Surprising Cardinals

Dennis Erickson helped hand Jim Harbaugh one of his worst losses as an NFL quarterback. Eleven years later, Harbaugh would like to deal Erickson a devastating defeat.

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Both coaches are in their second seasons with their respective Pac-10 programs heading into their matchup Saturday as Erickson and 15th-ranked Arizona State try to avoid a surprising home loss to Harbaugh's upstart Stanford team.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Arizona St -14 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Arizona St -14 (View College Football bet percentages).

While Harbaugh looks to pull off a big upset on the road for the second straight year - Stanford won 24-23 at then-No. 2 Southern California last season - Arizona State opens conference play as one of the favorites behind USC and has a matchup with No. 2 Georgia looming in two weeks.

"I have a great deal of respect for Stanford and what coach Harbaugh has done over there," Erickson said after the Cardinal won their conference opener for the first time since 2001, 36-28 over Oregon State last Saturday.

"If you watch them on tape against Oregon State, which we have a number of times, they are a greatly improved football team."

Erickson's first NFL coaching job came with the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98, when Harbaugh was the Indianapolis Colts' starting quarterback. The only time the two squared off during that span came on Sept. 14, 1997, when Erickson saw his Seattle team sack Harbaugh eight times and hold him to 77 yards passing as the Colts lost 31-3.

It will be difficult for Harbaugh to develop a scheme to similarly slow down the Sun Devils offense. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter has led Arizona State to wins in the last two meetings by a combined 79-6 score and his second season under Erickson's offense got off to a strong start last Saturday.

Making his 31st consecutive start, Carpenter tied a school record with 13 straight completions and finished 22-of-28 for 388 yards and a touchdown as the Sun Devils opened with a 30-3 win over Northern Arizona.

"I wasn't as comfortable as I would have liked to have been last year, but this year we put in a lot of work during the offseason and spring, so I have a better grasp of the offense which allows me to make decisions faster," said Carpenter, who threw for 3,202 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.

Now Carpenter might like to see the running game catch up. While Carpenter ran for 40 yards last Saturday, the rest of the Sun Devils had 54 yards rushing on 18 attempts.

"Do we have to become better with running the football? Without a doubt," Erickson said. "We have to do it a little bit better than we did the other night. But again, if we were halfway through the season and we weren't running the ball very well I would have some concerns."

The Sun Devils averaged 137.0 rushing yards per game last season to rank seventh in the Pac-10, and now the status of 2007 leading rusher Keegan Herring is unclear. The senior tailback ran for 815 yards last season, but missed the opener with a hamstring injury and might have to sit out this game.

Arizona State has to be concerned about Stanford's running game.

Toby Gerhart, who played only one game last season due to a knee injury, returned last Saturday to rush for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

"When he sees a hole, he's gone," Harbaugh said of Gerhart, who had 140 yards on 12 carries in his only game last season. "He's up in it and he's running. It doesn't take him a long time to get to full speed. He has those instincts you come out of the crib with."

Stanford, which was 4-8 in Harbaugh's first year, is seeking its first 2-0 start since 2004.

The Cardinal have given up an average of 45.7 points in losing their last three trips to Tempe, dating to a 50-30 win in 1999.

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