Know Your Foe: Arizona State

DevilsDigest.com publisher Hod Rabino answered 10 questions from RaiderPower.com users leading up to the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl matchup between Texas Tech and Arizona State.

What are the three biggest obstacles they see to an ASU victory posed by the Red Raiders?

Rabino: One is matching the Red Raiders' offense: I don't expect the ground game to struggle, but if it does because the health of its running backs has been a concern the whole offense could sputter and not be able to match Texas Tech's explosive offense.

Second are special teams: This group has struggled all season long and really stuck out in each of ASU's losses. This is one aspect ASU will have to improve on significantly to give them a better chance to come away victorious.

Third is the mental approach: There is certainly bigger pressure on ASU here to notch their 11th win against a team that they are a heavy favorite against. Texas Tech comes to the Holiday Bowl with lower expectations following a five-game skid with nothing to lose and playing in that manner could yield unexpected results.

How would you describe the Arizona State fanbase and administration's thoughts on the potential Pac 16 that almost happened a few years ago that included five teams from the Big 12 South and CU?

Rabino: That is an excellent question because ASU fans debated it quite a bit at the time. On the one hand, the Sun Devil nation felt that the proposition of being lumped in one division which included the Big 12 schools but not the Los Angeles schools was anything but attractive. On the other hand, there was also the feeling that the Pac-16 would increase the school's revenue to much higher levels and strengthen recruiting ties to Texas.

Rabino: Bottom line is that ASU fans by and large aren't heartbroken over the Pac-16 not coming to fruition, but under certain circumstances wouldn't mind if it did materialize in the future.

What was the high and low point of ASU's season?

Rabino: The low point was trailing 29-0 at halftime in a road game at Stanford. Granted, the final score of 42-28 made the game look more respectable than the events that actually took place that day but following that game many Sun Devil fans wondered if the 2013 season was indeed going to be the special season everyone thought it would become.

The answer to that question came at the high point of the year which was a 38-33 road win at UCLA, where ASU clinched the Pac-12 South crown beating the reigning champions and proving that it could beat a high caliber opponent on the road.

Do the Sun Devils have any contributors from the Lone Star State?

Rabino: Ironically two of ASU's biggest offensive weapons hail from Texas. Senior running back Marion Grice is from Houston and he prepped at Nimitz High School before playing at Blinn College in Bernham. Grice is ASU's leading rusher with 996 yards and leading scorer with 20 touchdowns, but a leg injury that saw him miss the last two contests may very well hold him out of the bowl game as well.

The second significant contributor and Texas product on the squad is kicker Zane Gonzalez from Deer Park High School. The true freshman was easily the steal of the 2013 recruiting class especially due to the fact that he signed a couple of weeks after NLI day, and went on to break the school record for most points in the season by a kicker with 127 while grabbing first-team Pac-12 honors in the process.

Other Texas players who have seen playing time this season are cornerback Lloyd Carrington Dallas' Lincoln High School, a player who actually played under head coach Todd Graham at Pittsburgh and followed him to Tempe, wide receiver Cameron Smith from Coppell High School and safety/linebacker Laiu Moeakiola from Euless Trinity High School.

How are the fans/players attitudes going from Rose Bowl hopefuls to playing a 7-5 Tech team?

Rabino: I'm not going to lie, ASU fans were not thrilled when the Holiday Bowl matchup was announced. I know this will sound pompous, but they believed that a 10-3 team who won its division shouldn't be playing a team that was just barely over .500 backing into a bowl game after losing its last five games. Some of that narrative was also just overall frustration over the bowl alliances the Pac-12 has. Having said that playing in a city which is a five-hour drive and a frequent vacation destination for Phoenix-area residents did negate those feelings to some extent.

If the team felt the same as their fans they surely aren't showing it at all, and Todd Graham has repeatedly said that a good bowl experience is never complete without a win. Thus, if your head coach is taking this game as seriously as he is, you know that attitude trickles down throughout the program. So there is no doubt in my mind that the team will come focused from the get go and not have any mental lapses or unconstructive attitudes that will hinder their chances of winning.

How does ASU plan on stopping TE Jace Amaro?

