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Arizona State Sun Devils

Sun Devils analyst Jeff Van Raaphorst: ASU 'needs to run the ball better' to beat Stanford

Arizona State running back Marion Grice, bottom, is tackled by Stanford defensive end Aziz Shittu, top, during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The first time around it wasn't pretty.

When the Arizona State Sun Devils and Stanford Cardinal met in Palo Alto back on Sept. 21, the latter manhandled the former, building a 29-0 halftime lead en route to a comfortable 42-28 victory.

And if not for David Shaw calling off the dogs in the fourth quarter, the reigning Rose Bowl Champions would have likely won by an even larger margin.

The two Pac-12 squads meet again Saturday night under much different circumstances. This time around, the conference championship and a subsequent berth in the 2014 Rose Bowl is on the line.

But when evaluating how the Pac-12 South and North champions match up going into their second duel of the season, it starts with ASU's run game against Stanford's run defense.

In the first meeting, the Cardinal held the Sun Devils to a season-low 50 yards on the ground.

"It's going to be a really interesting game, because Stanford did a number on ASU's offense with their front four," ASU color analyst Jeff Van Raaphorst told Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf Monday. "They were able to play half the field with a two-deep shell behind it and keep the ball in front. ASU has to be able to run the ball better. That front style I think has given ASU the most challenges. We saw against Notre Dame, too.

"When you can clog up the running lanes and dent the pocket with four guys, that gives you a lot of room to work on the back end. I think we have to go back to the drawing board a little bit and address those failures. The good thing is we've had a lot of time to look at it. It's going to be a fun game for us."

It might also be a challenging one for the Sun Devils.

Their leading rusher in that 14-point loss to Stanford was senior Marion Grice, who appears to be out for Saturday's conference title game at Sun Devil Stadium with a leg injury suffered during the team's 38-33 win at UCLA on Nov. 23.

But all hope is not lost when it comes to the Sun Devils' backfield, as sophomore D.J. Foster is coming off a career night in place of the injured Grice.

In ASU's 58-21 win over rival Arizona Saturday, Foster ran for a career-high 124 yards and two touchdowns.

"D.J. played so well for us," Van Raaphorst said of Foster's performance against the Wildcats. "He hung onto the ball. His quickness was evident. He's a different running back than Marion. Marion runs very peculiarly. He shifts gears and doesn't look like he's running hard. D.J. is fast. He has a great motor. He has a great cut. And, the last 20 percent of the run he finishes really well."

But with Foster assuming the No. 1 spot, who takes over behind him?

Back in September, Deantre Lewis (four yards) and Taylor Kelly (-4 yards) were the only other players not named Grice to carry the ball against Stanford.

Van Raaphorst offered up another suggestion.

"The other question I think is who is your other running back going to be," said the 1987 Rose Bowl MVP. "Are you going to play De'Marieya Nelson? I thought he was a phenomenal change of pace back [against Arizona]. When De'Marieya was in there, it reminded me of Myles Jack."

Listed as a tight end, Nelson finished with 35 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats.

Regardless of who ASU puts in the backfield Saturday night, they are going to have their hands full.

Stanford currently has the third-ranked run defense nationally, allowing 82.8 rushing yards per game. Additionally, the Cardinal have only given up one 100-yard performance (Utah running back Bubba Poole on Oct. 12) all season.

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