The Sun Devils had an overhaul in the offseason quite like Arizona's. ASU brought in a Rich Rodriguez disciple in Todd Graham to run the show and while the results have been mixed, there is plenty of reason for Arizona State fans to be optimistic about the future.
The former assistant under Rodriguez brought in Mike Norvell to run the offense and ASU now runs an offensive system comparable to what Rodriguez utilizes at UA.
The unit is fifth in the conference in points per game at 36, while the offense as a whole also places fifth at just a shade over 448 yards per game. The passing attack is sixth at 264.6 yards per game, with the running game ranked fourth at 183.6.
The offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who is fourth in the Pac-12 with 2,581 passing yards. His 25 touchdown passes tie him for third in the conference and he has thrown just nine interceptions. Kelly's performance has been impressive given the fact that he is just a sophomore in his first year and running a drastically different offensive system.
Kelly makes the smart throw more often than not and utilizes his starting tight end and running backs in the passing game frequently. Tight end Chris Coyle leads the team in receptions with 51 and receiving yards with 639.
Coyle is a reliable target and should be featured often on Friday. If Arizona doesn't account for him, it could be another big day for the tight end position against UA's defense.
Rashad Ross is the top target at wide receiver with 31 receptions and 445 yards. Jamal Miles is right behind him with 30 catches and 313 yards, but the senior has been pretty inconsistent throughout the 2012 campaign.
True freshman D.J. Foster has already proven to be a valuable weapon out of the backfield. The running back is second on the team in receptions with 34 and has collected 484 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Foster is also second on the squad in rushing yards with 443 and leads the team in yards per rush attempt among players with more than 10 carries.
Marion Grice has also been a strong, well-rounded weapon at running back. The junior leads the team in touchdown receptions with eight and is fourth on the Sun Devils in rushing yards with 388. He is also tied with Cameron Marshall for the team-lead in rushing touchdowns with six.
Marshall is still a player to keep a close eye on even though his production hasn't met expectations in his senior campaign, as he has failed to break the 100-yard mark in any game this season. He hasn't exactly received the opportunity that he may have expected, but Marshall still leads the team in rushing.
The offensive line has been merely average for ASU this season. As a team, the Sun Devils are averaging 4.1 yards per carry despite having some extremely talented and athletic running backs on the roster. Arizona State's line has also allowed 37 sacks, which puts it at a mere seventh in the Pac-12.
Players to watch
#10 – QB, Taylor Kelly: He has proven he can be effective in the offense Norvell runs. He is smart, possesses an accurate arm and can do damage in the running game. With the way UA has performed defensively this season, Kelly could be in line for a big performance.
#8 – RB, D.J. Foster: ASU believes Foster can be their version of Ka'Deem Carey in the very near future. He is a threat running the ball and out of the backfield as a receiver and Wildcats' fans should expect to see plenty of him on Friday.
#1 – RB, Marion Grice: Like Foster, Grice can do a little bit of everything out of the backfield for Arizona State. He leads the team in total touchdowns with 14, so it's obvious he has a knack for finding the end zone. Grice is another player that can cause fits for UA's defense with his well-rounded play and athleticism.
#87 – TE, Chris Coyle: The team leader in receptions, Coyle is always a player Kelly looks for in the passing game. He is reliable and just athletic enough to make opposing secondaries pay when given the opportunity. Coyle should get plenty of chances Friday and UA must find a way to counter his productivity.
#6 – RB, Cameron Marshall: This may have been a disappointing season for Marshall, but you can bet he will come out determined Friday in his last regular season game in college. Despite his struggles, Marshall has still picked up six rushing touchdowns and averages about 4.2 yards per carry.
Five keys to the game
1. Keep ASU's offense from getting behind the secondary: The Sun Devils' success passing the ball has been mainly due to its ability to get play makers involved. Arizona's defense isn't going to dominate an offense like the Sun Devils, but it's best bet is to do whatever it can from preventing ASU from picking up big chunks of yardage through the air, especially with throws over the top.
2. Keep Kelly in the pocket: The sophomore quarterback has shown he can make plays with his feet. Either throwing the ball out of the pocket or simply tucking and running, the ASU signal-caller can be deadly if the opposing defense cannot contain him. The Wildcats must make Kelly beat them from the pocket.
3. Don't let the running backs dominate the passing game: ASU has displayed the willingness to throw to its running backs often, so much that they are arguably the deadliest weapons in the team's passing attack. The Wildcats must figure out how to eliminate Foster, Grice and company from doing damage as receivers.
4. Discipline: The Wildcats cannot afford to give any free yardage or points to Arizona State's improved offense. Avoiding costly penalties and limiting ASU's third-down success are essential for an Arizona victory.
5. Force turnovers: In a game featuring first year head coaches and a plethora of youth on both rosters, mistakes are bound to happen. The Wildcats must be the ones forcing those mistakes from ASU's offense in order to produce turnovers. If UA wins the turnover battle, it's hard to see the Wildcats losing the contest.