"Sun Devils Q & A" w/ Hod Rabino, Publisher of Scout's DevilsDigest.com
- Honestly, how important is this particular game to ASU? Is there heavy
pressure on the Devils? Yes, you are 4-2, but your schedule seems just as
heavily back-loaded as ours! How much pressure is there on Dennis Erickson to
get the Devils into a bowl game? In your opinion, what would it take for his job
security to erode?
Hod Rabino: I think you bring up a very good point concerning ASU's strength-of-schedule, but I don't know if there's heavier pressure necessarily on this game, compared to the upcoming games against Cal, USC and at Oregon. A win obviously brings the Sun Devils one step closer to bowl eligibility and a non-losing season, which were a "must" for this program in 2009. Right now this is a confident ASU team and while they may not feel pressure, they are focused and feel that they still have something to prove.
I feel that overall the fan base is on the fence with Erickson. Some think the 2007 10-3 season was a fluke, based on last year's 5-7 campaign, while some feel that the team is still headed in the right direction and that perhaps this year, and especially next year, those expectations will be materialized. Erickson's job security is not in question at all for this year and 2010. Nonetheless, everyone would like to see progress take place this year and next to validate the notion that a strong program foundation is being built in Tempe.
"simas" - On paper the strength of ASU is clearly defense. Is this a fair assessment? In addition to Burfict, who else is carrying the defensive load? What can we expect to see in the way of a defensive scheme? So far this year, which opponent gave the ASU defense its biggest challenge?
HR: It goes without saying that the ASU defense is the strongest part of this team. Every game the Sun Devils played this season, let alone the overall stats, proves that beyond any shadow of a doubt. It's not all Burfict though. ASU's front seven is loaded with talent. Defensive linemen Dexter Davis and Lawrence Guy are the more recognizable names, but Saia Falahola and James Brooks have had solid years thus far as well. At linebacker, aside from Burfict, Mike Nixon, Brandon Magee and Travis Goethel have had major contributions on this side of the ball.
In the secondary, the cornerbacks have been a little hit and miss, but safeties Ryan McFoy and Jarrell Holman have been having career years. Overall, this defense isn't flashy with its coverages and won't blitz you to death. They rather do a great job just executing in a 4-3 base defense and use their aggressiveness to become of one the most opportunistic units out there.
Naturally, I would point to two of ASU's losses, Georgia and Oregon State as the offenses that gave the Sun Devils the biggest challenge, yet even in these two games the Sun Devil defenders nearly shut down those opponents in the second half. Even though ASU's two other Pac-10 wins weren't by a wide margin at all, it was more of a function of the offense being inconsistent and not giving a cushion that would appropriately reflect the true difference in talent level.
"tmf79" - Is your freshman stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict "criminally-insane" or simply "insane"?
HR: How about "football insane"? Ironically, he pretty reserved off the field, borderline shy. But does that "On/Off" switch ever go on when he steps between the lines! His aggressiveness (both physically and verbally), his non-stop motor, and ridiculous athletic ability can sure portray to outsiders an "insane" demeanor, but Burfict only knows one gear of play. It may hurt him penalty-wise from time to time, but overall it pays hefty dividends throughout the course of the game.
"TheConscience" - Do you feel ASU truly has been tested by a well-balance offense with a power running game? Are the Sun Devil personnel well-suited to stopping the run? Does ASU typically try to overstack the box on run-oriented teams or play it straight-up?
HR: Oregon State, to some effect, provided a well-balanced offense, but I can't say ASU's other opponents have done the same. The Sun Devils have done reasonably well against Jacquizz Rodgers, so I hope it was a good preparation for Gerhart. As I mentioned, this unit has a very strong front seven. Thus, they are well suited to stop the run and again won't employ a lot of flashy schemes to achieve that objective. Gerhart will obviously be a great measuring stick, for good or for bad, to see how this defense can handle a gifted tailback.
"Emeritus" – He may be from Trent Edwards' Los Gatos High, but other than his last-gasp touchdown pass last week to muzzle the "Mangy Mongrels of Montlake" we don't know much about the Devils' senior QB Danny Sullivan – what are his strong and weak points?
