ASU publisher talks Sun Devils

The Navy midshipmen will face Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on December 29. DevilsDigest.com publisher Hod Rabino was kind enough to answer GoMids.com's questions on the Sun Devils. Look inside to get the full scoop on Navy's Pacific 12 Conference opponents.

GoMids.com: Arizona State suffered through a 4-game losing streak but then turned it around and won its last two games to become bowl eligible. What was the key to this turnaround?
Hod Rabino: It is all about the culture change that first-year Head Coach Todd Graham instilled in this ASU team. Two of the biggest slogans he attached to this team when he arrived were "Speaking Victory" and "All In." At first they sounded corny and cliché but pretty soon we learned that the attitude of the team was shaped by such sayings and they exhibited the overall changes that Graham and his staff brought to Tempe.

Now I'm not going to ignore the fact that this losing streak took place at the hands of some of the better teams in the Pac-12 and that their last two victories came against teams that caliber wise were much lower in stature. Thus, the schedule did help them out in that sense. But in 2011 we saw a team implode when they lost all of its four last games to teams that were inferior. The resilience of this year's Sun Devils did allow them not to go into a tailspin that so many fans excepted them to experience. A team's true character shows in times of adversity so in that sense what we witnessed from ASU in that aspect was encouraging.

GM: Does the Arizona State staff have any coaches with experience coaching the option offense or coaching against option teams?
HR: Many of the Arizona State staff members spent a good portion of their coaching careers at smaller schools and smaller conferences where the option offense was more prevalent than it is in BCS conferences such as the Pac-12. Furthermore, the staff has proven how meticulous they are in their game preparation every week. I have no doubt in my mind that they have studied Navy's game film for endless hours and wouldn't be surprised if they even dabbed into other teams' game film that run the same scheme as well.

It's anybody's guess how well the ASU defense will perform on December 29th, but I don't think any possible shortcoming that day would be because of lack of preparation.

GM: Who are two or three key players on each side the ball that Navy fans should be aware of?
HR: On offense I would start with JC transfer running back Marion Grice. He plays among a group of very talented players and carries sometimes are hard to come by. That being said, Grice seemingly has taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to him. He carried the ball just 89 times this season (collecting 520 yards) and scored nine touchdowns. He was just as impressive as a receiver posting 39 receptions for 406 yards and eight touchdowns. He is the perfect combination of speed and power and his numbers obviously manifest his versatility.

Another offensive player that has been a significant contributor on the side of the ball is tight end Chris Coyle. The junior is ASU's leading receiver amassing 53 receptions for 659 yards and five touchdowns. The Sun Devils' wide receivers group collectively had a poor season but Coyle's play was able to still give ASU formidable passing game target. ASU's success running the ball has allowed Coyle to also showcase his improved blocking skills. If there is a passing 3rd down to be converted chances are you will see quarterback Taylor Kelly connecting with #87.

On defense you would naturally have to first and foremost point the 2012 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, defensive lineman Will Sutton. Going into this season he was definitely one returning player that figured to be one of the stars of the defense, yet no one could imagine him having the impressive season that he had. 58 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, five pass breaks ups, three forced fumbles and overall just a menace for any offensive line he faced. His athleticism and explosiveness was a catalyst for a one if the best seasons ever by an ASU defense.

After missing all of 2011 with an Achilles injury, it was anybody's guess what kind of production senior Brandon Magee would have in his last season in Tempe. The always upbeat Magee claimed all throughout the off-season that he would be back better than ever, and he backed up that statement in spades. He ended the regular season as ASU's leading tackler with 104 stops, to along with his 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. As the unquestionable leader of the defense, Magee's impact cannot be overstated. True, he was probably one of the main beneficiaries of Sutton's play up front but on his own merit he further proved to be a very important player for the Sun Devils.

GM: What do you think is the mindset of the Sun Devil players heading into this bowl to play Navy? Are they excited about playing the Mids or kind of ho-hum about it?
HR: With the culture change this coaching staff has implemented, I can assure you that ASU isn't treating this bowl game as a San Francisco Christmas getaway that just happens to have a football game at the tail end of it. Todd Graham is a "no days off" coach and has stressed for weeks now that without a win the bowl experience can be somewhat meaningless. It's very important for the team to finish with eight wins, something ASU has done only three times since the turn of the century and the team looks forward to a unique challenge in an environment that I suspect could favor the Mids with the big Navy presence there. There has been much progress shown in Graham's first year in Tempe and the team knows that a loss to Navy could certainly put a damper in a season that for most part was positive.

GM: What are some things about Navy that might concern the ASU staff?
HR: Well obviously the triple option offense is the biggest challenge on ASU's plate. Just like any other BCS conference team out there, it's an alignment you rarely see if ever and one that you can simulate umpteenth times in practice and still find the game day experience in this aspect quite different. Furthermore, more often than not the Sun Devil defense hasn't done all that well against a run and is obviously not licking its chops facing a Navy squad averaging over 369 yards rushing a game.

Naturally, when you have such a dominant rushing attack it's an easy to be stung by a big passing play and that is something the Sun Devil secondary has to be cognizant of.

Another aspect of that Navy offense is ball control which won't give the ASU offense that many opportunities on the field and you wonder if such a high paced offense can be affected by that.

Not much is written about the Navy defense, but I have the feeling that ASU would still have to have a balanced offense in order to win this game and you never know if the Sun Devil passing game will show up (more of a function of the wide receivers' play) at a level where it can really pose a problems for an opponent's defense. I would suspect Navy will dare ASU to beat them with the pass and it remains to be seen if ASU can exploit that approach.

GM: What do you think are the keys for the Sun Devils to come out victorious in this bowl?
HR: Discipline on both sides of the ball. Since time of possession is at a premium playing a team such as Navy, you have to make sure that you don't turn the ball over. On defense, the key to playing a triple option is staying true to your assignments and not try to do someone else's job. Needless to say that if ASU can truly limit Navy's rushing attack they stand more than a good chance to come away victorious.

As mentioned, a balanced offense is crucial to ASU's success, but they also need to operate at a high pace so they can wear down the Mids' defense.

GM: What is your prediction of the game's final score?
HR: ASU wins 34-17. I think the Sun Devils may take a while to figure out this Navy team, but their athleticism and high pace play will help them to distance themselves in the second half.

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