What are the thoughts on Todd Graham right now? Is he the right guy for the job?
When a new head coach is introduced for the very first time, it's always important for him to "win the press conference" and Graham during that event said all the right things and everything that the fan base wanted to hear. But in my opinion, aside from winning the press conference, Graham has won the off-season. There was no media interview or speaking engagement he turned down during his first several months in Tempe. The effort that he put into reaching out to as many fans, alumni, and community members so they will support the program is something I haven't in my 22 years of following the program.
Under Dennis Erickson the inmates were running the asylum, discipline on the team was as prevalent as a blizzard in Phoenix, and the program was doing anything but adequately representing the school. Graham has shown to be the total opposite of Erickson and a breath of fresh air for those who were fed up with an underachieving program that could never handle success and that's assuming that they would actually once in a while not shoot themselves in the foot en route to another inexplicable loss.
Graham came in demanding accountability, and if you did violate a team rule you were punished based on your transgression and not your depth chart position. The strength and conditioning program was beyond strenuous and players did see results rather than injuries. On both sides of the, ball speed and efficiency were stressed every waking moment. Graham understood that these players needed an attitude adjustment because only that transformation along with their god given talent could yield the results that would make everyone proud to be associated with the program.
All in all, Graham's approval rating so to speak is sky high these days.
What's the biggest strength of the team on offense?
Without a doubt the running game and that's despite senior Cameron Marshall having a very pedestrian year so far, albeit some it due to injury. Newcomers D.J. Foster and Marion Grice have produced as advertised thus far and allow the staff to employ an offense that is predicated on downhill running and allows for effective play action passing.
What's the biggest strength of the team on defense?
The front seven, although they have had their moments stopping the run, they are a very aggressive unit that takes pride in harassing opposing signal callers. The linebacker group is responsible for most of the team's sacks and interceptions, so they have been very opportunistic.
What is the biggest weakness on offense?
The wide receiver group. Some may have thought that a first-year starter at quarterback would really hinder any production from this group. Yet, it's becoming more and more apparent that Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank are rarely the problem in this aspect and that the inexperience of the wide receivers has already reared its ugly head on several occasions.
What is the biggest weakness on defense?
On paper the secondary, although it's not like ASU has allowed a plethora of passing yards in every game. On the other hand, many feel that this group could still get severely exposed against some of its stronger conference foes. There is a severe depth issue with this group which also contributes to them being a problem area on defense.
What are the expectations for the program this season now that they've had a solid start?
I think one function of expectations isn't only what ASU has done and is capable of doing, but also how the other teams in Pac-12 South are performing right now. USC's loss to Stanford shows that they are probably not the shoe-in division champion everybody anointed them to be back in the winter. Colorado is obviously struggling and to some extent so is Utah. UCLA and Arizona are off to a hot start. All in all, ASU knowing what kind of talent they have and what they feel they are capable of doing feel that they have just as a good of a chance as anybody in the division to make their presence known.
At this point of the season, seeing what we have in the first three games, I would say the expectation at minimum is for ASU to finish the regular season 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. I felt before the season started that this was doable and my opinion hasn't changed. I do feel that ASU's next three games are very winnable contests and the results there would obviously raise or lower expectations. I do feel that the majority of fans are proceeding with caution when it comes to expectations.
Is the program in a better place today than it was exactly one year ago?
The culture change that Graham has brought to the team has been a godsend. The effort that he has put in to reach out to the fans, student and the community at large has been remarkable. There is certainly is a lot of excitement surrounding the program. Yes, a year ago the Sun Devil nation was excited about what the 2011 season could bring, but some also knew deep down that with an aging coaching staff and a squad where the inmates ran the asylum that that this team could be a ticking time bomb. Sure enough ASU did implode in the month of November. With the 2012 Sun Devils you get the feeling that this won't happen, not when the mental makeup of the team is so different.
What does the quarterback situation look like and what can we expect?
That question is ironically very appropriate, because after the Missouri loss you can definitely state that there is a "situation" at this position.
It's no secret that football pundits and fans alike are very skeptical of the two-quarterback system and once it has become clear that this indeed will be the scheme in Tempe there was some degree of apprehension. That sentiment was quickly decreasing after two very impressive victories, but the concerns on this matter shot up rapidly after the loss to Missouri.
There are concerns that starting quarterback Taylor Kelly is at times simply forced, despite playing well and being in good rhythm, to vacate the field for a few plays in favor of Michael Eubank who in all honesty is more a one-dimensional signal caller than he is a dual threat as some tout him to be. Despite his impressive athleticism defenses know by now that he is no passing threat and if you can contain his rushing yards you severely limit his effectiveness.
Kelly on the other hand is very deserving of the dual threat title and has actually surprised many with his passing abilities. Last week he shook off a horrible first half just to be near perfect in the second stanza and nearly leading ASU to a comeback win.
All of the ASU media and fans are curious to see how the two-quarterback system will be implemented this week, after coming under intense scrutiny ever since Saturday night. I do expect to see Kelly (assuming he's off to a good start) get more snaps than the week before, but it's not like Eubank will be in for just five or so snaps.
Who's the top playmaker on each side of the ball?
On offense I would point to perhaps a surprise player to some and that is running back Marion Grice. Technically, the this JC transfer is listed third on the running back depth chart but game in and game out I cannot think of any skill player on this team that has maximized his opportunities more than Grice has both in the run and pass game.
On defense I have to go with another JC transfer, linebacker Chris Young. His team leading 24 total tackles and six tackles for loss speak for themselves. He plays a "Spur" hybrid linebacker/safety and simply put just has a knack to find the ball and make a play. Has great range which helps his coverage skills, but isn't shy to get physical in the run game when needed.
On paper, on a neutral field, which teams would ASU beat in the Pac 12 if the game was played tomorrow?
I said a couple of weeks ago that after USC and Oregon (not necessarily in that order) the ranking the rest of the Pac-12 is a crapshoot. Maybe that statement needs to be revised a bit after USC's loss to Stanford.
But while I think ASU would probably struggle with those three teams I mentioned, I think that the rest of the nine programs would be considered very winnable games for the Sun Devils. As disappointing as the loss to Missouri was, the Sun Devils showed a lot resolve and if they play near error free they have enough talent to beat a lot of teams in the conference.
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