The Sun Devils are off to a fast 2-0 start under new coach Todd Graham. What are the major differences you can tell us about the program under Graham? How much different is this year's team as compared to the team the Tigers face on the road at ASU last year, both in personnel and offensive and defensive styles?
Scheme wise the offense is predicated more on the run (about 60-40 play distribution) and incorporates a tight end. So far those changes have really played to the strength of the offense and its personnel. The defense runs a 3-4 alignment and the cornerbacks are normally very aggressive with their coverage.
Yet scheme wise aside, it is really the culture of the team that has changed the most. Discipline and full out effort are now staples of this ASU football team. Five penalties through two games are unheard of in Tempe, and that is thanks to Graham's insistence on attention to detail and accountability. Graham is a very outgoing coach who does a lot to keep his players engaged and energized, and for that matter does the same with the Sun Devil nation.
Who are some of the players who made an impact last year that Tiger fans will remember and should look to possibly make an impact in this year's game?
Ironically most of the players fitting that description were seniors and are no longer on the team. The biggest name Missouri fans would recognize is wide receiver Jamal Miles who scored two touchdowns in that contest including the winning score in overtime. Miles was suspended for the first game, but I thought he played fairly well in the win over Illinois both on offense and returning kicks.
The Sun Devils offense has exploded for 108 points in its first two games against Northern Arizona and Illinois. They are currently ranked 7th in the nation in scoring. Has the offensive output surprised you? And who/what has been the main reasons behind the high scoring offense in your opinion?
Even the most optimistic Sun Devil fan didn't expect this offensive explosion, especially with first-year starting quarterback and inexperienced and depth challenged offensive line and wide receivers. The offensive system is one that is tailor made for the personnel and creates a lot of deception which allows receivers to be wide open and for running backs to find comfortable lanes.
Quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank have been very accurate with their throws and both average over 30 yards rushing a game. Running back D.J. Foster is probably the most explosive and dynamic player on this side of the ball and is a threat to turn in a big play everytime his number is called no matter where he lines up on the field. Tight end Chris Coyle, who under the previous offensive scheme was seldom used (and that's putting it lightly) and he has absolutely flourished in this scheme. As you know, anytime to have very reliable passing target at tight end you are opening that many more possibilities for your offense.
Share your thoughts on Sun Devil QB Taylor Kelly and what should the Tigers expect from him and his play?
Kelly came into this season as the proverbial game manager that is a low risk low reward quarterback. In the first two games, he has shown that he can be much more than that. Very poised for a sophomore who started his first game ever two weeks ago. He has excellent decision making and his 78.6 completion percentage speaks for itself. Does a great job in the zone read system and with averaging over 30 yards a game rushing he can obviously make plays with his legs too.
Who are some of the other top offensive threats that Missouri has to worry about and Tiger fans should be on the look out for?
Really all the players I mentioned until now in Kelly, Foster, Coyle and Miles. Still waiting for senior running back Cameron Marshall to shake off his slow start fumble issues because he was projected to have a much stronger start to 201. Having said that he is tied for the team lead in scoring with three touchdowns.
With such a potent offensive performance by ASU and ringing up the points, the defense hasn't gotten as much attention. What can you tell us about the Sun Devil defense this season?
You're right about it being overlooked and with it being ranked in the top 3 in the Pac-12 in seven categories it probably should get more mention. Nationally it's ranked in the top 10 in both passing yards and pass efficiency and with all the questions marks coming into 2012 surrounding the secondary those numbers are very gratifying. Having said, they faced very low caliber passing attacks thus far.
The run defense is really the most notable blemish to date of this group, as they rank 74th nationally. Granted, a 3-4 defense is usually more prone to be weak in this category. But all in the entire whole group is a very aggressive and quick unit and at the same time very disciplined as they register no penalties the first two games.
Who are a few names that are the top defenders on the team in the first two games?
Defensive lineman Will Sutton has been on an absolute tear so far notching 14 total tackles and four tackles for loss. Right behind him is JC transfer linebacker Chris Young who came in with a lot of accolades and so far is delivering leading the way with five tackles for loss and 13 total tackles. In the secondary Keelan Johnson (11 total tackles) and Alden Darby (two interceptions) have stood out.
How is the health of the Sun Devils looking heading into Saturday's game?
The biggest blow from last week was losing linebacker Carlos Mendoza for the year. The true freshman linebacker was poised for an outstanding season. On the other hand senior linebacker Brandon Magee is back after missing the Illinois contest with a concussion.
Name three players on either offense or defense who you feel will be difference makers for the Sun Devils on Saturday?
On offense Kelly, Foster and Coyle. On defense, Sutton, Young and Darby.
What three things do you feel ASU will need to do to beat the Tigers on the road?
Discipline, focus and taking care of the ball.
What three things do you think the Tigers have to do you beat the Sun Devils?
Having a potent passing game, get off to a quick start, create turnovers.