Know Your Foe: Arizona State

DevilsDigest Publisher Hod Rabino breaks down the Sun Devils

What has been the difference between ASU earlier in the year and now when they seem to have things rolling?

Hod: You hate to say it but it did come down to the caliber of opponent. They ran into a buzz saw when they played Stanford on the road, and Notre Dame much like the Cardinal proved to be too physical of a team to overcome (and that still was a very winnable game for ASU). As much as we see so much innovation in college football on both sides of the ball, one old school aspect has always stood the test of time: you need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage in order to put yourself in a position to win. ASU clearly didn't do that in their two losses, and in their last three wins they have held opponents to a combined 96 yards on the ground, while averaging 291 yards rushing per game. That one stat (courtesy of Devils Digest's Joe Healey) explains ASU's recent success better than any other fact I can think of.

Taylor Kelly seems to be the Pac 12 QB that is left out of the elite category that Mariota, Mannion, and Hundley (albeit unwarranted) are placed in. What does he have to do to get more respect both regionally and nationally?

Ironically that is a question I've been getting a lot from other website publishers when I do this article. You look at the numbers nationally, and for someone who is top ten in passing yards, points responsible for and total offense, you would think you would hear Kelly's name be mentioned much more often than it is. In terms of an effective dual threat signal caller you look at the league numbers and he's second only to Mariota (the undisputed best quarterback in the Pac-12). Conversely, pass efficiency, a category he excelled at last year, Kelly has taken a step back although his numbers in that department look much better now than they did in the first half of the season.

I think it's just comes down to having stiff competition with a quarterback who is contending for a national championship (Mariota), a passing machine (Mannion), and a quarterback who's style usually exceeds his substance (Hundley). If ASU does win the Pac-12 South I believe that Kelly will mentioned second only to Mariota in terms of the conference elite quarterbacks.

Will Sutton isn't the most physically imposing player at first glance. What does he do that makes him so dominant?

Hod: Honestly Sutton has taken a big step back from his 2012 consensus All-American season and his performance thus far in 2013 has been borderline disappointing. I don't think anyone expected Sutton to have just two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss after eight games. When I talked about ASU going up challenging and physical offensive lines such as Stanford, Notre Dame and even Wisconsin (which was a win), the senior was completely neutralized. But against weaker teams, albeit being double teamed early and often, I didn't see the same explosive and impactful player I saw last year.

His knowledge of the game and high motor do serve him well when he does turn in a strong performance. The extra attention he is receiving has benefitted his line mates, especially Carl Bradford who has been a menace for the opposition in the last few weeks. So you could make the argument that Sutton is contributing in more subtle ways this year. Maybe Sutton is simply saving his best for last and prepares to go on a rampage for the home stretch of November. We'll see.

How do ASU fans view Todd Graham? With his past, do they expect him to stay a long time, or jump at a bigger offer at some point? What will it take to keep him?

Hod: Another popular question I have received from other website publishers.

While I know that Graham's track record in terms of coaching tenure isn't flattering, I think people tend to forget that with each coaching stop he did better himself leaving for a bigger and more successful program. Graham's wife's family lives here and at the risk of sounding naïve I think that this is huge factor that will keep him in Tempe for a while. As we all know: happy wife-happy life. Furthermore, he and his family went through hell after leaving Pittsburgh following just one season. Graham admitted on several occasions that it was a mistake which again he really felt bad about seeing how it had affected his family.

So Graham is happy, his family is happy and by and large he has already achieved quite a bit of success since arriving at ASU. He knows this school has the resources to make this program a consistent Pac-12 championship contender and the community has embraced him quite a bit from day one (and obviously winning affects that more than anything). All in all, don't see a reason for him leave anytime soon and I don't think ASU fans are worried about that.

Who is ASU's most dangerous weapon on offense? What makes him so dangerous?

Hod: When your running back, Marion Grice, is the nation's leading scorer (13.5 ppg) and 4th in rushing touchdowns (12), hard to name anyone else as the most dangerous weapon on this Sun Devil team. It was however comforting to see ASU absolutely explode offensively on Washington State last week and yet Grice didn't score even once. So much like Sutton on defense, the attention that Grice draws on offense allows other players to make an impact on this side of the ball.

What's unique to Grice is that you would expect his attributes to lend themselves to an explosive style of play, and as Todd Graham would tell you, Grice sometimes looks like he's not giving his full effort. This is far from a criticism but rather a testament to Grice smooth, almost gliding like running motion out there. He's certainly quicker than he is downright fast, and that helps him juke oncoming defenders. He's well rounded in his game, has a "nose for the end zone" and is a low key, even keel individual who has been able to successfully shake off some less than average performances just to come back to be a scoring machine the next week.

Who wins and why?

Hod: I will admit that this game does worry me because Utah, despite just having one win in the Pac-12, is a dangerous team at home and is very physical at the line of scrimmage, an aspect which has bothered ASU in previous matches. That is something that can affect ASU's running game and overall hinder their offensive efficiency.

On the other hand, I see a Utah team that with two consecutive losses has probably lost a lot of confidence that it did have following the Stanford win. It's a squad that doesn't fair all that well on either side of the ball and is turnover prone. Additionally, even when healthy quarterback Travis Wilson has mostly struggled in Pac-12 play and will face a pass rush that has played very well in recent weeks as well as one of the best pass defenses in the league.

Not expecting a cake walk in Salt Lake City, but do see a comfortable win for the visitors. ASU 35 Utah 23.

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