Preview: Stanford looking to get back on track against Arizona State
TEMPE — Stanford climbed to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 after a thrilling comeback victory over Oregon. The Cardinal were in control of the Pac-12 North, in contention for a College Football Playoff spot.
Consecutive losses have knocked Stanford out of playoff contention and dropped the Cardinal a half-game back in the North.
Stanford (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) has a chance to turn its season around beginning Thursday night in the desert against Arizona State, another team trying to climb out of a recent rut.
"The most bothersome thing to me is not only have we not reached our potential, we haven't approached it," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We haven't put a complete game together, let alone a three- or four-game span where we're playing at our best."
The Cardinal looked like the dominant team in the Pac-12 North after rolling over San Diego State, Southern California and UC Davis before the 38-31 rally against Oregon.
Stanford was knocked back in a 38-17 loss to No. 4 Notre Dame and struggled in a 40-21 loss to Utah on Oct. 6 without running back Bryce Love.
Arizona State also got off to a strong start in its first season under Herm Edwards, opening with two victories, including one over then-ranked Michigan State.
The Sun Devils (3-3, 1-2) have hit a bit of a lull over the past month, losing three of four heading into Thursday's game.
The culprit: An inability to close out tight games. All three of Arizona State's losses have been by a touchdown and on the road.
Back home, the Sun Devils are hoping they found the right fixes during their bye week to get the season going back in the right direction.
"Anytime you take on something like this, there is always a learning period between both parties, for me as well — learn the conference, learn the players, learn my coaches," Edwards said. "I think we have done some things that we have liked and we have to continue to improve on some things that we have not done a good job of and they are very evident."
A few things to look for when Stanford plays at Arizona State on Thursday night:
LOVE'S STATUS: Love did not play against Utah after suffering a left ankle injury against Notre Dame and is questionable against Arizona State. The extra time off between games — the Cardinal played Utah on Oct. 6 — has Shaw hopeful last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up will be able to play. The Sun Devils may hope he doesn't. A year ago at Stanford, Love ran all over Arizona State, racking up a school-record 301 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
ELITE RECEIVERS: Arizona State and Stanford have two of the nation's top receivers in N'Keal Harry and JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Harry has not dominated as he did a year ago, but only because he's faced nearly constant double teams. The junior has still managed to have an impact, leading Arizona State with 34 catches for 481 yards and five touchdowns. With Love missing two games so far, Stanford has turned to the passing game more and Arcega-Whiteside has been K.J. Costello's primary target, catching 30 passes for 541 yards and eight touchdowns.
FINDING ENO: A key for Stanford in slowing Arizona State's offense — outside of stopping Harry — will be to try bottling up Eno Benjamin. The sophomore running back has racked up 715 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries so far this season. Benjamin broke the school record with 312 yards and four touchdowns against Oregon State on Sept. 29, and had 123 yards and a pair of scores against Colorado in Arizona State's last game.