WildcatAuthority: Arizona State got off to a strong start and since then has struggled. What are the biggest issues that have been facing the team?
SunDevilSource: It's been a rough month and a half for ASU, with five straight losses after a 5-1 start. The team's had more injuries than any season I can remember and was at one point playing its fourth-string quarterback -- true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole -- in a game in which 10 starters were unable to play (at Oregon). So injuries have been a big subplot of the season, but there's plenty more that hasn't gone well for the Sun Devils.
This is an ASU team that consistently given up big plays defensively and is last in the country in passing yards allowed per game and in 30-plus yard touchdown scores yielded. ASU's secondary has been a patchwork group, with a lack of continuity in the starting lineup, and there's been a lot of alignment, communication and assignment errors. ASU's done reasonably well against the run but hasn't been able to stop any team from throwing the football successfully.
Offensively, ASU's run game has ground to a halt in the last five games. Part of that is due to the injuries that have knocked out up to three starting offensive line starters. But in addition to this, ASU's lack of passing game potency has enabled teams to focus on taking away the run game on early downs. It's put the Sun Devils into a lot of third and long situations, and with mediocre quarterback play, the outcome has been the Pac-12's worst yards-per-play average.
WildcatAuthority: Todd Graham was given a vote of confidence from the Athletic Director. Was it necessary in terms of fans support and overall performance?
SunDevilSource: Well, that happened on his weekly radio show when Ray Anderson was asked specifically if Graham's job status was in jeopardy. I think Anderson had decided that he wasn't going to consider making a move and so he wanted to express that in order to help Graham has best as possible with recruiting and making sure that it wasn't an uncertainty that could be used against the program.
What has been very frustrating for fans is how back-to-back 10-win seasons early in Graham's tenure has now given way to .500 football and there's no clear sense that things are headed in the right direction given that ASU has lost five straight games and been soundly beaten in most of them. That's an unsettling reality.
WildcatAuthority: Both teams have suffered numerous injuries. How are ASU's impacting it going into Saturday?
SunDevilSource: ASU's getting healthier on defense, where just a couple starters are out or questionable. WILL linebacker Christian Sam was the second-leading tackler from last season but hasn't played since the opener with an ankle injury. Senior cornerback De'Chavon Hayes is questionable after getting hurt at Washington. Sophomore defensive tackle George Lea didn't play at Washington but is practicing this week and appears likely to play against Arizona.
There are bigger problems on offense, where senior leading receiver Tim White has been limited to some degree for the entire second half of the season, and two of the other top receivers, Jalen Harvey and Cam Smith, are questionable and out, respectively. ASU's been down to just a few receivers in some recent games. On offense, the line has been really hurt by injuries, with starters Stephon McCray and/or Sam Jones possibly going to be able to come back to play this week. But that happens as redshirt freshman Zach Robertson, who has been starting at right tackle in recent weeks, is now out with an ankle injury.
WildcatAuthority: ASU's defense has struggled in Pac-12 play. What are the biggest issues and what is the optimistic point of view regarding possible performance Saturday?
SunDevilSource: There are some games in which ASU's been good on 90-plus percent of its plays but had catastrophic breakdowns on a handful of plays which has been the difference between a good and bad performance. The tendency has been to have key missed tackles or alignment errors or someone just beaten vertically. ASU's tended to sell out to try to stop the run and it's done well in that regard outside of a couple games, but it's come at a major cost with its passing defense.
WildcatAuthority: What does Arizona State have to do in this game to be successful on offense and defense?
SunDevilSource: On offense it comes down to not turning the football over and having a better effort running the football. ASU's not been able to run the ball well at all behind a young and struggling offensive line and that's also contributed to ASU giving up more sacks than any other team in the Pac-12, so protecting quarterback Manny Wilkins is also a big component. But last year Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage had 100 rushing yards each against Arizona and they've done nothing like that in the last several months.
Defensively, ASU had to limit its 30-plus yard plays allowed to almost none and then be able to keep Arizona's quarterback from a big rushing game while at the same time not losing track of its slot receivers.