We are pleased to provide the product of a recent question and answer session we exchanged with our pal Hod Rabino of DevilsDigest.com, the Scout.com network's ASU affiliate.
Q: (from "roscoemaynard") So Hod, how do you account for all the losses this year when you guys appear actually to be pretty darn good?
A: Yup, that question hit a sore spot for Sun Devil fans…it definitely has been a frustrating season of "could of" and "should of", and when that happens it can be nothing other than mental mistakes and lack of attention to detail preventing ASU from getting over the proverbial hump.
Specifically speaking, on offense QB Steven Threet takes unnecessary chances with his throws (has 15 INT's to show for it) especially when ASU is behind, which has been the case often. On defense, straying away from assignments and committing costly penalties have been the culprits. Special teams were a mess in last week's game against USC where failure in the form of a blocked extra point cost ASU the game because the Trojans returned that block for a rare two-point score. It's been that kind of season.
Aside from those issues, Threet has had problems with his progressions and some his underneath routes. A pass rush has been almost non-existent for ASU and kicker Thomas Weber's has been struggling literally for the entire season and his confidence these days has to be totally shot.
Q: (from "Digideroo") Regarding Vontaze Burfict, I'm curious whether ASU fans feel he has cost them more games (through bone-headed, drive-extending penalties) or won them more games (the dude is a beast back there after all!)
A: I think ASU fans always have and probably always will have mixed emotions about Vontaze Burfict for the exact reason listed in this question. When he just concentrates on football and stays away from extracurricular activities, he's easily one of the best linebackers in the country. But when he crosses that fine line between reckless abandon and being just plain reckless this is when he puts himself and the team in trouble with penalties.
If we are being honest here, Burfict has been much more under control compared to the first few games of the year and you would have a hard time pointing to one Burfict penalty or another and proving that it costs ASU a game. This isn't excusing his behavior by any means, but just offering perspective. Having said that, and not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, the general notion here is that the referees do target Burfict and the next time he gets the benefit of the doubt from the men in stripes will be the first time. Just watch the ASU-USC game tape and you'll see what I mean.
Q: (from "IShatTheSheriff") What is the general consensus among Devil fans as to how to beat a team as balanced as Stanford? What are considered the key goals for Saturday?
A: Stanford's offense is so potent and balanced it would seem that taking away just the run or just the pass will simply not work. I think ASU's defense, which is fairly basic in its schemes will have to be very creative with their coverages to try and confuse Andrew Luck. Sure, pressuring Luck and rattling him can go a long ways in disrupting the Cardinal offense, but I don't think many teams this year have been able to accomplish that. So obviously it is much easier said than done.
Not that I think ASU would fare well in a shoot-out with Weber struggling, but since I can't see the Sun Devil defense really slowing down Stanford, the ASU offense will have to be near flawless and try and keep up with the Cardinal on the scoreboard to have any chance at winning.
Q: (from "EnterCardman") Why has ASU's defense been so stingy in the fourth quarter, limiting opponent scoring to less than 3.5 points per game in the final 15:00 of games? Do opponents wilt in the heat by the latter parts of the contests or what?
A: That feat has taken place on the road as much as it has at home so we can't blame Mother Nature for that. All year the ASU defense has generally taken its lumps in the first half, sometimes in heavy dosages and yet made very effective half-time adjustments which are reflective in their second-half performances. Just your classic glass half-full, half-empty scenario.
Q: (from "FearTheTrim") Your starting quarterback, Steven Threet, has thrown a lot of TD passes, but has been intercepted 15 times in nine games! What's his deal? Is he risk-taking and reckless, inaccurate, under constant intense pressure, distracted by the ASU cheerleaders?
A: Touched on that a little before in another question, but by and large "yes", Threet is a big risk -taker and that trait often has betrayed him. He will often lock onto a receiver, not go through his progressions and employ overall questionable decision-making. He sometimes puts too much pressure on himself to be perfect on every throw and as we all know trying "harder" and not "smarter" can often yield bad results. He undoubtedly showed some flashes throughout the season of being a capable signal-caller, but a lot of the ASU offensive problems are obviously tied to his inconsistent play.
