Ask the expert: ASU

We asked publisher Chris Karpman six questions about this Arizona State football team heading into the Pac-12 South showdown between the Trojans and the Sun Devils. 1) Mike Bercovici hasn't looked like the same quarterback who threw for nearly 1,000 yards against USC and UCLA last season. What is different about his game?

Chris Karpman: There's a lot of factors involved that have contributed to a reduced offensive output from Bercovici and the Sun Devils through three games and it's all been somewhat alarming for ASU fans. In the team's opener against Texas A&M Bercovici was sacked nine times by a relentless pass rush led by one of the nation's best defensive end tandems, Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. ASU had two new starting offensive tackles and each struggled, and making the matter worse, the Sun Devils were tipping off their snaps. Bercovici never had a chance to throw the ball downfield and ASU didn't max protect enough to help him. The Sun Devils also don't have their top two wide receivers from last season, including Jaelen Strong, who had 200 yards and 10 receptions against the Trojans last year, and some injuries in the backfield forced D.J. Foster to return to the backfield from the wide receiver spot he was going to play. In ASU's last two games it played against triple option ball control offenses that didn't score many points but ate up a lot of clock and kept the ball from ASU and also it seemed to disrupt rhythm. Bercovici is still capable of having a big day any time out but ASU's offense just hasn't fired on all cylinders yet and there are a lot of contributing factors.. 2) The Sun Devils have played back-to-back triple-option teams. Will there be any issues adjusting to a what is now more traditional balanced offense?

Chris Karpman: I don't think so from a schematic sense though maybe it'll be an adjustment from a standpoint of all of a sudden facing so much speed and athleticism after being lulled into just playing against the run on 80-plus percent of plays over the last two weeks. ASU coach Todd Graham and his players have seemed to be thrilled to be done with the cut blocking and hide-and-seek triple option and on to the types of offenses they have constructed their defense to face on a week to week basis. 3) The Arizona State defense returned 9 of 11 starters and is known for bring pressure early and often. How has the defense looked so far and is blitzing still a staple?

Chris Karpman: Graham calls the defense for ASU and is probably as aggressive a play caller as anybody in the country. There have been many games where he's blitzed on more than three-quarters of all downs and even brought six man pressures with Cover 0 behind it on dozens of plays from scrimmage. The Sun Devils are almost certainly going to attack early and often in order to try to make Cody Kessler uncomfortable in the pocket, and use bump man techniques at cornerback on USC's potent wide receivers in order to buy time for ASU's pressure to get home before the receives get open with room to run.

It's a Russian Roulette style of defense when playing against a talent offensive line and potent receivers, but it's worked well for Graham and ASU's defense has forced a ton of turnovers even though it's given up a fair amount of big plays. True freshman Kareem Orr will get the start at field-side safety in place of injured sophomore Armand Perry, and is a key player to watch in this game because he'll end up in a lot of man coverage. Elsewhere ASU is very capable in the secondary and Orr will be very good in time, but it's a tough test for any true freshman. Up front, ASU doesn't have great pass rushers -- like USC -- but has done a pretty good job against the run with its front seven. That's of course going to be severely tested as well Saturday. 4) Who has emerged as the big playmaker on offense?

Chris Karpman: Other than Bercovici, sophomore running back Demario Richard has been ASU's most productive skill player. He set a school record last week with 151 receiving yards for a running back, and also had 104 rushing yards. He's a stocky 5-foot-10, 215 pounds and gets good yardage after contact and is versatile. Injuries have limited ASU's skill weapons, elsewhere. Sophomore running back Kalen Ballage, at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, was expected to be a major weapon but missed the first three games with mono. He'll play Saturday. Junior De'Chavon Hayes is a swing player who lines up in the backfield and slot. He was expected to be a major factor but missed most of the last two games with a hamstring strain. He'll also be back against USC. Junior Tim White is a good athlete at wideout as a junior college transfer but he had a broken hand that kept him out of the first game and most of the second game. He played well against New Mexico last week and is going to play a bigger role moving forward. UCLA transfer Devin Lucien, a senior, started to get into a groove last week but then hurt his hamstring in the second half and is questionable for Saturday. 5) D.J. Foster has been moving around but he hasn't been putting up huge numbers. What needs to happen to get him going?

Chris Karpman: In the first ASU game against Texas A&M, the passing game wasn't really there due to the aforementioned reasons and then Foster slid back to running back and had success but also got banged up and then wasn't operating at full speed last week. ASU needs him to get more involved and certainly to be healthy. He's one of the most accomplished players in the country from a versatility standpoint, the only active FBS player with more than 2,000 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards. 6) What type of game are you expecting and what is your prediction?

Chris Karpman: Even though ASU is getting some of its offensive players who have been banged up back into the fold, it just hasn't been operating as effectively as it'll need to in order to beat USC, at least not to this point. It'll have to really pick things up against the Trojans, and maybe it is the right team to play given what the Sun Devils were able to do in the passing game last year. I think ASU will keep it close but some lingering offensive limitations and health issues will keep it from winning unless USC turns it over a few times. USC wins 34-30, with ASU having to settle for a few field goals in the red zone. Top Stories