Know Your Foe: Part II

Part II of our Q&A with Devil's Digest pubisher Hod Rabino.

Click here for Part I

6 - Todd Graham's last two teams, Pittsburgh and Tulsa, both gave Notre Dame's offense fits, and both, incidentally faced Tommy Rees (Tulsa 2010; Pittsburgh 2011). What's his philosophy defensively and has he fully integrated it into the Sun Devils program.   

Rabino:   As much as Graham loves an aggressive offense, he probably puts even more emphasis with this aspect on defense, as he is a defensive minded coach. His schemes are truly multiple with a 3-4 base, but at times you will see a 4-3 and even a 3-3-5 alignment to boot. ASU plays with a hybrid defensive end/linebacker (DEVIL) and a hybrid linebacker/safety (Spur) which allows the necessary flexibility for a defense that is predicated on disguising coverages and blitzes.  

An aggressive front seven naturally means that the corners are generally on an island, and incorporate a lot of bump coverage in their assignments. In general, the defense takes a lot or pride in being as physical as they are athletic and disciplined in terms of penalties and assignment execution.    

7 - For the first time this season, a shifting front seven gave Notre Dame's pass protection issues (Oklahoma's D scored a touchdown and registered a sack thanks to edge pressure). Can the Sun Devils get after the passer?   

Rabino:   With players such as consensus All-American Will Sutton and his teammate Carl Bradford, who had 24.5 sacks between them in 2012, ASU certainly has the capability to harass quarterbacks. Truth be told that this hasn't happened as often thus far in 2013, as Sutton was double teamed quite a bit versus Wisconsin and Stanford and Bradford wasn't always able to respond. Additionally, offenses tailored their schemes as much as they could to neutralize the effect this duo may have.     

So while the tandem's numbers are quite down compared to last year, and overall the defense isn't getting the same level of pass rush, I have no doubt that the Notre Dame offensive coaching staff is very mindful of the general pass rushing abilities of ASU and surely wouldn't want this aspect to be on display Saturday.    

8 - Notre Dame's passing game has been stymied the past two weeks by heavy man coverage. Is ASU capable of that on the perimeter against a solid group of receivers but inconsistent quarterback?  

Rabino:   Very good question, because the perimeter defense, especially on the field side of the defense, has been a cause of concern yet more in the running game than passing game. Nonetheless, it's a glaring deficiency on game film that Notre Dame will undoubtedly try to exploit much like ASU's other 2013 opponents in the last three weeks. Then again, the Sun Devils are giving up only 193 yards passing a game, so I would think that they are content daring the Irish to pass the ball and would try to get them in as many third a and long situations as possible. Needless to say that if ASU's pass rush reverts back to its 2012 form it will greatly aid the back four.  

9 - It doesn't seem like ASU struggles to score under any circumstances, at least not for the full 60 minutes. Why are they so tough to contain?  

Rabino: The creativity of their schemes, running multiple plays out of the same formation. Being able to achieve a true balance between the run and the pass. Having a quarterback who on the one hand is extremely mobile and does an outstanding job in the zone read scheme, while being an efficient passer who usually isn't asked to do much in this area but does execute his throws very well.

This side of the ball is rich with playmakers at the skill positions who thrive in a scheme that suits their skills. Furthermore, if they are able to keep a frenzied pace they can tire a defense and not allow it to have a rotation of players entering and exiting the field.   

10 - Fill in the Blanks:

Arizona State will win If: they achieve a balanced offense at the tempo of their liking, and avoid the special team's mistakes that have plagued them in recent weeks.     

Arizona State will lose if:  they let the new uniforms and all the hoopla surrounding this contest to get the better of them and lose their focus in terms of penalties and turnovers.  

Final Score Prediction:  ASU 31 Notre Dame 23 Top Stories