October 14, 2014

(AP) - Arizona State had a week to bask in the glow of an improbable victory over Southern California on a Hail Mary, with replays of one of the program's most dramatic wins practically playing on a loop.

With the bye week over, it's now time to sharpen the Sun Devils' focus with another big game on the docket Saturday night.

Up next is No. 23 Stanford, which will need to navigate a tough road stretch if it wants to three-peat as Pac-12 champion.

The bye seemed to have come at a good time for the Sun Devils (4-1, 2-1), who went through an emotional tilt-a-whirl over the preceding two weeks. They were crushed 62-27 at home by then-No. 11 UCLA on Sept. 25 before a 38-34 win over then-No. 16 USC on a last-ditch pass that Jaelen Strong hauled down in the end zone.

But the jumbled world of college football swirled during Arizona State's week off, and the Sun Devils benefited, moving up three spots in The Associated Press poll and finding themselves in the thick of the Pac-12 South race, a half-game behind division leader USC.

The rest of the season doesn't get any easier, though, with a string of tough games left in the parity-filled conference and a Nov. 8 date with No. 5 Notre Dame.

"Every week it's a single-elimination tournament," coach Todd Graham said. "Obviously, we're in control of our own destiny. I'm real confident in my guys and where we're at as they continue to improve."

Arizona State, which relies on speed and athleticism, certainly will have to improve the way it has played a bruising Stanford team in recent years.

In a conference filled with spread-out, high-scoring offenses, the Cardinal (4-2, 2-1) take more of an old-school approach. Stanford wears teams down with its power game, and opponents have a hard time preparing for it because the style is so rare these days.

The Sun Devils have lost four straight against Stanford dating to 2008. The Cardinal beat Arizona State twice last season, 42-28 in Northern California and 38-14 in the Pac-12 championship game in Tempe.

"What makes them difficult is they're one of the best teams in the league, one of the most physical and most disciplined," Graham said. "They're not going to beat themselves."

The grueling road ahead for Stanford, though, got a little more difficult Tuesday.

Coach David Shaw said wide receiver Devon Cajuste is expected to sit Saturday as he recovers from an apparent head injury. Tight end Austin Hooper also is questionable with an undisclosed injury.

Linebacker James Vaughters and backup wide receiver Michael Rector will likely play after leaving last Friday's 34-17 win over Washington State with injuries, and quarterback Kevin Hogan is fine after missing some practices last week due to a minor leg injury.

Cajuste is Stanford's second-leading receiver with 18 catches and is tied for the team lead with three touchdown receptions. Hooper has 16 catches for 202 yards, both more than all the other tight ends combined.

Healthy or not, the Cardinal face a daunting stretch. Four of the final six games are away from home, and they also visit No. 9 Oregon, California and UCLA.

"For us, it's about us playing at our best," Shaw said, "and not about where we're playing."

Even after a week off, the Sun Devils still face questions about who is the starting quarterback.

Three-year starter Taylor Kelly returned to practice last week for the first time since injuring his right foot against Colorado on Sept. 13, but the senior has been limited in practice and it's still up in the air whether he'll be ready to play Saturday.

Junior Mike Bercovici has thrown for 998 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions in the last two games.

"Taylor has years' experience in winning games and to move the down markers in very different ways, whether it be with his legs, the run game, making good decisions," Graham said. "I think Berc's just a great extension of him, obviously brings a lot to it from the standpoint of the rhythm passing game. They complement each other very well."

If Bercovici starts again, it will be another of many changes for each team since last year's two meetings. Shaw said that means playing a high-stakes game in Sun Devil Stadium will be a new experience for many starters.

"This conference is tough, it's hard," he said. "It's even. It's pretty even. You can't really say that anybody is that much ahead of anybody else on any given week."

Stanford has the country's No. 1 scoring defense (10.0 points per game) and is second in total defense (238.0 yards).

"Obviously, it's all got to come together this week," Graham said.

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