Know Your Foe: Arizona State

Knowing your opponent is critical to success if you're a football player. If you're a fan, it makes for a much more enjoyable experience on Gameday. BroncoCountry's Rocketman5000 swapped notes with Hod Rabino, Publisher of DevilsDigest.com, for this unique feature leading into the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl game between Boise State and Arizona State.

What are Arizona State's strengths and weaknesses?

On offense their passing game is quite prolific. Osweiler has thrown for 3,641 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing 63.1% of his passes and posting 12 interceptions. The quarterback does a good job distributing the ball among various players and the main beneficiary is wide receiver Gerell Robinson who collected 1,156 yards and six scores and averages over 96 yards of receiving each game.

The ground attack has had its share of success as well, led by running back Cameron Marshall had 1,038 yards and 18 touchdowns. Josh Hubner is one of the better punters in the Pac-12 and even though he averages just 41.8 yards a punt he does a great job pinning many of his punts inside the 20, where 23 of his 56 punts have landed.

The way the defense has been playing the last four games it would be hard for me to point out any obvious strengths. Pass rush is average at best with 26 sacks on the season, and now that defensive end Junior Onyeali is suspended for Thursday I expect this aspect to take even more of a hit. Linebackers are supposed to be a strength of this team, but all you need to know is that pre-season All-American, Vontaze Burfict, is now listed on the second team. His undisciplined play and regression the later part of the season is the definitely a microcosm of this defense.

The secondary has been simply shredded in the last few games and I wouldn't blame Kellen Moore and the Boise State receivers licking their chops in anticipation of this bowl game. ASU's field goal kicking has been a noticeable Achilles heel all season long and since it appears that Jamal Miles will miss Thursday's contest due to violation of team rules, the Sun Devils' will be without of one the best special teams' returners in the country.

The Sun Devils started out the season 6-2, playing Oregon close (41-27) and beating USC then everything came crashing down, with losses to UCLA, Washington State, Arizona and California. What happened to the momentum that had been built?

Needless to say that is a question that the Sun Devil nation has been asking itself for weeks now. The team's lack of discipline is well documented and was ASU's downfall. At 6-2 they simply couldn't handle prosperity. They thought they have "already arrived" and that all they had to do is just show up for the next few games and easily wrap up the Pac-12 South. So their mental shortcomings were even greater than their physical ones.

In general the offense did play well down the stretch and every week scored enough points to win. Having said that, when they did struggle in the red zone, they had to turn it over to a very inconsistent kicker, Alex Garoutte, which did cost them some games. Having said all that, it was the defense that took a huge step back in this four-game losing streak. They had little to no pass rush, were not assignment sound in the slightest, committed one untimely penalty after another, and were giving up big plays by the dozen every week. The coaches on this side of the ball simply lost control of their players and couldn't make any in-game or week to week adjustments to stop the bleeding.

The ASU defense is very good at creating turnovers. What about the Sun Devil's ball-hawking abilities?

The defensive turnovers stat is a bit misleading in terms of their abilities. The bulk of those turnovers did take place in the first eight games when the team was 6-2. However, those turnovers were hard to come by when ASU needed it the most during the month of November. There is certainly a lot of speed and aggressiveness on this side of the ball and those are traits that are naturally very conducive to creating turnovers. Nonetheless, those are characteristics that have also at times done more harm than good in penalties and broken assignments.

All in all, don't know if on Thursday you will see the ball-hawking and opportunistic unit ASU fans saw during September and October, but if you do, the Las Vegas Bowl will be a much closer affair than some anticipate.

The Arizona State team is a senior-laden group, much like Boise State; however there is a sophomore, Osahon Irabor, starting at corner. How has he performed in pass coverage against the more experienced seniors in the Pac-12?

Much like the rest of the defense, Irabor started out very strong and faded towards the end. The corner isn't the most athletically gifted in the ASU secondary, but is a player who has football I.Q. beyond his years and good fundamentals. I would add that he is one of the more physical corners on the squad. But again, in November he was exposed often much like his fellow cornerbacks. Therefore, I wouldn't expect the Boise State passing game to pick on him more than they would on opposing corner, junior Deveron Carr.

At the start of the season, ASU brought back its entire starting offensive line but the team is 65th in sacks allowed and 73rd in tackles for loss allowed. What role have injuries played and is the unit playing better?

That tackles for loss is a very interesting stat I never saw brought up before, and you're right that you wouldn't expect a very experienced offensive line to generate less than flattering rankings such as that and the sacks figure. Undoubtedly the various injuries this group has suffered have caused some reshuffling that has played a factor. I would also point to inability to pick up blitzes at times, especially when Marshall was out of the game or playing injured as was often the case. Averaging nearly 40 passing attempts a game (a number that probably only got higher in the four losses to end the year) allowed defenses to frequently pin their ears against the Sun Devils, who had to play often from behind and literally abandon the running game.

Describe Brock Osweiler's development as a quarterback and a leader.

When you have a 6-8 quarterback you worry about mobility, footwork and compact delivery, and those are three aspects that Osweiler has shown a lot of improvement this year. He does a better job reading his progressions, although by his own admission he does have a ways to go in that area. Sometimes he will take unnecessary chances but more often than not in those instances his receivers bail him out.

Osweiler has certainly embraced his leadership role, and maybe it's just more than his stature that causes players to gravitate to him. He's very vocal and does a great job rallying the troops when needed and has shown that he can lead the team to comeback victories and being able to achieve that is just as much mental fortitude as it is physical fortitude. Prior to 2011 Osweiler started just two games and played sparingly in a handful of others, yet you never felt this season that ASU had a signal caller that is very wet behind the ears.

One of the keys to slowing down Boise State is getting to Kellen Moore. Does ASU put in blitz packages often or rely primarily on the defensive front to apply pressure?

ASU usually does a poor job rushing just four and you would think that under those circumstances they would be apt to blitz more. But that for whatever reason that isn't reality, although the linebackers' tendency to over pursue probably gives the coaching staff pause when they would think of dialing up a blitz. I would also think that the Sun Devil defense knows that a signal caller such as Moore could really exploit ASU in blitzing situations, so I would expect this group not to take as many chances.

Usually a spread offense will utilize the running game mostly in short-yardage situations or to keep the defense honest but Cameron Marshall has over 1,000 yards this season and is very close to Boise State's Doug Martin in both number of carries and yardage. Describe Marshall's running style and his role in the offense.

Marshall is a huge part of the ASU offense and that spelled both good and bad news for ASU. Marshall suffered an ankle injury back in August that has been nagging him for literally the entire season, and he had a minor knee later on injury to boot. Therefore, there were many games where those ailments simply caught up with him and he wasn't able to be as effective as you would expect. To make matters worse, the depth at his position was suspect at best (mainly because Deantre Lewis was sidelined all year with an off-season injury) and wasn't able to pick up the slack. That was a factor that did hurt the team in the aforementioned four-game skid.

Naturally, just looking at his stats Marshall was able to make a sizeable contribution despite his health. He possesses a perfect combination of strength and speed, and can do as much damage between the tackles as he does in the open field. He has great field vision and good decision making, and in an offense that is obviously not shy about passing he has proven to pick up the blitz very well. He certainly is a running back that will play on Sundays and should be quite effective at that.


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