Two words: Noel Mazzone.
The first-year offensive coordinator gave this side of the ball a much-needed shot in the arm. Granted, after two consecutive years of a stale and predictable offense there was no way but to go up, but to be nationally ranked #20 in total offense at the season's midpoint is a feat that has delighted, maybe even surprised many here in Tempe. Granted, the ASU offense has had in most of its games issues in the red zone and quarterback Steven Threet has already thrown 11 interceptions this year. Nonetheless, even in its losses this group has proven to be explosive at times with its no-huddle spread scheme featuring a lot of skillful and fast playmakers.
Much is talked about the youth on the ASU roster. Does that still hold true or six games into the season is this team seasoned enough to compete for a top half finish in the Pac-10?
The youth factor is a valid point when discussing this ASU team since it has only 12 seniors. On offense, the only upperclassmen that have meaningful experience are center Garth Gerhart and wide receiver Kerry Taylor. Coming into this season, Steven Threet, despite being a junior played only 11 games in his career (at Michigan) and that was back in the 2008 season. The running back group literally features only freshmen and sophomores and there are many new faces at wide receiver.
On defense, you may have some players that are juniors in class status but still don't have much game experience under their belts as many of their fellow upperclassmen around the league.
Having said all that, this team for being a 3-3 squad has showed a lot of promise on both offense, defense and is really just less than a handful of plays away from being 5-1. They will obviously have to go on a monster tear the rest of the year to finish in the upper echelon of the conference and that appears to be improbable. But for now, they would be content with a 7-5 record and a chance to go to a bowl game.
After the win in Seattle, coming after solid games in losses to Wisconsin, Oregon, and Oregon State, what is the vibe around the program?
Throughout that three-game losing streak, we heard over and over how this team has beaten itself with a plethora of mental mistakes. So it was nice for the Sun Devils to have played a "clean" game against Washington, win that contest, and validate to itself and the fans that they are indeed capable of having a good season and are better than their record reflects.
Therefore, it has been a positive vibe during the bye week and the sense around the program is that they may have just turned the corner and are ready to show their improvement in the second half of this season. Obviously, they will need to prove all that starting with the game this Saturday.
With identical 3-3 (1-2, Pac-10) records, this week's game vs. Cal takes on a far more important role for both teams. Does the ASU fan base feel this game is not only one it can win, but also one it should win?
With the great parity in the Pac-10 this year, ASU feels that every game from here on out is a winnable one. Naturally, you will have fans that will interpret Cal's 48-14 loss to USC last week as a sign of the Bears imploding, but I think most fans know that it's never fun playing a wounded team and ASU should know because they were in that role a few times already this season.
I don't think the Sun Devils are lacking confidence at all for the game against Cal, but I also feel that a lot of that notion is rooted with how ASU feels about itself and its abilities.
Looking at the remaining schedule, ASU will likely have to win at least one of three at USC, vs. Stanford, or at Arizona to get bowl eligible. Is any bowl fine with Sun Devil fans after last season or will it take at least an 8-win season and a victory over rival Arizona to appease the masses?
I guess it depends on which ASU fan you ask. A 7-5 record and a bowl berth would be a tremendous achievement at this point. Getting that the seventh win against Arizona in that last regular season game would be even a sweeter scenario and if ASU achieved its eighth win of the season against Arizona, Tempe would be beyond euphoric. Again, just making it to a bowl and showing that the Sun Devil program is marching in the right direction should be good enough to declare this season a success.
ASU has developed a stronger ground game, how does it match up against Cal's 3-4 defense? Or will the Sun Devils' Steven Threet attempt to duplicate Matt Barkley's success against what is considered a stout Cal passing defense?
ASU prides itself on having a balanced offense and it wouldn't be a stretch to state that the Sun Devils rushing offense is much better than its seventh place in the conference standings and is a product of deserting that aspect when often playing from behind.
It goes without saying that ASU will try to employ the same plays that USC was able to exploit Cal with whether it will be in the air or on the ground. Coaches will always tell you that they will eventually run the plays that the defense is giving them so whatever type of success ASU has on offense will naturally be dictated in part by the Bears' play in the game.
Cal's offense has been less than stellar this season, and ASU's defense has been among the best in the nation in forcing three-and-outs. However, Cal has played substantially better at home. How do you see this playing out? Can the Sun Devil defense control this game or will the ASU offense have to outscore a Cal offense that is averaging over 46 points per game at home?
I think that this game won't be a full-blown shootout and that ASU will have to control the time of possession to win this game.
Up until their last game, the ASU defense has generally underperformed against FBS teams and had a tendency to dig itself a hole in the first half but then play very well in the second stanza. Yes, it will be interesting to see how the Bears' offense rebounds after last week and there is no better place for them to do that than at home. All in all, even though these two teams are capable of lighting up the scoreboard I expect a low scoring affair, which obviously means that the defenses will likely outshine the offenses.
The one constant for Cal has been Shane Vereen; he is arguably one of the top running backs in the nation averaging 105 yards per game. ASU is giving up less than 125 yards rushing per game. Do you think the game plan will be to stuff the box and force Cal QB Kevin Riley to beat ASU through the air?
Even though ASU is giving up 123.8 rushing yards a game, it's still good for third in the conference. There's no doubt that this area has been stronger for the ASU defense than its pass defense, and a suspect pass rush only enhances that shortcoming. That being said I think ASU will take its chances with Cal's passing game and probably feel good with their chances if they are able to contain Vereen.
Finally, is this the year the Sun Devils get it done in Berkeley – a place they haven't won since 1997 (not including the 1999 forfeit)?
I do believe so. Again, this has nothing to do with Cal's last results but rather with the sense of confidence that ASU has right now in their abilities on both sides of the ball. The Sun Devils have played well on the road this year so I don't think that aspect will be an issue. Every streak is made to be broken and ASU will find success in a venue that they normally haven't.
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