Q: (from "SunCardinal") There are a lot of Sun Devils in the Phoenix area, but ASU home game attendance has averaged less than 50,000 this year. Why is the ASU program failing to attract bigger audiences – it is the wide variety of competition from professional sports? Poor marketing? A mediocre home schedule? Lack of consistent winning? The tough economy? The demise of the famous Bandersnatch beer-bar?
A: Major kudos for remembering Bandersnatch! But as much as that place is missed, I wish that was the only explanation for the low attendance…All the reasons you mentioned, aside from bad marketing, have been major culprits in ASU's attendance woes. A good portion of the Sun Devil nation often will sit on the fence and is notorious for its fickle behavior. I know those fans that don't attend games still care because ASU's games on TV usually score some serious ratings compared to other weekend programming. But again, thousands of fans are in constant "wait and see" mode and absence from Sun Devil Stadium hasn't helped the heart grow fonder for many ASU followers. "What have you done for me lately?" is a question many potential game attendees have asked and in the last few years they obviously aren't too keen on the answers they are getting.
Q: (from "BigHeatKeepinItUp") The Devils' defense has been strong against the run, allowing only 118 yards per game. Do you actually think ASU will try to stack the box against a Stanford offense led by Andrew Luck?
A: Hard to say with such a good signal-caller such as Luck. As good as he is, it goes without saying that he wouldn't be even half as successful without the running game he had last year and this season. ASU has had a lot of problems with play-action and I'm afraid that "stacking the box" could bring reoccurring nightmares for ASU fans. As I mentioned earlier, the ASU defense will definitely want to disrupt Luck, but will have to do so in their coverages because Stanford's pass protection is simply ridiculous.
Q: (from "LuckLover77") Arizona State is a university well-regarded by its alumni, but honestly, do ASU fans give a rat's rear if any Sun Devils make the Pac-10 All-Academic team?
A: I'm sure no one gives a rodent's behind in our conference about academics as much as Stanford does. But after your fine school I will put the ASU education level up there with any other Pac-10 school. The Athletic Department values academics to a very high degree and in recent years have been one of the best in conference in graduation rates and other academic rankings. So, yes fans would be proud with the academic achievements of any Sun Devil student-athlete.
Q: (from "RelentlessNCruel") With aggressive, athletic players like Burfict on defense, why hasn't ASU been able to force more turnovers? It seems like one of the only weak spots for an otherwise solid defensive group, doesn't it?
A: I don't know if lack of turnovers is the "only weak spot" on defense, but it certainly is a major one. I talked about lack of pressure on the quarterback being a glaring deficiency and that will often hurt your chances at a turnover. Pass coverage has been very spotty all season and that is another contributor to the very modest numbers in the turnover department. In general, with all the blown assignments the defense has exhibited all year, it's only natural that the Sun Devil defense has not been as "opportunistic" as it should be.
Q: (from "DMV49er") What is the general consensus with regard to head coach Dennis Erickson and his future in Tempe? Does he still "have it"? Can he lead ASU back to consistent winning seasons and post-season bowl games? Has Arizona's success put more pressure on him this year?
A: This has been asked and discussed quite a bit in various media outlets in our neck of the woods and the simple answer is that the ASU athletic department doesn't have the funds to buy out Erickson at the end of this year. So, barring unforeseen circumstances he will be coaching next season. I don't know if Arizona's success has put more pressure on ASU, but it's obviously just one more reason for the collective frown in Tempe.
Fans hate the saying "wait until next year" but I truly believe that 2011 is stacking up to be a special season for the Sun Devils. They will have one of the most experienced squads, not only in the Pac-10, but in the entire nation (losing just 12 seniors and returning approximately 20 starters combined on both sides of the ball). The schedule is much kinder than it was in 2010 and the offense will have a full year under its belt running the new offensive scheme they are running these days. So I think ASU can return to the upper echelon of the conference sooner rather than later.
Q: (from "Jeff83") Where is the best place (in Tempe) to meet a hot blonde who wants to get drunken revenge on her boyfriend the fanatical ASU football fan, whom she caught cheating on her, by hooking up with a visiting Stanford alum who is out celebrating the lop-sided Cardinal win and who will keep his Stanford cap on the whole time and she can send him a photo of it afterwards?
A: Anywhere on Mill Avenue in Tempe for the younger blondes. For the "Cougar" blondes just take a short 10 minute drive up to old town Scottsdale – they will be impossible to miss!