to Army, controlling Kelly will be the chief mission of the defense against ASU. The Sun Devils averaged just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt against Wisconsin, and averaged just 3.6 yards per run in its opener against Sacramento State.
Stanford will try to impose its will offensively with its power running game. Wisconsin, which, like Stanford, tries to control games with its running game, had 231 rushing yards and averaged 7.2 yards per carry against Arizona State. The Cardinal hopes to have the same success.
Stanford coach David Shaw thinks Arizona State benefits from having just faced a team with an offensive philosophy that's similar to Stanford's.
"We like to play a team a week after they play a spread offense," he said.
Tyler Gaffney has established himself as the Cardinal's No. 1 tailback, and he is averaging 118 yards per game.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan showed an ability to complete the deep pass against Army, and wide receiver Ty Montgomery has become a deep threat on the outside, something Stanford has not had in recent years. Having time to throw will be critical for Hogan. Arizona State had 52 sacks last season, but ASU has only two sacks after two games this year. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, last year's Pac-12 defensive player of the year, has just three tackles in two games.
STANFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Kevin Hogan is 7-0 as a starter, and that does not include a 49-0 victory in the seventh game last year against Colorado, when Hogan entered the game in the first quarter and supplanted Josh Nunes as the team's No. 1 quarterback. Hogan completed 62.2 percent of his passes in the first two games, which is down from his 71.7 completion percentage last year. The fact that Hogan is attempting more passes downfield has something to do with that. Hogan may need to scramble when he is unable to find receivers to run for pivotal first downs. Arizona State ranked second in the nation in sacks per game last year, at 4.0.
--RB Tyler Gaffney has averaged 118 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry in the first two games, both of which are better than Stepfan Taylor's numbers over the entire 2012 season. However, the level of competition will improve against Arizona State. Gaffney figures to get a lot of work against an ASU defense that yielded a lot of rushing yardage against Wisconsin. The Cardinal needs Gaffney to have a big game to win.
--S Ed Reynolds -- Stanford needs to make some big plays in the secondary to slow down Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly, and Reynolds is the most likely to do it. He had six interceptions last season and added another in this year's opener against San Jose State. The Cardinal may not be able to get to the mobile Kelly often despite the Cardinal's strong pass rush, so the defensive backs must make plays
--WR Ty Montgomery - After being injured much of last season, Montgomery has emerged as a big-play threat on the outside, something Stanford has lacked in recent years. He has 10 receptions, twice as many as the team's second-leading receiver, and his 211 receiving yards represent more than half the team's total.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford has an 11-16 record against Arizona State, but the Cardinal has won the last two meetings -- 17-13 in 2010 and 33-14 in 2009. This will be Stanford's first game against Arizona State since David Shaw became the Cardinal's coach. Utah is the only other Pac-12 team Stanford has yet to play since the conference was expanded to 12 teams in 2011.
QUOTE: "For us, that's the game. For us, the game is up front. That's where the game is going to be decided. We want to establish the run; that's who we are. That's the key matchup of the game." - Stanford coach David Shaw, on facing Arizona State DT Will Sutton and the Sun Devils' defensive front.
ASSESSING THE STANFORD RUNNING GAME: Stanford relies on a power running game behind its strong offensive line to control the game's tempo. The Cardinal has averaged 5.3 yards per carry in its first two games, which is all right, but not great considering the caliber of the defenses it faced. Stanford must run the ball effectively against an Arizona State defense that was vulnerable against the run against Wisconsin. The Cardinal uses a lot of players to carry the ball, but Tyler Gaffney has become the primary running back. He is averaging 118 yards per game, and his 40 carries are more than half the team's total of 75.
ASSESSING THE STANFORD PASSING GAME: Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan has completed 62.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception. He is adept at throwing from the pocket or while on the move, and he can escape a pass rush. In recent years, Stanford's passing game revolved around its tight ends, but tight ends have combined for just two catches for nine yards in the first two games. WR Ty Montgomery has become the primary target, and he has two of the team's five receiving touchdowns. Hogan has had trouble throwing the deep ball with accuracy, but he seems to be improving in that regard.
ASSESSING THE STANFORD RUN DEFENSE: Stanford's run defense is its strength, but it yielded 284 yards on the ground against Army's triple option attack, and that's a concern. Stanford was much better in the opener, when it gave up just 35 rushing yards against San Jose State, which relies heavily on the pass. Stanford's front seven is among the best in the country, although that group has not been as dominant as expected in the first two games.
ASSESSING THE STANFORD PASS DEFENSE: Stanford's pass defense is based largely on its pass rush. The Cardinal, which led the nation in sacks last year, had three against San Jose State in the opener and just one against Army, which attempted just 10 passes and had no completion longer than nine yards. Getting pressure on Arizona QB Taylor Kelly will be critical, because he can buy time with his mobility and is an accurate passer while on the move. Stanford's secondary, led by CB Alex Carter and S Ed Reynolds, is better than it's been in recent years.
ASSESSING THE STANFORD SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jordan Williamson is 4-for-5 on field goal attempts, including a long of 48. His only miss came on a 52-yard attempt. He has had touchbacks on seven of his 13 kickoffs, and Stanford's kick coverage has been excellent, allowing an average of 16.8 yards per return. Ty Montgomery has proven to be a solid kick returner, averaging 27.2 yards per attempt. Ben Rhyne has punted only twice, but both were pretty good, one going 48 yards, the other 49.
--Stanford has won 10 straight games, which is the second-longest active winning streak in the country, behind Ohio State's 15 in a row.
--DE Henry Anderson will miss the next few games because of a leg injury suffered against Army. He is not expected to be out the rest of the season, though.
--Freshman WR Francis Owusu became the Cardinal's first true freshman to play this season when he entered the Army game on special teams.
--DE Josh Mauro, a fifth-year senior, is expected to make his first career start against Arizona State in place of Henry Anderson. Maura had five sacks last year and has one of the team's three sacks this season.
--TEs Luke Kaumatule and Charlie Hopkins have combined for two catches for nine yards this season. Last season, Stanford TEs Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz combined for 93 catches, 1,291 yards and 10 touchdowns.
--WR Ty Montgomery has 211 yards receiving in two games. That's just two yards shy of his total for all of last season.