Q&A with coach Noel Mazzone

At a 6-6 record each unit on ASU's football team naturally had a mixture of positives and negatives throughout the 2010 campaign , and the Sun Devil offense was no different especially running a scheme that foreign to them up until this year. Devils Digest caught up with ASU's offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, to get his assessment of his group and how they are projecting for next season.

DevilsDigest: When you look back at the 2010 season how would do you evaluate the team's offense and its performance?

Noel Mazzone: "I think they were some growing pains like they are always are, we have to get a little bit better play from the quarterback spot – that is a position where needed more consistency. We turned the ball over too much and that is the number one thing we have to take care of.

"I'm really excited about how our offensive line has progressed from the first game of the season until the last one. For the first two, three games we were moving guys around trying to find the best combination. I think we now found that combination and I'm very happy with how those guys have played. I think the receivers have a little ways to go as far as being comfortable with what we are trying to do.

"I'm just happy that all these kids (on the entire offense) kept on working hard and I couldn't ask more from them with the way the practiced during the week. Even when they were losing close games they came out every day and worked their butts off. They practiced with tempo and played with tempo.

"To be honest with you I wish the 2011 season started tomorrow, because I am excited of where we are at offensively. It's going to be fun to bring all these guys back with a year under their belt."

DD: When you look at Steven Threet's performance, his 16 interceptions jump right out at you. But on the other hand when you look at the fact that ASU's passing offense was ranked 14th in the country at season's end, obviously that accomplishment is to a large extent attributed to his performance in 2010 since he started in all but one game. How would you assess his play?

NM: "I thought he did a great job running the offense putting the ball in the right spots, getting our tempo going, get the ball out quickly to our guys in space…all the thing that we want to do offensively from the quarterback spot, he does.

"I told him that his position isn't a lot different than Peyton Manning's. When you run a high risk offense where you throw the ball this much there is a lot of responsibility on the quarterback. I thought he had a solid season, but if he made a few better decisions with the football and cut down his interceptions I thought he could have had a great season."

DD: Going into next season what our some of the things you would like Threet to improve on, aside from the decision making aspect that you mentioned?

NM: "It's a mixed bag of goods because he also made a lot of good decisions for us. I think there is that fine line where you don't want to take the gun slinger out of your quarterback, because you want him to feel like he can make the plays for you and put the ball in some tight spots.

"It's easy to point the finger at Steven on those 16 interceptions, but there are some other guys who have their hands in those turnovers also whether it's a left tackle or a receiver breaking off a route where he should not have and things like that. I think Steven sometimes just needs to let the game come to him. He's a very smart guy but sometimes he tries too hard. He also needs to do a better job seeing the whole field. He understands the game, but I think just like a lot of other quarterbacks he gets in trouble when he tries too hard to make something happen. Sometimes you have to pass on the big play and just take what the defense gives you."

DD: They say that an offense is only as good as your backup quarterback; and ASU found late in the season that they did have a competent reserve at signal caller with Brock Osweiler. Keeping in mind that he barely played the first ten games of the year, were you surprised at the way Osweiler preformed the last two games of the season?

NM: "I was very proud of Brock because he went through a very tough year. If you remember when we went through spring ball and two a days (in fall camp) one day Steven was the starter and the next day Brock was the starter and I expect that competition to continue next spring. But none of us really looked at Brock as the backup quarterback, because we believed he could have had the same success as Steven was having with the offense.

"But like you said, the most impressive thing to me is how well Brock played in the last two games without the game reps or practice reps that Steven had all year. In the UCLA game he played a heck of a game. What I really like about Brock in the Arizona game was that it was his first start and that's always harder than coming off the bench. Especially when you are on national T.V. on the road playing your rival. So he did struggle in the first half but he came back in the second half and started to make plays for our offense and kind of willed us to a win."

DD: What are some of the skills that pleased you concerning Osweiler's play and what are some of the areas he needs to improve on?

NM: "He really improved on his fundamentals throwing the ball, but he still has to work on some of the fundamentals with his footwork. He understands the offense and things are starting to click for him, but where I would like to see him do a better job at is going to his second and third progression when there is a little pressure on him in the pocket. His pocket presence to me is his biggest thing right now to improve on – his ability to stay in the pocket and focus downfield and find that open receiver for us."

DD: With Samson Szakacsy unfortunately injuries tend to get the best of him and prevent him from displaying his skills. Yet, during his limited game action and in practices what did you see from him in terms of his progression?

NM: "Samson has kind of gone up and down since I've been here. He has had the injury bug with his arm where he pretty much missed spring ball. I thought he progressed nicely during two a days and then his arm got swollen again and he missed a bunch of practices, so he never got in the rhythm of running the offense.

"But he hung in there during the season and it's tough being the forgotten solider. He really stayed focused and I think the last two weeks of the season where he got a lot of work as our second string quarterback things really started to click for him too. So, in a nut shell we are solid at this position and I'm really excited about those guys."

DD: I know it's hard to evaluate someone who redshirted this past season like Taylor Kelly, but he did show some glimpses of his ability when given a chance...

NM: "I think he will be a good quarterback for us but it will be hard for me to really evaluate him until the spring when he gets out there and it's not just ten snaps at the end of practice where it's all the redshirt freshmen playing against each other. But I like his demeanor, his coolness in the pocket and he's just a gym rat that you just give him the ball and he gets it. He sees the whole field and doesn't get frustrated. He's a winner."

DD: One of the misnomers of the spread offense is how it's tilted towards the passing game, when in fact it actually benefits the running game a great deal. In the first year of your system I'm assuming that you had to be pleased with how the running game preformed all season…

NM: "Those running backs fire me up. Cam, D-Lew, Middlebrooks, Jamal and even James Morrison…those guys did exactly what the running game is designed to get in this offense and that is big plays. They did a great job of breaking big runs for us. They are also so important to our passing game, because they get the ball so much in our swing game and similar plays.

"I really like that we get all those kids back and I would be shocked if Cam and D-Lew won't be each close to being a 1,000-yard rusher here in the next year."

DD: You mentioned the growing pains of a first-year system that the team went through, so when you evaluate the status of the offense after one season has this group developed as much as you expected them at this point of the year?

NM: "Well, I wanted to win 12 games so we are not where we want to be. But this past season was a great step. We showed up last spring and we had two returning starters on offense so obviously we didn't have a lot of experience. We had a lot of new faces that haven't been in a lot of battles and my hat is off to those kids and how hard they worked to get better in this offense.

"They see how good they can be. So, if they can keep the same intensity level, and I think they are a little hungry right now, there is no reason why we can't be a top-10 offense in the country in the next year."

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