INSIDE: Q&A on Arizona State, Part I

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE between this year's Sun Devil team and last year's? What's the scoop on ASU's run defense, pass defense? How about on offense? Who are the players to watch? We asked all of that and more of the guy with his finger on the pulse of the Sun Devils -- Hod Rabino, the publisher of Here's Part I of the in-depth Q&A...


BF.C: What's the biggest difference between this year's ASU team and last year's team?

Rabino: Scheme wise this ASU team plays at a higher tempo and is more aggressive. On offense, it's a system that is mostly based on downhill running of the ball and one that utilizes the tight end quite a bit. Those are stark differences from the offense of the last two seasons and ironically those two position groups of players are the biggest offensive producers. There are also more designed run plays for the quarterback in this year's scheme.

On defense, ASU now mostly plays a 3-4 alignment and occasionally dips into a 3-3-5 scheme. It employs players who are a hybrid linebacker/defensive end and hybrid linebacker/safety. We're seeing a much more aggressive and blitzing defense, which disguises its coverages quite often and normally leaves the corners on the island as they play a lot of bump and run and press coverage.

First-year head coach Todd Graham has brought a strong measure of discipline and accountability into the program. This has manifested itself in a much lower number of penalties and a team that conducts itself with class on and off the field. Graham is a stickler for details in every manner imaginable but that approach has benefited the Sun Devils.


BF.C: Coming into this game, how would you characterize Arizona State's Run Defense, Pass Defense.

Rabino: It really depends if players such as Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali are playing, because without them the defensive line has been exposed for its lack of depth.

Now, even when that tandem was healthy and playing well I didn't feel that run defense was all that effective and after all this isn't a necessarily imposing defensive line so having that shortcoming is perhaps to be expected.

However, during its five victories ASU was often able to build up a sizable lead early in the game forcing its opponents to abandon their ground attack. Nonetheless, with Sutton essentially missing the last two games and Onyeali missing good chunks of playing time in those same two contests, ASU saw its run defense be simply porous.

The pass defense has been a stronger suit in comparison, although the secondary had a very bad outing against UCLA last week. The Sun Devils rank first in the Pac-12 in sacks, passing yards and passing efficiency and 2nd nationally in tackles for loss. The availability and more importantly the effectiveness of Onyeali and Sutton, who even if they play on Saturday probably still won't be 100 percent healthy, will also impact ASU's pass rush (both players total 13.5 sacks between them) and could benefit or hurt the Sun Devils' pass defense.


BF.C: Same question for the Run Offense, Pass Offense.

Rabino: Despite a good number of formidable ground attacking teams in the league, ASU is still ranked 4th in the Pac-12 and this aspect is by far the "bread and butter" of the Sun Devil offense. Ironically, senior Cameron Marshall has been essentially a non-factor in this team aspect, but newcomers D.J. Foster (a true freshman) and Marion Grice (a junior college transfer) have spearheaded the rushing game delivering a lot of explosive plays.

Overall, this group of running backs came into the season with high expectations and they have been able to live up to them.

Foster and Grice may have even a bigger impact in the passing game collecting a total of 742 yards and ten touchdowns. Tight end Chris Coyle, as we mentioned, has been an integral part of the passing game as well. Despite two bad outings the last couple of weeks, quarterback Taylor Kelly still leads the Pac-12 in pass efficiency and is 3rd in total offense. As a first-year starter, he's by far the biggest surprise player on the team and has proven not only to be the game manager the coaches wanted him to be but also a signal caller who can make the tough throws on 3rd down and normally do a solid job with his downfield passes.

On the other hand, ASU's passing game is being affected by an underperforming wide receiver group that is inexperienced but nonetheless hasn't been able to play at a consistent level.


BF.C: Who are the guys Oregon State fans should watch for on offense for ASU and why.

Rabino: On offense it would be Grice and Foster. They are by far the biggest playmakers on this side of the ball, are extremely dynamic and explosive and are equally effective catching the ball as they are running it.

I have no doubt that they will be the focal point of the Beavers' defense as they game plan this week.

Coyle is another player to look out for as he is one of Kelly's favorite targets.


BF.C: Same question for the defense -- who should Beaver fans watch for when ASU is on D, and why.

Rabino: If Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali play, those are two players that are naturally worth noting. Carl Bradford who plays the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position (called Devil backer in ASU's scheme) is a potent pass rusher who actually had a good game in the UCLA loss.

One defender that didn't play well last week but has been outstanding for the rest of the season is linebacker Chris Young who is a hybrid linebacker/safety (called Spur in ASU's scheme), who does a good job disrupting offenses.


BF.C: What does the injury situation look like – and does it look like Will Sutton, Junior Onyeali and Steffon Martin will be ready to go, doubtful, still up in the air?

Rabino: As of right now I would say that Sutton and Onyeali are questionable, and Martin probable. That can obviously change as the week progresses.

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