Know Your Foe: Arizona State

Some Bruin Report Online readers posed questions to Hod Rabino, the publisher of the ASU site, Devils Digest, about the Arizona State team, its season, personnel, program and future under Dennis Erickson...

Steven Threet, in only his first year playing for ASU, has looked like a veteran. What do you think the ASU staff has done, in the off-season and during the season, to prepare him to be so effective?

I think first and foremost you have to give Threet himself some credit. He started in eight games for Michigan in 2008 (played in a total of 11) and that season passed for over 1,100 yards and a passing efficiency of 105.26. So ASU may have not landed a veteran in Threet but he was hardly wet behind the ears either when he arrived in Tempe.

Having said all that, I give first-year offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone a lot of credit of further developing Threet and the other ASU's QB's for that matter. His offensive philosophy is very quarterback friendly and doesn't require the signal caller to make overly difficult throws or stand in the pocket for several seconds before delivering the ball. This scheme suited Threet very well and he is the type of player that will always put maximum effort in the weight room as well as the film room.

Nonetheless I can't sit here and honesty say that Threet has been effective this year. He has thrown 16 interceptions and his completion percentage is just over 62 percent. He definitely didn't look sharp in three of the last four games for ASU whether it was interceptions returned for touchdowns or fumbles at the goal line. I'm very curious to see how he finishes the season.

What do you think about the results so far from ASU moving to the spread offense?

With ASU averaging 30 pts a game this year versus 22 pts a game last year, it looks like a success. If so, what have been the keys to that success?

Through its recruiting ASU has been able to land speedsters in the backfield such as Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, as well as skillful wide receivers such as Mike Willie. Returning players such as running back Jamal Miles and wide receivers Kerry Taylor. T.J. Simpson and Gerell Robinson have found new life in Mazzone's offensive scheme.

ASU is currently nationally ranked 18th in passing offense, 38th in total offense. Those numbers represent a vast improvement from last year (and granted after 2009 there was nowhere but to go up) and suggest a very potent offense which ASU has displayed at times. Furthermore, the no-huddle aspect of it will always present a challenge for opposing defenses. I think this scheme has its flaws with relying heavily on the lateral pass/bubble screen and it's a scheme that isn't conducive for time of possession. But overall I do like this offense and it has been a noticeable upgrade from last year.

ASU has had some very close games against the upper-tier teams in the Pac Ten on the road and against Wisconsin in Madison. What do you think were the main reasons for ASU not winning those games?

Mental mistakes, a propensity for turnovers and penalties have played their part in these close losses. But just as important has been the poor special teams play. ASU's placekicker Thomas Weber is having a horrible season converting just 10 out of 17 field goals, 2 of 6 from 41 yards or longer. Blocked field goals, extra points and punts have unfortunately become all too common for ASU this season.

Inexperience, especially on offense has played a part too. You may see a lot of players listed as juniors on this side of the ball but when you closely examine their playing experience it's easy to see that they are not battle tested as you would expect a third-year player to be. All of ASU's principal running backs are underclassmen. As I mentioned, all these players are playing in the first year of a new offensive system so the learning curve is still there. Thus, it has been baptism by fire for many players which is why the hope that 2011 will be a better year for ASU.

Who are ASU's legitimate NFL prospects?

On offense Center Garth Gerhart, running back Cameron Marshall and WR Mike Willie.

On defense defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and corners Deveron Carr (injured) and Omar Bolden.

What freshmen or redshirt freshmen has been most effective?

Running back Deantre Lewis came in with very high accolades and even though he has been slowed down by an injury in recent weeks the true freshman has been one of the top performers on offense. He's third on the team in total offense (521 yards) and scoring (36 points).

Defensive end Junior Onyeali may be undersized at 5-11 but the true freshman has been a very effective pass rusher for ASU. He is tied for first on the teams in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (4.5) and is a big reason for the upgraded play at defensive end this year.

Where do you realistically see the direction of the ASU program going under Erickson and do you think it has the potential to be a consistently top-three program in the conference?

Excellent question and one that many ASU fans are debating as we speak when discussing whether it's justified for Erickson to come back in 2011 (and according to ASU's Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love that will happen). I went on record saying that for 2011, with a more favorable schedule, with 20 or so returning starters on both sides of the ball and a squad with more experience, there are no excuses for ASU not to be one of the top teams in conference next season.

It's anybody's guess whether that will take place or not but I'm optimistic. Even if ASU does enjoy a much improved season in 2011 it will have an uphill battle sustaining success as they lose 30 plus seniors next year. The 2012 recruiting class for the Sun Devils will have a profound effect on the program for years to come.

Do you feel that the recent success that Mike Stoops has had at Arizona will put more pressure on your admin to improve the current state of your program?

There is no doubt that the Sun Devil nation will always have a wandering eye towards Tucson to measure up their program against its rival and, suffice it to say, that lately the folks in Tempe have had a good reason to be disgruntled. Don't get me wrong, I truly believe that Sun Devil program aspires to be a good program regardless of the state of the Wildcats but there is no doubt the folks in Tempe are tired of their in-state rival grabbing the headlines and the top 25 ranking in 2010.

How does the ASU community view UCLA football, if they give it any thought at all? Do they scratch their heads as to why UCLA hasn't had more success over the last decade considering the location of the school and the local fertile recruiting base?

As I'm sure the UCLA fans are scratching their heads thinking why ASU doesn't have more success…it's funny (or frightening depending on how you look at it) how both programs have been considered underachieving for so many years. We know that the emergence of USC in this decade has obviously impacted UCLA more than any other program in the league. But it is curious that even though the Bruins still manage to land three consecutive top 10 recruiting classes they do not have much to show for it.

Furthermore, some view the Rick Neuheisel hire as one desperate party reaching out to another. Many outside of Westwood didn't think this hire was going to be a good one or lead to a better future and I suspect that many Bruin fans feel the same right now. Maybe the talent UCLA is getting is overrated or maybe those players are still very skillful but not receiving the proper coaching.

How do ASU fans view Vontaze Burfict and his temper? Do they think he's worth it?

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.

Two phantom calls (the game tape validates that crystal clear) on Burfict late in the fourth quarter against Stanford were part of the Cardinal's winning drive, but by and large Burfict penalties as a whole while not helping the cause haven't cost ASU a game. This isn't excusing his behavior by any means but just offering perspective. 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. Then again, after the aforementioned horrendous calls I'm curious how he is treated by the refs in the last two games of the year.

What do you feel is the reason for ASU's wild inconsistency? For example, they lost at Wisconsin by one point and to Oregon State by three, yet were blown out at Cal. Are they blaming the coaching staff or is it an indication of a young team?

The inexperience I talked about is undoubtedly responsible for some of that, as well as the aforementioned mental mistakes. You can't absolve coaching from being responsible as well. I thought they mishandled the first bye week workload and didn't bring the players down to earth after the win against Washington and what we got as a result was an unprepared, overconfident team that suffered a lopsided loss to Cal.

All these close losses, and some of them to quality teams, will always carry a glass half full half empty attitude by the fans. The 2011 season will certainly manifest whether these close losses were necessary growing pains for a better future or not.

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