Answer: The biggest factor is inexperience. Last week against Washington State only one senior, defensive tackle Saia Falahola, started for ASU and in other games the numbers weren't a whole lot different. In that same game all six touchdowns were scored by either freshmen or sophomores. On offense you have several players that either didn't play last year, are coming off a year hiatus due to transfer or just haven't had much Pac-10 experience. On both sides of the ball many players listed as juniors weren't significant contributors last season.
The team has struggled with mental mistakes such as turnovers on offense, penalties and missed assignments on defense. Much like the USC fans the Sun Devil nation knows all about close losses where the team shoots itself repeatedly in the foot and hands over the game to their opponent. Three of their four losses were extremely winnable games where ASU simply couldn't get out of its own way.
Q: What is the feeling among ASU fans about Burfict? Are they getting tired of his costly penalties, or is he good enough that they let it slide?
A: 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.
If we are being honest here you would have a hard time pointing to one Burfict penalty or another and prove that it cost ASU a game. This isn't excusing his behavior by any means but just offering perspective. Having said that, and 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.
Q: What are your reactions to Lane Kiffin's statement on Burfict: "``When he wants to turn it on, he just dominates the game. I wish he was here,'' Kiffin said?
A: Who am I to argue with coach Kiffin?
Q: ASU was top 10 in the nation on defense a few weeks back, and then they started giving up their fair share of points. What happened?
A: You, I and the rest of the ASU followers would like to know the answer to that question. Overall, you have a lot of key players that aren't playing at the same level as they did last year. With the departure of defensive end Dexter Davis (drafted by Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks) a huge void was created at pass rush and only recently have we seen that area start to play at a respectable level. No one is denying that the linebackers are more athletic this year but the football IQ lost with the departures of Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel has negated the athleticism factor. I mentioned the penalties and missed assignments on this side of the ball and all these aspects put together bring us to where the defense is currently.
Q: Is Threet the solution at QB?
A: Even though his performance this year has been erratic I still believe he is the best player for this job. Threet's biggest issue, ever since he was preparing to compete for the starting job at ASU was putting too much pressure on himself. That's why he didn't dominate the competition with now backup Brock Osweiler until the middle of fall camp, and that's why he has been interception prone at times. He's a signal caller that plays much more under control with a lead, but then again that could be said about the vast majority of QB's out there. He has shown more than a few flashes of brilliance this year and it will be interesting to see how he plays this weekend after such a solid performance against Washington State.?
Q: Do you expect this to be Erickson's last season in Tempe? If so, who do you think might replace him? Realistically speaking, who would you want to replace him?
A: This has been asked and discussed quite a bit in various media outlets in our neck of the woods and the simple answer is that the athletic department doesn't have the funds to buy out Erickson at the end of this year. So any talk about the 2010 season being his last are futile.
Fans hate the saying "wait until next year" but I truly believe that 2011 is stacking up to be a special season for the Sun Devils. They will have one of the most experienced squads not only in the Pac-10 but in the entire nation (losing just 12 seniors and returning approximately 20 starters on both sides of the ball), the schedule is much kinder than it was in 2010 and the offense will have a full year under its belt running the new offensive scheme they are running these days. So a coaching change at the end of this year could really counteract the chances of a great 2011 campaign.
Q: How do you think ASU will fare against the Trojans?
A: This game carries more importance for ASU and their bowl chances than it does for USC. I don't know if it's a given that the Trojans' loss to Oregon has deflated them for the rest of the season, but there is no denying that the Sun Devils will be more motivated on Saturday. ASU wins a close one in a shootout.
Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson