Know Your Foe: Arizona State

We asked ASU publisher Hod Rabino a few questions about the Sun Devils this year....

With Arizona State seemingly poised for a Pac-12 South crown unless UCLA wins out or something very strange happens with USC, would you consider Todd Graham ahead of schedule in terms of resurrecting the program?

I would agree that he is ahead of schedule. Even Graham admitted that he inherited a lot of talent when he arrived in Tempe, but you can tell that in the previous regime the coaching wasn't always up to par and worse than that the team culture was simply toxic and not conducive to any success. In any coaching transition you expect a learning curve to take place and while coaches and players will tell that that this curve was very steep last year, the results actually show that everyone adapted quicker than probably excepted.

Additionally, I think both ASU, and UCLA for that matter, are the beneficiaries of all the issues that USC has been dealing with the last couple of years and just an overall weak Pac-12 South division.

Arizona State struggled against Stanford earlier this year—what do you think needs to change or be improved upon for Graham's program to get over the hump in those kinds of games?

Against Stanford it was just a matter of not being physical enough to contend with their offensive and defensive lines, and surprisingly ASU went into shell shocked mode much quicker than I thought they could ever be. Even though Stanford has had impressive wins since then I'm sure they would admit that the ASU game may have been their best outing of the season. So this was also a case of ASU just running into a red hot team at the wrong time.

ASU could use some upgraded physicality especially on the defensive line to help them contend better with teams such as Stanford.

How do you view Taylor Kelly's progression as a quarterback, particularly over this season? Has he plateaued a bit?

Interesting question because I thought in October he was exceptional, consistently going over 300 yards passing and doing a great job running the ball as well. But in the last two games he took a couple steps back being less accurate and if it wasn't for running back Marion Grice and a stellar job by the defense I'm not so sure ASU wins its last two contests.

I don't know if it's so much reaching a plateau rather than just exhibiting poor technique which part of it is having an offensive line that isn't pass protecting all that well the last two games, which is causing Kelly to be rushed on his throws and make bad decisions. Having said that, I always felt that Kelly should be doing a better job with his progressions. As mentioned, he has great pieces around him so there isn't much being asked from him compared to other quarterbacks in the Pac-12. So I think he can still play better and after two poor outings it will be interesting to see how he bounces back in such a huge game like the one this week.

What's your assessment of Will Sutton's play this year, and do you think he has been close to as effective as he was last year?

With 36 tackles, 8.5 for loss and just two sacks, there is no question that Sutton's overall performance isn't even close to that of his 2012 Consensus All-American season. Offenses are much better prepared from him this year, and going back to the physicality factor - against teams such as Stanford, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, Sutton certainly had a hard time getting off blocks and racking his usual havoc in the backfield. Granted, he was double teamed in many instances but that's not foreign territory for him.

Now I do feel that he has played much better as of late, and is looking much closer to the his 2012 form than he has earlier in the season. The fact that he didn't get to play in last year's UCLA-ASU game will only fuel him more to have a big game on Saturday.

What are your keys to the game for both teams and score prediction?

In order for UCLA to win they will have to get off to a fast start so they can cool off an ASU defense that is playing at a very high level right now, and on defense get to Kelly early and often and force the Sun Devils to pass more than they want to and not achieve the desired balance on offense.

In order for ASU to win they first of all cannot be rattled by the magnitude of this game and the 90,000 plus expected in the stands, which means be very disciplined in both your assignments and avoiding penalties. They have to control the line of scrimmage to give the offense time and room to operate and on the other side of the ball defense control Myles Jack and force the Bruins to be one dimensional.

When you have two explosive offenses as these two teams do, you look to the defenses to determine who has the upper hand. The UCLA defense has definitely had its struggles in recent weeks and I believe this week they will face one of the best offenses they had faced all year. The ASU defense has been playing at a very high level the last few games and can pose a very big challenge both on the ground and in the air to the Bruins.

Not a cake walk by any means for ASU, but I do see them winning 35-31.

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