Rabino: That is one matchup that I believe is a major concern for the ASU defensive staff, since the Sun Devils this season were at times exposed by some of the better tight ends in the conference. Part of that is just the aggressive nature of the defense which at times allows that easy pass in the flat to a wide open tight end. Additionally, as good as this defense has been at times its outside linebackers haven't been consistent at all and that showed in part in their tight end coverage.

The ASU defense will have to be more judicious in its blitzes to avoid Amaro burning them for big plays. I could see them employing a spy on him and the defense employing some kind of bracket coverage on Amaro isn't out of the question. Chipping Amaro to take him out of his route early is another tactic I would look for. There is no doubt is my mind that he will be the focal point of the ASU defensive game plan and it will be interesting to see if their scheme does prove effective against a very dangerous offensive weapon.

Which QB would ASU rather Tech start and why?

Rabino: I would say Michael Brewer because there has to be some kind of rust factor with playing just three games this year, attempting just ten passes and now facing a defense that quite frankly has frustrated quarterbacks early and often all season and does very well against offenses that tend not to present a potent rushing game. But I don't feel that the ASU defense would have any apprehension of facing a Davis Webb who appears to be not much of a scrambler and that fact will play right into the hands of a constant attacking Sun Devil defense.

How do the offenses of the Big 12 compare to those of the Pac 12?

Rabino: I know the Pac-12 in many parts of the country has the reputation of all its teams having spread offenses that chuck the ball up 50 times on average each game. Truth of the matter is that this league is full of elite running backs that present much more balanced offenses than some may think. Nonetheless, the explosiveness of the conference's offenses often comes from having some of the best passing games in the country.

The Big 12 offenses appear to me to be wider open compared to just ten or so years ago. Maybe the Mike Leach era in Lubbock had something to do with that and even today the Red Raiders resemble more of a Pac-12 squad than a Big 12 one. While they are certainly some high scoring programs in the Big 12 as well, they do appear to be more run heavy in their methods but again not as much as they were last decade and prior to that.

How rich in talent is Arizona HS football? Do the Sun Devils get most of their players from California?

Rabino: Good question that touches on a sore subject. The local 2014 class may go down as the best ever in-state group, yet ASU despite its 10-3 season has had a hard time luring the top talent to Tempe. Granted, Graham's staff had a lot of "cleaning up" to do after the previous staff failed miserably in their local recruiting efforts and local recruits have often do not give ASU the benefit of doubt or the proverbial "hometown discount" if you will and are convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere. Ironically, many recruits even those who went to play for SEC teams do come back home after a couple of a seasons. ASU fans know the Sun Devil coaching staff is relentless in its recruiting efforts and hope that this pays dividends in 2015 and beyond.

The perception of ASU in Southern California is very favorable and that has worked well for the programs for a few decades now. It's rare for ASU not to have a recruiting class where at least half of its players are from Southern California and this year there will have more players than they have had in a while from Northern California. So while ASU does put a lot of efforts in recruiting its back yard, California remains the "bread and butter" of its recruiting.

With ASU's star running back out, does this change their offensive approach? Will they try to pass more?

Rabino: If ASU became more reliant than normal on its passing game this could very well spell trouble for the Sun Devils. It most of its losses and close wins in 2013, quarterback Taylor Kelly attempted 40 plus passes and that doesn't play well to his skills. As mentioned, a highly balanced offense that features a very potent running game is what really makes this offense tick.

While Grice doesn't appear ready to play on Monday, ASU's other top running back D.J. Foster, should be good to go and be much closer to 100 percent by kickoff. The sophomore is a very versatile weapon who scored nine touchdowns and for the second straight year has over a 1,000 all-purpose yards despite not being a returner on special teams. ASU should not miss a beat with Foster as its feature back and his performances in the last two games where Grice didn't play validate that point.

Deantre Lewis who much like Foster was banged up during most of the bowl practices in Tempe has also healed up and can be a very capable backup when called upon. Tight end De'Marieya Nelson is the most physical runner of the bunch and has done very well in his limited number of rushing attempts.

All in all, not expecting ASU's running game to take a step back with Grice's absence.

Raider Power Top Stories