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Know Your Foe: Arizona State

Oct. 2 -- SunDevilSource publisher Chris Karpman joined us to provide some answers about the Sun Devils this season...

This week, we talked to publisher Chris Karpman about the Sun Devils this season:

1. What's been the most surprising thing to you about ASU's struggles so far, being 2-2 and not looking particularly dominant even against New Mexico or Cal Poly?

The biggest surprise probably isn't anything on the field but the disconnect between ASU coaches' expectations -- and in particular Todd Graham -- and how the team has actually performed. Graham spent the entire off-season and throughout ASU's preseason camp very emphatically and without qualification repeatedly stating that this is the best football team he's coached. That's a very big statement considering ASU is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons. As it stands through four games, the Sun Devils haven't looked better than any of Graham's three previous teams. More specifically, what Graham said is that the team's leadership is elite, the culture has evolved to a place it hasn't been, and familiarity with the schemes and an ability to excel as a team is more refined. But none of those things have been clearly identifiable on the field, and in some respects it looks as though ASU has been less settled and less efficient this year than in the past.

2. How do you think Mike Norvell and the offensive staff have done adjusting the offense to fit Mike Bercovici's strengths, as opposed to Taylor Kelly's?

Though they don't appear to have anticipated this, ASU's offense actually looks like it's going through a transitional phase this year with Bercovici at quarterback. ASU coaches didn't recruit the last few years for a pocket passer quarterback, but that's what Bercovici is, and that's partly to blame for the team's struggles on offense. Bercovici is not a quarterback you want to run a lot of read option with, and probably is best suited to be an under center. For sure, he's a pro-style quarterback who is best utilized when surrounded by heavier personnel groupings, bigger and more tight ends, a scheme that protects its quarterback very well in the pocket and keeps extra blockers in, and has wide receivers who can win down the field. ASU's personnel is not like that. This staff didn't recruit Bercovici even though he's currently their best quarterback, as others are younger and not as capable. But others are better suited for ASU's preferred style of play, and especially so when the other personnel suits a more mobile quarterback. In terms of the plays we see ASU run, it's not a lot different, but that's part of the problem. They're doing all the same things but just from a reduced capability standpoint.

3. How do you assess ASU's offensive line so far, both from a run blocking and pass blocking perspective? The tackles seemed to have issues against Texas A&M -- have you seen improvement there?

Texas A&M was pretty much a disaster for ASU in this regard. It was the perfect storm for ASU's offensive line, with two new offensive tackles going into a loud and hostile domed stadium environment against a new defensive coordinator and perhaps the best defensive end pass rush tandem in the SEC. On top of that, ASU was tipping its snaps in a way that led to subsequent change the following game, but the Aggies were getting off the football before ASU was on the edge and that just exacerbated the other problems. ASU's issue here isn't a lack of athleticism or potential, as left tackle Evan Goodman is no less athletic than Jamil Douglas, who is now starting for the Miami Dolphins as a rookie (at guard) and right tackle William McGehee is bigger and no less athletic than the player he's replacing, Tyler Sulka. But the new guys have no real experience and that proved costly in the opener. More recently, Goodman and McGehee have started to settle in, and even played relatively well against USC. The Bruins are a different type of test though because they have an edge speed rush capability that no ASU opponent has had since Texas A&M. From a run blocking standpoint, ASU's relatively capable. The three interior starting seniors are all returning, they have some mobility and can get out and block in space, and the tackles are good down blockers. ASU ran the ball quite easily against USC, especially in the first half, last week, but didn't end up with much to show for it with four turnovers.

4. On defense, what are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the team so far?

ASU's been pretty good against the run, both at the point of attack and also running to the football on the perimeter. It is only ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12 in rushing defense but that's deceiving because it played two triple option teams that almost exclusively ran the ball. ASU's only giving up 3.7 yards per carry, essentially as good as any defense in the league except Washington. Spur Laiu Moeakiola has had a big part in this, as he plays a hybrid linebacker-safety role on the field side and has been extremely disruptive for offenses trying to access the alley. ASU's senior cornerbacks Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown are pretty physical and stout, also, against the run and its inside linebackers Salamo Fiso and Christian Sam have played very well. Even the pass defense has done relatively well outside of a handful of plays, with Brown and Carrington pretty capable on the edges. But ASU was miserable on third downs against USC and there were a couple factors. The Sun Devils don't have pass rushers in the front four who take pressure off the rest of the defense, and Graham is very blitz heavy, but it didn't impact USC quarterback Cody Kessler. ASU's speed in the secondary isn't great, and there were assignment errors and too many missed tackles.

5. Devin Lucien, despite a hamstring injury, has emerged as one of the top few receivers for ASU this season. Obviously, with Lucien starting out at UCLA, would love to get your assessment of him and how he has fit into the Sun Devils' scheme.

It was a big change for Lucien initially because the programs are a little different culturally, he said, and also the types of routes he's asked to run are not a whole lot like UCLA. In particular, with Lucien working on the boundary side where Jaelen Strong excelled the last couple years, he's had to try to get the timing and skill set polished enough to perform at a high level right off the bat. He was just starting to get there when he suffered a hamstring injury against New Mexico when he was awkwardly tackled, and then was very limited against USC and probably wasn't totally ready to get back on the field. He's a solid Pac-12 receiver but should ideally be a complimentary piece instead of a feature receiver, especially in light of his lack of experience in the ASU system. But the Sun Devils don't have much experience at receiver and that's been a challenge and put him into a bigger role.

6. What type of game are you expecting and what's your prediction?

There' a lot of unpredictability with ASU right now. It has the makings of a pretty good defensive football team and really dominated USC on first and second downs but then was as bad as you could possibly be on third downs. On offense, running back Demario Richard is really good and there's depth there and a veteran offensive line and senior quarterback, but it just isn't coming together because the pieces just do seem to exactly fit seamlessly. ASU-UCLA games have been great in recent years, very competitive, enjoyable to watch and highly nuanced. That could happen again this year, or ASU could get blown out. ASU needs to establish its running back early against a UCLA team that has been rather ordinary at stopping the run. If it does that, it should be a very competitive game. I'm going with UCLA 30 ASU 27.

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