Q&A with Mike Norvell

Coming off their second consecutive home defeat, Arizona State began its preparations for this weekend's road showdown with #11 ranked Oregon State. Devils Digest caught up with offensive coordinator Mike Norvell after practice on Tuesday to discuss the team's narrow loss to UCLA, the improved play of the running backs and his thoughts on the Beavers, amongst other things.

On his assessment of how the offense performed last Saturday in the team's 45-43 loss to UCLA

Norvell: "I thought that the guys overall played well. I was happy at the end, even through the adversity that they faced, that they were able to come back and finish well. We were able to rally late but would obviously like to get cleaner with some of those middle drives; we had a couple three and outs which we can't afford to have. Those are things that we've got to get eliminated. And then obviously we had the big turnover right before the half which is also something that we've got to get corrected.

"But I was pleased with the way they responded. When you look at the fourth quarter, being down by nine points but coming back to put ourselves in a position to win was good to see and it was good to see the guys maturing."

On Taylor Kelly's interception late in the first half which ultimately gave the Bruins the lead heading into halftime

Norvell: "There actually wasn't a blitz on the play but it's one of those things where it was one of our base calls, one that we've probably called more than any call. Looking back in retrospect, obviously the thing with the interception is something that we don't like, but we were trying to be aggressive and had been moving the ball and were trying put ourselves in position to do something. Looking back at it, it's probably one of those calls I'd like to have back, but we've just got to do a better job protecting the football and doing better in those types of situations."

On the continued steady play of Taylor, who moved up to fifth in the nation in passing efficiency after Saturday's game

Norvell: "You know, he just showed his character and that's something that we've talked about all year. He's a champion and a guy who can definitely lead this football team and has led this football team so far. And he responded to the interception right there before halftime, he came back in the second half and I think he was 16-20 and helped put us in position to win the football game and I was really proud of the way he played."

On the progress of D.J. Foster, who now leads the team in rushing yards (371) and is closing in on 1,000 total yards for the season (825)

Norvell: "D.J. is just such an incredible kid. Watching him, I can tell you that practice is a place that it all stems from. He comes to work every day and busts his tail and it shows on game day. He has made some great plays for us. He's extremely explosive. As you watch him grow, I feel like he can be a great leader for us just by the way he lives each day and the way that he works and the example he is to his teammates."

On Marion Grice, who leads the team with 12 total touchdowns this season

Norvell: "For a junior college guy to come in and not really get here until the middle of the summer, he has done an exceptional job. I'm really proud of him and his overall development. He just finds a way to get the ball in the end zone. There's always one or two plays, just like the other day, where it looks like he might get tackled at the two or three yard line, but he finds a way to put his hand down and keep his balance and get the ball in the end zone. I'm really proud of how he works and he continues to get better each week and really listens to the things Coach Porter is telling him to do and buying into that; it's great to see."

On the recent play of Cameron Marshall and his role within the offense

Norvell: "Well, the other day Cam had 18 carries for us. Very productive carries for us. You look at his third and fourth down production, he made a couple runs where he got hit early but was able to stay on his feet and move the ball. Cam's a guy that we think is definitely one of the leaders of this offense and he's still a focal point of it. He's working very hard to maximize every touch that he gets, just like every back.

"But I wouldn't say that he's had a lack of opportunities or lack of production because if you look at it, Cam has done a lot of different things to help this team win this year. It's not always about numbers. You go back and look at the film and see the way he blocked and how he protected. On Taylor's 30 yard run he probably drove their linebacker 10 yards down the field. That was a key play in the game that people don't talk about and doesn't show up in the stat line. It's about how much #6 wants us to win and how he cares about this football team, so I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him."

Concerns with recent struggles of the wide receivers

Norvell: "Well, they're continuing to grow. Obviously each week they're getting better. I'd say the big thing is just making plays when we get the opportunity. Looking back at the game, there were a couple of opportunities that we put out there and they did do a good job. Jamal Miles made a couple good plays out on the perimeter and extended some plays. You look at a guy like Kevin Ozier who scored another touchdown. One of the things is as we're going through a game, we're going to take what the defense gives us. Obviously our running backs and tight ends did a good job. We've just got to make sure our receivers continue to grow and make plays when the opportunities come."

On Tyler Sulka's move to from offensive line to tight end and what it means for Darwin Rogers

Norvell: "Tyler is a player that we want to maximize. We've been using Sulka all year, so it wasn't actually something that we did differently. We put in a couple different things for him and gave him an eligible number just to see if he could get out there and run a route once or twice, but nothing really changed. And nothing really changed for Darwin. We just changed Tyler's number because we wanted to look at a few things in the passing game, but really nothing changed from anything that he had been doing so far this year."

On what he sees from the Oregon State defense

Norvell: "It's a really good defense. They lead the conference in scoring defense, I believe. They're only giving up 17 points per game. They've got an exceptional defensive line with some talented guys out there on the edge. They've been covering people up and creating takeaways all year. We've got to be able to do a good job of owning the football, protect the football and establish the run. The thing that they do best is stop the run and the thing we've got to be able to do in this game is run the ball. It's going to be a great matchup. It's going to be a great test for our guys; going on the road and playing in a hostile environment, so we've got to be on top of our game."


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