The battle between a defensive tackle and offensive guard isn't usually a headline-grabber. When it is Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and Stanford left guard David Yankey -- the reigning Morris Trophy winners as the top linemen in the Pac-12 as voted on by their peers -- that is another matter entirely.
"It's not what will be necessarily highlighted throughout the week, but for us, that's the game. The game is up front," Cardinal head coach David Shaw said during the weekly Pac-12 teleconference Tuesday.
"That's the key matchup for the entire game for us."
Sutton had 23.5 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks, to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. It was a breakout campaign during which Sutton went from part-time player to disruptive force, using his natural quickness to force a negative stop in all but one game.
"I had our [video] guys last year cut out [tape of] Will Sutton and show them [Stanford defensive linemen] this is what a guy who changes games looks like," Shaw said. "Relentless, great with his hands, gets blocked initially then gets unblocked, pursues from the backside, great against the pass and the run. That's been the standard on the defensive line in our conference."
But through two games this season, a bulked-up Sutton has only three tackles with one-half tackle for loss and one fumble recovery, leading one executive to tell NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks that the senior put on "bad weight." Sutton is listed at 305 pounds after playing at 271 last season.
In the Sun Devils' controversial 32-30 win over Wisconsin this past weekend, Sutton faced constant double-teams and also took a shot to the thigh, which might explain his lack of production as he finished with one tackle.
Stamina did seem to be an issue for Sutton, while the Badgers occasionally exploited his penetration to create running lanes. However, much of Wisconsin's rushing yardage came on fly sweeps where Sutton and the defensive line were non-factors, including an 80-yard touchdown run.
Stanford's love of power runs, relying on Yankey, center Khalil Wilkes and right guard Kevin Danser, will require Sutton to be more a consistent force. Yankey (6-foot-5, 313 pounds) is as athletic as any lineman Sutton will face this season, but can one-up his quickness with power. In short, if Sutton doesn't beat Yankey at the snap, Sutton likely won't be a factor on that play.
Yankey and Sutton have never faced off, making Saturday's conference opener for both Stanford and Arizona State that much more special. The two teams last played in 2010, but have not met since the conference expanded to 12.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.