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October 21, 2006

Stanford preview

The last two winless teams in Pac-10 conference play will meet Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium at 12:30 p.m. for Arizona State's (3-3; 0-3) Homecoming contest against the Stanford Cardinal (0-7; 0-4).

The difficult portion of the conference slate now behind it, Arizona State will attempt to do as it did last year when it rebounded from a three-game losing streak in the middle of the schedule to win four of its final five games, including the Insight Bowl versus Rutgers.

The Cardinal has to be considered the worst opponent ASU has remaining on its schedule and they're coming off perhaps their worst outing of the season, when they were dominated by an average Arizona team 20-7 at home, with the lone bright spot being a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Wopamo Osaisai.

The Wildcats rushed for 220 yards in the game after being almost incapable of establishing anything on the ground in the previous three weeks and it's a blueprint you can expect Arizona State to follow, particularly considering the success the team has had in this part of its offense all season.

Junior running back Ryan Torain could be poised for another big outing and he's proving himself to be an extremely durably, consistent runner that picks up yards after contact and takes care of the football.

Against the Cardinal's 3-4 defense, there should be ample opportunity to create shorter down and distance scenarios for quarterback Rudy Carpenter, and that could go a long way to building further confidence in the team's passing game after what was a safe, but acceptable performance against USC last week.

Most importantly, the Sun Devils have to continue to take care of the ball. The offense had no turnovers against the Trojans, though there was a giveaway on special teams. Carpenter had one pass that easily could have been intercepted, but it wasn't, and ASU coach Dirk Koetter's decision to cut down the playbook appeared to be a good one.

Perhaps there will be some greater success this in this weekend's game that will eventually allow greater confidence still and some re-expansion of the playbook, but it will depend on whether or not the wide receivers are able to get open, and whether Carpenter is able to deliver the football in a timely, accurate fashion.

This game could prove to be a confidence builder for the defense also, with Stanford playing without starting quarterback Trent Edwards, who was injured in the first quarter of action against Arizona, or top receiver Mark Bradford, out with a foot injury.

The team's third best offensive player, 6-foot-7 receiver Evan Moore may return to action in this game after missing a month with a stress fracture but it's unclear how effective he'll be, especially with the team playing a new quarterback than he's used to teaming up with.

That signal caller will probably T.C. Ostrander, who himself is battling a knee injury that will probably limit his proficiency. Ostrander struggled mightily against Arizona last weekend and the team's offense is having an almost impossible time of putting together scoring drives.

This is a contest that by all indications should be over by halftime, if not sooner. Stanford opened as about a 21 point underdog and that line has moved to 23 points in recent days. If Arizona State wins by anything fewer than three touchdowns it will probably be because the team played poorly. If it plays well, this one could be decided by 30 or more points.

Perhaps more interesting than the game itself will be the sub-plot involving Rudy Burgess, who is expected to play extensively at cornerback for the first time in a Pac-10 game, as ASU attempts to look for a replacement for Chris Baloney, who is out indefinitely with a leg issue.


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