Q&A with Coach Rich Olson

ASU's passing game improved leaps and bounds last season, yet there were some aspects on offense that didn't perform as well. Devils Digest sat down with ASU's Offensive Coordinator and QB's coach to sum up the Sun Devils' performance on this side of the ball in 2007, talk about the current and future signal callers on the team and discuss his expectations of spring practice next month.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start with the quarterback who signed in the 2008 recruiting class – Jack Elway. Aside from obviously having the famous surname and great bloodlines, what else can you tell us about him?

Rich Olson: "He's a good size kid with a good arm. He's athletic, he's a smart kid and there's a lot of upside to him. He's got to get stronger, but he will have an opportunity when he comes in…we'll have to give him a crash course depending on what happens this spring with the freshmen kids. We're excited about him and he has a burning desire to play the position. It's hard for a freshman quarterback to play college football, but we'll see…"

DD: As you look back at the 2007 offense, what are your impressions of what transpired last season?

RO: "I think the guys bought into what we were doing and winning ten games we were obviously doing something right. In some of those games we had to come from behind, so the kids were making adjustments and making it work. I think this year will be easier for them, because everything was new when we first started. We should have a better learning curve and be able to eliminate some of the mistakes we were doing early on. But we have to replace the tight end position…the center is a crucial position and someone will have to step up there as well at both the tackles. We got a good core coming back in wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks so those are positives. I think we got enough talent in those positions to be able to effectively step up and do what it takes. "

DD: Did you feel that under the new scheme the running game was quicker to catch on compared to the passing game?

RO: "Oh sure, it always does. Pass blocking is a hard thing to do. We talk about the sacks but there are a lot of reasons for getting sacked, and we went through some of the different things that happened. Some of them were physical, some were mental, some were because of technique…plus when you put yourself in bad 3rd down situations where the defense can really tee off on you – everybody is gonna get sacked."

"The biggest thing for us is to correct the mistakes that were made, especially the mental ones because those will kill you. Guys will get beat physically; it's just the nature of the game. But the mental mistakes – those we have to get fixed. We have to do a better job coaching the players and they have to do a better job not making mistakes. The quarterback has to do a better job throwing the ball away…there are a lot of factors that go into sacks."

DD: Did the injury to Ryan Torain impact the number and/or the variety of plays in the running game?

RO: "Not necessarily. Obviously he was a different type of back because he was so physical and he was starting to become a big time runner. When we first got here he ran too high, and didn't make people miss him because he wasn't lowering his pads. He starting doing that and was really coming into his own and was a full-time payer who could run the ball, pass protect and catch the ball. I think he'll make a fine NFL player, just like Mike Pollak."

DD: What's your assessment of how Rudy Carpenter played?

RO: "He can get better. He has to trust himself more. As I said, he needs to throw the ball away more. But he can become a real good player and I think he will. He's a tough player that took a lot of hits and he's not the biggest player in the world. For him to take as many hits as he did and still be able to stand in there sometimes and throw it – I admire him for that. The one thing that kills quarterbacks, if they do get hit too many times, is that sooner or later they start watching the rush and they're not watching downfield where they should be throwing the ball. He never did that."

"He's been through the system now and has a better understanding of what's expected. He had some up and down halves, up and down games and he has to be more consistent. He's a senior who played in a lot of games so he will be expected to play better."

DD: A famous football saying is that the most popular guy on a team is the backup quarterback. Danny Sullivan did play well in the Holiday Bowl and probably showed more promise than ever before. How would you rate his performance last year?

RO: "I was excited to see him play (in the Holiday Bowl). He was never under the gun like this. It was good to see and it was good for him because that gives him confidence to know that he can do it if something is gonna happen."

"They (Carpenter and Sullivan) will compete this spring and competition is good for everybody. That was a valuable experience for Danny – to be put in that situation and perform the way he did."

DD: Can you talk about the two freshmen quarterbacks that redshirted – Chasen Stangel and Samson Szakacsy?

RO: "Both of them need to step up. Samson had elbow surgery and he hasn't done anything for a long period of time and it's just a matter of can he get back to what we thought he was coming out of high school. Chasen has to get better at knowing the offense and executing it when he gets opportunities and he'll get chances to do so. It's a test for both of them – it's a big spring for both of those kids."

DD: During the recruiting process the team tried to land a second quarterback, which would have brought the total number of quarterbacks on the team to six. Obviously special circumstances dictated that scenario…

RO: "Part of recruiting two quarterbacks does go back to our situation with our other two (freshman quarterbacks that redshirted). Who knows what kind of comeback Samson will have after injuring his elbow and Chasen needing to step it up and needing to do what he needs to do. The other thing is that when you have the chance to get good players – you have to take them. It doesn't matter how many players you have playing the position. "

DD: Overall, do you feel that the offensive system is successfully entrenched as much as it should be after just one season?

RO: "I think so. In the running game, if you got the right guys…a lot of people want the power game. But you need the right tight end that can block a defensive end by himself, to be able to run that blocking scheme. With the tight ends we had – Brent (Miller) could do most of it, but the other two were effective only when they had help in the zone blocking schemes. So personnel a lot of time dictates how much you can expand in your running or passing game."

"Same thing in the passing game. We'll have experienced receivers, but new offensive linemen so how good will they be pass blocking? It's still a wait and see."

DD: As someone who coached in the NFL, is there something to be said about bringing pro schemes into the college game?

RO: "Definitely. To be honest with you we all run the same plays, they just call it something different. In college football, the spread offense is probably the most different scheme, because it really is option football. The quarterback runs the football most of the time and we don't want to expose our quarterback like that."

DD: Coach Erickson did hint towards the end of the season that we may see more four and five wide receiver formations in 2008. Can you expand on that?

RO: "Well, it goes back to your personnel. If we have awfully good wide receivers coming back and get match ups where your opponent has to put in their fourth and fifth best defensive back…well there's a reason why they are the fourth and fifth best guys and they're not gonna be able to match up with our receivers and we have the advantage. That's what football really is – match-ups. So if we can create match-ups personnel wise and it will give us an advantage, we're definitely gonna do that."

DD: Going into spring practice, what are your goals for the quarterbacks group and the offense as a whole?

RO: "The goals for the quarterbacks are to be more consistent. As far as the offense is concerned, the goal is really for players to step up. We lost some seniors and we need some leadership. We lost some offensive linemen and we need to fill those vacated spots, same with the tight end position. We need to be a more physical football team on offense too."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories