5 To Watch: ASU

DevilsDigest.com publisher Hod Rabino offers Fighting Irish fans five Arizona State players to watch during Saturday's contest with the No. 11 ranked Sun Devils.

Removing the obvious key player in this category, Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly, who are the five Arizona State players to monitor that will be significant to Saturday's outcome in Tempe?

RB #8 D.J. Foster: The junior has always been known as a versatile explosive player and this season is no different. He is one of just two active RB’s in the nation with over 1,500 rushing yards and1,000 yards receiving over their career. In 2014, Foster has rushed for 701 yards averaging 5.8 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns, and in the passing game he is just as instrumental hauling in 452 yards with an average of 11.9 yards per catch and scoring twice.

On Saturday though, he may be more of a threat in the later aspect of the ASU offense, as he is averaging just over 38 yards per game rushing in the last five contests, as other running backs such as Demario Richard emerged. Nonetheless, he can be quite a considerable threat in the passing game and is a home run hitter type of player no matter where he lines up on the field.

WR #21 Jaelen Strong: The junior wide receiver is another ASU player building upon a solid 2013. This season, Strong has collected 821 yards receiving yards averaging 14.4 yards a catch to go along with eight touchdowns. Currently he has a four-game scoring streak. 47 of his 57 receptions in 2014 have been for a first down and he has drawn ten pass interference penalties, four of which were declined.

While other receivers around him are offering him a better supporting cast than in 2013, Strong remains not only the primary focal point of opposing defenses’ game plans but also of the ASU offense. Case in point, he was targeted 17 times last week versus Utah. While that is a figure that needs to be decreased in order to benefit the Sun Devil offense, there is little doubt that when ASU is in need for a big play the wide will often be the first option.

DE #1 Marcus Hardison: When you talk about the dramatic defensive turnaround for the Sun Devils in recent weeks, the senior defensive end has to be part of that conversation. If he isn’t the most improved player on this side of the ball from week one, he’s certainly in the Top 3.

Has had three of his five sacks to date just in the last two games, and has benefitted from the heavier look defensive line look for ASU that is now more a true 4-3 scheme rather than a 3-4. On Saturday he will be the primary defender that will be asked to not only pass rush Everett Golson but also try and contain him on the edge from extending plays, let along gaining first downs with his feet. Hard to imagine the Sun Devil defense having a successful day without a big game from Hardison.

LB #28 Laiu Moeakiola: If there is anyone who would be considered the proverbial quarterback of the ASU defense, it would be the sophomore linebacker. As Moeakiola goes so do the Sun Devils. A very cerebral but also instinctive player, who assumes the hybrid linebacker/safety Spur role, perhaps the most complex position in Todd Graham’s scheme.

Moeakiola will have to guard the perimeter from short route passes, let alone Golson and the Irish running backs attacking the second level of defense. If the front four continues its formidable level of play, the linebacker will have to roam and be a deft playmaker as he has been for most of the year. Moeakiola has amassed 43 tackles, 7.5 of them for a loss, in 2014.

Safety #3 Damarious Randall: Irish fans probably remember Randall well as he had his breakout game as a newcomer with 17 tackles in the Shamrock Series game in Dallas last year. While generally he found his stride in the later part of 2013, this season he has been not only more consistent and the best tackler on the team but also one of the best among all FBS teams.

Randall along with fellow safety Jordan Simone, leads the Sun Devils in tackles with 73, co-leads with Moeakiola in tackles for loss with 7.5, and is second on the team with five pass breakups. Suffice to say that if there is a big play on the ASU defense then Randall was very likely to part of it.

Randall has great closing speed and moves very well sideline to sideline. He is also one of the best ball hawks on this Sun Devil unit, and if there was a pick six during any ASU contest he is most likely to have those honors. Is equally involved in both run and pass defense, and is another player that has to have a well above average day in order for the defense to be successful on Saturday.

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