Q&A with Sun Devil insider

ARIZONA STATE HAS put up some big numbers on offense this season but in the games they haven't, in the games they've had problems, the opposing defenses had one specific thing in common. We asked Hod Rabino of Devils Digest about that and a lot more with kickoff in Tempe on Saturday night (Pac-12 Networks, 6:30 p.m.) coming up fast.

BF.C: ASU came into the Utah game having scored 50-plus points the last three games. Utah held them to less than half that in a 20-19 Sun Devil win. Why did ASU have trouble generating points against the Utes?

Rabino: I went on record before the Utah game saying that the Utes' physical defensive line will pose problems for the ASU offense, no different really than the issues the Sun Devils encountered against similar physical lines such as Stanford (loss), Notre Dame (loss) and Wisconsin (close win). Utah harassed Kelly all day long and for three quarters literally shut down the Sun Devils' rush attack which is vital to fuel its entire offense.

But as it turns out that this was only half of the story.

The other half was that Utah did an excellent job during its bye week preparing for ASU and on game day threw some looks that the Sun Devils haven't seen before. It did take a while for ASU to make the necessary in-game adjustments and luckily for them the defense played well enough to keep matters close going into fourth quarter where ASU dominated.

Oregon State can definitely do the latter of the two reasons I mentioned, and I'm curious to see how physical they can get with ASU and cause the same type of issues Utah was able to generate.

ASU QB Taylor Kelly was sacked six times in the Utah game, any concerns about the offensive line?

Rabino: I would say yes, the way ASU's front five played last week was a big step back from their performance in the previous three games. In reality, the whole season has been a roller coaster for this group and going back to my previous point a lot of it has to do with how physical the defensive line opposing them was. It's anybody guess how well or poor the offensive line's display will be on Saturday but on paper at least this Oregon State front four should be less of a challenge compared to Utah.

Oregon State has had trouble with running quarterbacks and Kelly is running more than he had earlier in the season – do you expect him to try to run even more than normal against OSU?

Rabino: Definitely. Physical defensive lines (don't mean to harp on this factor but it just happens to be the answer to several questions) have prevented Kelly from carrying the ball as much as the coaches want him to. Against Washington and Washington State, Kelly was gaining a lot of yards with his feet -- when facing Utah he didn't find nearly as much daylight. Oregon State does in comparison offer him more opportunity to showcase his running abilities based on what has transpired this season, and I have no doubt the ASU coaches would want to revive that aspect of the offense.

Coming into this game against Oregon State, how would you characterize Arizona State's Run Defense and Pass Defense?

Rabino: Both categories are close in their success rate and have contributed to the Sun Devils defense being best in the Pac-12 right now and nationally No. 14. ASU's run defense though has been the less consistent of the two. In their current four-game win streak it's been solid, if not phenomenal (namely the Washington schools). Earlier in the season it has struggled quite a bit. Once again it comes down to the caliber of opponent and how physical it is at the line of scrimmage. Against a team such as Oregon State which has struggled running the ball I do expect ASU to do well.

The best matchup this Saturday, in my opinion, will be between the ASU pass defense, ranked tops in the Pac-12 and Oregon State's pass offense, also best in the conference. The Sun Devil secondary led by seniors Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby has done a fine job against several high powered offenses they've faced this year and have used their aggressive style of play to maximize their results. Having defensive linemen Will Sutton and Carl Bradford now playing at their 2012 form and wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines has obviously been significant in the pass defense's success. I know ASU will have its hands full against Oregon State, but you can probably say the same about the Beavers' passing attack.

Same question for the Run Offense and Pass Offense?

Rabino: With so many talented running backs in the Pac-12, it has been easy to overlook ASU's Marion Grice who leads the nation in points scored per game, despite being held out of the end zone in the last two weeks, and he is also Top 10 in rushing touchdowns and all-purpose yards. He has spearheaded a solid Sun Devil rushing attack, and along with the running capabilities of Taylor Kelly, the two are able to establish the run which is the catalyst to ASU's high octane offense.

ASU's passing offense had its worst outing of the season last week against Utah with 144 yards, but overall it's been very potent. Kelly has improved a lot on his mechanics from last year and has effective aerial targets at his disposal such as Grice, Jaelen Strong, Chris Coyle, and D.J. Foster. The ASU offense overall is at its best when its run and pass game are balanced out and in the last few games that has happened almost every week making its offense very explosive.

Who are the other guys Oregon State fans should watch for both on offense and defense?

Rabino: On offense one player to keep an eye on is wide receiver Ric Smith, who had struggled quite a bit in the first half of the season and in the last two games has been one of the biggest offensive stars. Has really developed a knack for executing tough catches which go along nicely with his speed and quickness.

On defense, safety Damarious Randall is one to watch. Has great range in pass coverage, is very fast and aggressive in his style of play, traits that will come in handy when defending a dangerous Oregon State passing game.

What is ASU's biggest weakness on offense and defense?

Rabino: On offense it's the inability to be successful against physical defensive fronts because if ASU is unable to establish the running game early then its offense is likely to suffer quite a bit and not be able to be explosive as it was in the last few games leading up to the Utah contest.

On defense, I think it again goes back to the physicality factor. An aggressive by nature ASU unit has to find pay dirt with its efforts and render the opponent's running game ineffective while racking up sacks and tackles for loss. It won't be able to rely just on its quickness and speed if it faces an offensive line that is significantly stronger than them.

Complete the sentences: ASU will win if ____. ASU will lose if____.

Rabino: ASU will win if its offense is balanced and if they wins the turnover battle against a very opportunistic Oregon State team.

ASU will lose if it cannot continually harass Season Mannion and force him into bad decisions and allow the Beavers to control the line of scrimmage.


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