HR: Sullivan was supposed to be the proverbial "manage-the-game" quarterback, and in all honesty he hasn't always succeeded in that role. For the most part he usually makes good decisions, and isn't turnover prone. On the other hand, most of his completed passes are dump-offs, etc. rather than delivering the ball in tight spaces in intermediate routes. He certainly has the arm to deliver the long ball, but his accuracy, sans last week's winning touchdown, isn't always there.
It was obviously a career day for Sullivan last Saturday, and I'm curious how he follows that up in front of healthy contingent of Los Gatos residents.
"dpbrewster" - How does ASU typically perform in the second half of its games?
HR: The defense does tend to play better in the second half. The offense has been too inconsistent to determine any trends, but last week they were a little better in the first half.
"Bandersnatched" – Based on your sense as a close observer of the program, do you feel the ASU coaches and players "expect" to win this game against Stanford and if so, why? After all, ASU has totally dominated Stanford in recent years and has averaged an even 40 points per game against Stanford since Tyrone Willingham left in 2001 . Why should things be much different this time? Do you miss Rudy Carpenter that much?
HR: I think they're feeling confident for this matchup. With their stout defense, they believe they can and should be in any game. Furthermore, with their strength being against the run, they feel they can neutralize Stanford's biggest offensive weapon. There is something to be said too about catching Stanford following two consecutive tough losses, while ASU is coming off a couple of straight wins. I don't think that ASU puts much stock in the recent history of their contests with Stanford. Both teams are very different than a year or two ago. As far as Carpenter, he was a bag of mixed goods, so it would be hard for me to answer that question.
"Stanford4U" - Who have emerged as the most consistent playmakers for ASU this year? WR Chris McGaha was the last-second hero of last week's thriller (his only catch if I recall), but who has been the most reliable or legitimate "big-play" threat in 2009?
HR: The offense certainly hasn't had a consistent big-play threat this year. But as far as a consistent producer, I would have to give the nod to tailback Dimitri Nance. He's not a home-run hitter with sick open-field moves, but rather a hard-nosed runner who just gets the chains moving. Recently, wide receiver Jamal Miles and running back Cameron Marshall, both true freshmen, have shown some flashes of big-play ability. You would also have to throw wide receiver Kyle Williams into the discussion. But again, there hasn't been any one player, who for all or most of the games, can be given the label of "big-play threat guy".
"THE TWU" - How has ASU center Garth Gerhart (younger brother of Stanford's "Touchdown Toby") been faring this year?
HR: He has had turf toe on both feet and has played in just two games. Looks like he will be able to play this week, which is obviously very special for his family.
"SparkySpanker" - Have teams been kicking to PR Kyle Williams and is he as dangerous as last season? Is he more of a jitterbug or speed-burner, or both?
HR: Teams have been forcing Williams to fair-catch quite a bit. He actually had a very good punt returning season in 2007 and won the Pac-10 special teams player of the year over DeSean Jackson (I know Stanford fans are just heartbroken over that!). Can't say he ever has displayed the same form since. He's more of jitterbug, but hardly slow-footed either…
"Hard4Card" - How do most ASU fans genuinely feel about third-year head coach Dennis Erickson? Do they respect him, admire him? Care only about winning?
HR: I'll have to get back to you on that…
"Ernest J Mudblower" - How "money" is your place-kicker Thomas Weber? Is he still automatic and if so, what is his comfortable range? Has he had to make any real pressure kicks on the road in his career? Is there a particular taunt that would be highly effective against him prior to a game-deciding field goal attempt?
HR: Weber has delivered many times in his ASU career, but was hampered with an injury last year and is working through a pulled groin as we speak. He played, albeit not 100 percent, for the first time in four games last week. He is healthier, but time will tell if he's back to his form yet.
"Lars82" - Do the "Bud Girls" still come to ASU home games? If so, how can we get them to come to an ASU away game?
HR: Can't say I saw them recently, but not to worry – there's plenty of talent on any given game day in Tempe, especially with the temperatures still being warm here. I guess they would travel if the expenses were covered, but Stanford has deep pockets, don't they?
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