The Scout.com Arizona State site is DevilsDigest.com. Its publisher, Hod Rabino, and I conducted a Q&A exchange, where ASU fans asked me questions and UCLA fans submitted questions about the ASU program to him. Here are his responses.
Signing Vontaze Burfict this past off-season was a huge get for the ASU squad. What has he meant to the defense this year?
"Burfict came here as advertised. A gifted LB with an unbelievable combination of speed and power. Has been a team top 3 tackler from day one. It's not that the ASU defense was bad before he joined the team, but he's a big reason why this unit has been so special this year. His enthusiasm is infectious to both teammates and fans. He had some issues committing penalties earlier in the year but he has cleaned that up. He needs to make sure that he also keeps his level of aggressiveness at an optimum level so he doesn't over pursue and get away from his assignment."
Is Dennis Erickson on the "Hot Seat" ? How do the fans feel about him, and more importantly the powers at the ASU athletic department?
"Everyone knew that Erickson had a lot of cleaning up and rebuilding to do when he came here at the end of 2006. In a weird way, the 10-3 record in his first year may look like a curse since it created unrealistic expectations in the two years to follow. I believe his job is safe not only in 2010 but also in 2011. There are some promising signs of improvement that should translate into more wins starting next year. The defense is already one of the best ASU has had in a long time. If they can sustain that level of play and have the offense rise to a higher level, the Sun Devils could be an elite Pac-10 squad."
What has defensive tackle Will Sutton brought to the table this season? Does he project as a starter and impact player down the road?
"Sutton has been one of those true freshmen that has impressed from the first day of fall camp. He did start a few games, but with good depth at defensive tackle he couldn't establish himself as a permanent starter. Nonetheless, he is on dozens of snaps each game, playing at a high level and is part of a very bright future for this ASU defense. While Burfict is a stud in his own right, you can see how a defensive tackle like Sutton could have contributed to Burfict's success at Corona Centennial."
What happened to receiver Gerell Robinson? I thought he was an all-world type recruit out of Chandler, haven't heard much about him...
"Robinson didn't play much WR in high school, so he endured a rough freshman season. He has improved quite a bit his sophomore year but is still learning all the nuances of the position. A shaky passing game obvioulsy hasn't helped him, or the other WRs for that matter. Nonetheless, with an expected improvement at QB over the next two years I think that Robinson can show everyone why he was a coveted recruit."
What are the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback? The 3rd string QB Samson Szakacsy played well against the Oregon Ducks this past weekend, so does it look like he'll start over Brock Osweiler?
"Yes, Szakacsy looks to be the starter this week. His mobility is his biggest asset and he has shown that he can evade rushers to pick up some yards with his feet or throw on the run. He won't throw anything longer than a 30-yard pass, due his elbow injury, but in the current ASU offense that's immaterial.
"Danny Sullivan does have the strong arm, but not the accuracy and mobility that Szakacsy has. Brock Osweiler has the biggest upside out of all three QBs, but hasn't really shown he can master one skill over the others."
What are some of the explanations the ASU coaches are giving for the Sun Devils' poor offensive production?
"It really boils down to a sub-par passing game. A lot of fans had their concerns about the OL, but that group has improved leaps and bounds from 2008 protecting the passer and creating running lanes for a rushing attack that has been fairly good this season. The coaches won't come out and say it, but they are obvioulsy frustrated with Sullivan's inability to be consistent and hit his open targets. As I mentioned, that has hurt the WRs, but in fairness to Sullivan early in the year they dropped a lot of passes which made his stats look worse than they should have been."
Defensively, what do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of ASU?
"Its front seven does a great job against the run, but as the best defense in the conference it could be a lot better in the pass rush department. There's a lot of speed at LB, and hard hitters like Burfict are always an asset. The secondary has its moments, but wouldn't be labeled as a strength of this defense. The ASU defense tends to play much better in the second half than the first, and with a struggling offense that has usually adversely affected the game's outcome. Penalties are another issue that has plagued this group. However, overall this is a defense that has been solid and provides a good foundation of years to come."
Is wide recever Coach Yarber, your Los Angeles and 'Shaw' recruiting specialist, as good as a coach as recruiter? Is he in line for a promotion or considering moving up to a OC at some smaller school?
"The WRs have been a disappointment this year, but I don't know if you can put all of the blame on Yarber in that department. I think that he has been recruiting gifted WRs, but as far as landing a lot of good recruits from the L.A. area that hasn't materialized so far. I think he may get over the hump in that department this year, but time will tell. I know Washington wanted him as their WRs coach this year and luckily for ASU he declined. I think he will stay at ASU as long as Erickson is here."