The Buffs travel to Tempe this Saturday in another important PAC 12 Football game.
BuffPlayBook Question: High expectations, even a possible PAC 12 conference championship, appeared to be possible for ASU. After two disappointing losses, one conference and one non conference, how is the team responding and how its the fan base reacting?
DevilsDigest.com Answer: There is certainly a sense of disappointment and missed opportunity among fans following the Notre Dame loss. That contest was certainly a winnable game, ASU was favorited and the vast majority of national pundits all picked the Sun Devils to win. The stage was set for ASU to make a strong statement in front of a national audience and send a strong message to the rest of the Pac-12 that they were one more team its league foes should be concerned about. More importantly with seven conference games left the Sun Devils could have really entered that slate of games with a lot of confidence and swagger.
But like you pointed out, the result of that Notre Dame contest didn't affect ASU's Pac-12 record, so they now they have to make sure that this defeat doesn't have a dreaded hangover effect that can really take its toll for this week and the rest of the season. All the coaches and players are saying all the right things and displaying the positive attitude that would indicate that they are truly over last Saturday. Needless to say that their contest against Colorado will ultimately be proof of that.
BPB Question: What are Arizona State's strengths as a team, we have seen impressive offensive performances, especially against USC, what does teams have to do to have success against the Devils?
DD Answer: Well, that's a bit of a complex question, because depending on the caliber of its opponent ASU was either able to showcase a highly explosive and balanced offense, or see that side of the ball struggle in many ways. I will say that regardless of the results in the first five games the passing game has put up big numbers averaging 359 yards a game, but then again during its losses the Sun Devils all but abandon their running game in the second half. Their 130 rushing yards a game are skewed by a huge 261 yards ground output versus USC which helped negate 50 and 65 rushing yard performances against Stanford and Notre Dame.
The creativity of their offensive schemes and running multiple plays out of the same formation, can make this offense quite the challenge to deal with. However, ASU has to achieve a true balance between the run and the pass, and continue to move the chains to maintain an effective high tempo. Quarterback Taylor Kelly usually doesn't fare all that well when he throws 40 or more times. Thus, if Colorado can heavily disrupt ASU's ground attack like Stanford and Notre Dame did then this offense will once again sputter.
BPB Question: Is there a team weakness, what has teams done to expose ASU at times this season.
DD Answer: We talked a lot on our board about winning the battle of the trenches. Yes, the most worn out cliché' in football but one that always stands the test of time and doesn't ASU know that this year…so we talked about a hot and cold rushing attacks and on defense their inability to effectively stop the run has caused even two of its wins to be quite the adventure, let alone heavily contribute to their two defeats.
High caliber of opponents so far has also exposed ASU's offensive line in giving up sacks (13 on the season and nearly half of them came last week against Notre Dame) and the Devils' pass rush has been very quiet with just seven sacks in five games. Special teams has also been a great concern in 2013 with the team already playing three punters with less than average results, and having return and coverage units which haven't fared better at all.
BPB Question: Saturday marks the halfway mark for Arizona State, as a veteran publisher and a longtime media member covering the Devils, is this team farther ahead than you expected at this point, what does this team have to do to end the season they way most fans expected them to.
DD Answer: I don't mean to harp on the caliber of opponents talking point, yet I feel that this factor has perhaps skewed a lot of team's stats and pointed out several weaknesses and some of them (running game, pass rush) have been unpleasant surprises. Nonetheless, it also showed that ASU is probably not in a position to win the Pac-12, but can still win the South division. So in that sense, I don't know if anyone sees overall marked improvement from 2012. In reality, if the Sun Devils' are truly going to significantly increase their number of regular season wins from last year, their margin of error is quite small.
In theory, you can make a valid claim that the hardest part of the schedule is behind them and even though Top 25 teams like Washington and UCLA remain on the schedule there is a good chance that by the time they play ASU that their record won't be a whole lot better than the Sun Devils'. In short, ASU just has to shore up all the deficiencies I mentioned and play much better than they have until now on the road.
BPB Question: What team or teams that remain on your schedule will be the most difficult to overcome in the always tough PAC 12?
DD Answer: As mentioned, on paper Washington and UCLA appear to be the toughest tasks ahead. But if I'm going for perhaps a less obvious game, I would say the road game on Halloween night (which happens to be a Thursday) at Washington State following ASU's bye week. An improved Cougars squad has been hyping this game for months now and all the elements involved can truly make this contest a huge challenge for ASU.
BPB Question: What does the ASU fan base think of Todd Graham, do they like the high power offense and the attitude he has brought to Tempe?
DD Answer: With a 3-2 record the fan base certainly has some kind of level of dissatisfaction with the ASU coaches and players, but I believe they see the bigger picture too knowing that the staff won't let this team go into a tail spin and be out of the Pac-12 South race this month. The new culture of discipline and accountability that Graham has brought to Tempe has been greatly received by the fans from day one.
In terms of scheme, fans of course love the high tempo and high scoring offense, as well as the aggressive and opportunistic defense the staff employs. It's just that these components have been inconsistent in 2013. Then again, I think ASU can really get on track starting this week and show its great effectiveness on both sides of the ball.
BPB Question: What are the keys of the game for Arizona State to be successful against Colorado this weekend, and your prediction of the score of the game?
DD Answer: As high octane as ASU's offense is, it still employs a philosophy that is run first so if ASU can establish that ground attack early and often then chances are it will be a high scoring affair for the Sun Devils. On defense, the front seven has to do a better job than recent weeks both with its pass rush and run stopping, and challenge the Buffaloes to throw the ball since Colorado's passing game has struggled in conference play. The Sun Devils' special teams have to improve its punting and make sure it wins the field position battle.
ASU is over a three-touchdown favorite for good reason. This in a home contest they are fully expected to win and I think they will do so to the score of 44-17.