|Name four players to watch - two on defense and two on offense - and why Oregon State fans should keep their eyes on them.|
On offense I would keep an eye on RB Deantre Lewis. The true freshman is leading the Sun Devils in rushing and averaging nearly 10 yards a carry. He came as advertised out of high school and is an extremely explosive runner who can use his speed to be a major threat in the open field. While he is very agile with his body he is also strong enough to run between tackles. Another player on offense to take note of is WR Mike Willie. Beaver fans know all about Dennis Erickson's track record with JC transfers at this position and Mike Willie, who leads the team in receiving yards, is another first year player making an impact in the passing game. Willie is a very physical receiver and sure handed, and while he isn't the fastest player at his position he can still do a good job with yards after the catch. On defense the first obvious player to look out for in LB Vontaze Burfict. He may not have had the greatest fall camp for various reasons, but the All-American is playing at the high level everyone expected him to preform at and leads the team in tackles. His punishing hits often overshadow his quickness and closing speed to the ball. Even though the sophomore gets flagged once or twice every game he appears to be playing much more under control than last year. Cornerback Omar Bolden is finally playing at the level many expected him to play at when he first arrived in Tempe in 2007. The junior was granted a medical redshirt after being sidelined with an injury for most of last year and has bounced back in a very successful manner. Bolden has great speed which complements his coverage skills and he rarely gets burned by the player he is covering.
|What are the strengths of the offense? What are its weaknesses?|
The ASU offense has managed to be fairly balanced with its rushing and passing yards and is ranked second in the conference in total offense. Steven Threet has been a breath of fresh air at quarterback and by and large has been able to engineer the offense in a productive manner. The offense's ability to produce big plays has improved night and day over the last two years. The seven turnovers ASU had last week were an anomaly, but its red zone struggles are not. Threet has had some poor decision making in this part of the field and kicker Thomas Weber is not knocking them down with the same regularity he did in 2007 when he won the Lou Groza award. The offensive line hasn't done the best job of pass blocking as of late but that is negated to some extent in an offense which calls for a quick release of the ball.
|What are the strengths of the defense? What are its weaknesses?|
Probably as expected the defense has been fairly stout against the run, allowing just 115 yards a game. This despite some depth problems at defensive tackle. As a whole this unit has been very stingy in the second half of games allowing just 8.5 points in that period and has yet to yield any points in the fourth quarter. The most glaring weakness right now is the pass rushing. Granted, opposing quarterbacks don't have hours to throw the ball against ASU but four sacks in four games clearly doesn't strike fear in its opponents. The aggressive nature of this defense can sometimes result in blown coverages as well as costly penalties.
|Coming into this game where would you rank ASU on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the team playing at peak performance) and why?|
I would probably have to say a 7. This team really packs a lot of potential that we haven't see them fully realize yet. The last two losses still showed the fans that this squad can go toe to toe with anyone in the Pac-10, but will they actually be able to play at a high level for the rest this year? It's anybody's guess. This team, especially on offense, is very inexperienced and the unpredictability factor is magnified.
|Talk about Vontaze Burfict, he's seen by some as a guy with a lot of talent but who also hurts his team by racking up an inordinate amount of personal foul calls.|
There is fine line between letting a player using his natural abilities that have served him well, high energy and aggressive being a couple of them, to being careless and causing more harm than good by committing penalties. As I mentioned, I think Burfict does have it more under control compared to last year (The Wisconsin game really showed that) but I think Sun Devil fans expect him to have a penalty each game and just hope when it happens it isn't too costly. Not to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist but I truly believe that some officials do target Burfict or at the very least won't give him the benefit of the doubt that they give other players. Bottom line is that he is very talented but the attributes that make him a special player can also be his worst enemy at times.