Arizona State hosts Stanford to open PAC-10 play

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TEMPE -- Arizona State has swept the last two games with Stanford by a combined 79-6.

Coach Dennis Erickson thinks that's irrelevant as his 15th-ranked Sun Devils prepare to face the Cardinal in Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night.

``They have just improved in every area from a year ago,'' said Erickson, who led ASU to a 41-3 romp in Palo Alto last season. ``You watch them and it's a different group.''

Erickson doesn't want his players thinking about how easily they've handled Stanford recently. And the Cardinal, for their part, are trying to forget the recent embarrassments against ASU.

``We don't dwell on the past, wins or losses,'' said junior quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who completed 10-of-17 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown in Stanford's 36-28 season-opening victory over Oregon State. ``The fact of the matter is they've kind of handed it to us the past couple of years. It's not anything we like to remember. We have to learn from it.''

Stanford has taken on a tougher attitude under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh, who inherited a 1-11 team two years ago.

That comes as no surprise to Erickson, who remembered Harbaugh as a hard-nosed quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL.

``That's the kind of attitude he had when he was a player and the success that he's had every place he's been,'' Erickson said. ``He's been around the game his entire life. He was a good player in the NFL. He's a competitor and that's how his team plays. A lot of times (teams) reflect the coach.''

Harbaugh made a big splash in his debut season when he led the Cardinal to a victory over then-No. 2 Southern California in Los Angeles, one of the bigger upsets in college football history.

The rest of the season wasn't quite so inspiring; the Cardinal finished 4-8 and seventh in the Pac-10. But they return 16 starters, and they looked like a different team against Oregon State.

``Everybody's been on board and really believing that we're a better football team,'' Harbaugh said. ``We felt it all spring ball and summer and training camp. We know we're a much better football team and you hope that transpires with more wins. To get a win in the opener was very significant for our ballclub, to see the rewards for our work.''

The Sun Devils present a big test for Stanford, which plays four of its next five games on the road.

``They're physical, they're fast, they're well coached,'' Harbaugh said. ``That's what we're trying to get to.''

On Saturday, the Cardinal will try to get to the quarterback. They registered two sacks against Oregon State, and they hope to pressure Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter.

Carpenter had plenty of protection in ASU's 30-13 victory over Division I-AA Northern Arizona. He completed 22-of-28 passes, including 13 straight to tie a school record, for 388 yards and a touchdown.

Carpenter is working behind a rebuilt offensive line, and Stanford could present problems.

The Sun Devils didn't run the ball with much authority against the overmatched Lumberjacks. The running game may need to improve if Arizona State hopes to slow Stanford's pass rush.

``I'm under the assumption that we're probably going to get blitzed a lot, so we have to be ready for that,'' Carpenter said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)