IN DEPTH: Questions & Answers on ASU

IS STEVEN THREET healthy and ready to start vs. Wazzu? Are the natives growing restless with Dennis Erickson? What's the scoop on the Sun Devil offense, defense and special teams? What's ASU working on this week in practice? What Sun Devil players should WSU fans keep an eye on Saturday? For answers to those questions and much more, we asked the Publisher of Devils Digest, Hod Rabino to weigh in.

CF.C: Is Steven Threet going to start at QB, is he healthy? What kind of experience does his backup Brock Osweiler have? Is Samson Szakacsy now effectively the No. 3? Does your offense change much if Threet does not play? What's the rest of the injury situation look like?
Hod Rabino: Threet did fully practice on Tuesday so barring any unforeseen circumstances he will start on Saturday. Osweiler played in six games last year and two this year, so he does have some experience. He actually was neck and neck with Threet in the race for the starter duties for the first few weeks of fall camp, until Threet pulled away. Osweiler kept on taking the #2 snaps this week so that does mean Szakacsy is the #3 signal caller.

The offense won't change without Threet in the lineup. It is however changing overall due to the desire of the coaches to put less pressure on the quarterback, no matter who is lining up. The running game has to step up in order for that to happen and it will be interesting to see on Saturday how this offensive tweak will work.

The only significant injury from last Saturday was linebacker Shelly Lyons breaking his foot and he will miss the rest of the season.

CF.C: Are the natives getting restless with Dennis Erickson? How is he handling some of the media criticism.
H.R.: As you can expect, the ASU fan base isn't enamored with the coaching staff these days. Granted, the Cal loss was the first game this year where the team looked completely lost and was blown out as a result. But with the team losing four of its last five games, patience is running thin in Tempe. ASU is coming off back to back losing seasons and is on pace for a third campaign of that nature this year. Thus, the overall mood of the ASU followers isn't the greatest these days.

As a veteran coach, Erickson is handling the criticism well and again you would expect someone with his experience to do just that. He is looking for tweaks that will help the team improve and has conveyed on one than more occasion that the current situation isn't acceptable to him.

CF.C: Did you realize there were so many Palouse connections on the ASU staff and roster, with Erickson, Broussard, both Brays, Alex Hamill, Bo Moos and Aaron Pflugrad?
H.R.: I was aware of all the WSU connections but with someone like Erickson at the helm you can always expect a good number of people from the Northwest to be on his staff. Broussard as you know also played for Erickson when he was coaching the Seattle Seahawks. Aaron's father Robin coached at ASU so that was one extra connection ASU had with that specific player.

CF.C: Coming into this game, how would you characterize Arizona State's: Run Defense, Pass Defense, Run Offense, Pass Offense, Special Teams.
H.R.: Run defense – ASU's strongest trait on this side of the ball. Lawrence Guy has done a good job in this department from his defensive tackle spot and the talented ASU linebackers heavily contribute in this area.

Pass defense – An area that is becoming more and more of a weakness as the season goes by. ASU's pass rush is one of the worst in the league and the secondary often finds itself out of position in coverage.

Run offense – May be the biggest surprise of the year for ASU, but because they play from behind almost every game the numbers don't fully reflect the amount of talent in the backfield.

Pass offense – Very hit and miss. Threet has been interception prone and not always the best decision maker. The drops by the wide receivers have gotten better in the last couple of weeks but were a serious issue early on in the year.

Special teams – Very good return game and punting. Field goal kicking has been below average.

CF.C: Which impact players should WSU fans most watch for?
H.R.: On offense any three of the running backs, when they are on their game, can be a handful: Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks. At wide reliever, Mike Willie and Kerry Taylor have been the most consistent players at that position all season.

On defense, Jamaar Jarrett is playing well at defensive end. Vontaze Burfict at linebacker is naturally someone you want to keep your eye on. Cornerback Osahon Irabor, a redshirt freshman inserted to the starting lineup due to an injury to Deveron Carr, has been taking full advantage of his opportunity.

On special teams ASU has a dangerous return game and punter Trevor Hankins is of the best in the nation.

CF.C: How about a Vontaze Burfict update if you haven't already covered him -- how is he playing, is he still getting flagged a lot? Do you think the refs are unfairly targeting him?
H.R.: Two games ago against Washington, Burfict played a very clean game and didn't get penalized even once. Against Cal he was flagged for a personal foul. So the penalties lately have been up and down. At the end of the day referees are human and it's not a stretch to think that some of them would be biased against Burfict. In all honesty, when you look at game film it's easy to tell that he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt from the folks in the stripe shirts. In terms of production it has been a little inconsistent on his part, but I wouldn't say that he is having a bad season.

CF.C: How is recruiting going for the Sun Devils so far this year?
H.R.: Honestly not all that great. ASU will sign a small class of around 15 players so naturally they are being picky with whom they offer. But right now the overall caliber of signees isn't all that impressive and a sub .500 season so far isn't doing the Sun Devils any favors when it comes to recruiting.

CF.C: If you had to pick only one key for an ASU win, what would it be?
H.R.: Play smart and sound football. That is something ASU fans have heard ad nauseam this year. If ASU minimizes turnovers and penalties, executes the game plan as they should, they should win this week's contest.

CF.C: Without giving away any state secrets, what are the Sun Devils working on this week in practice? What's the mood around the team following the lopsided loss vs. Cal?
H.R.: Coach Erickson talked about tweaking the offense so it puts less pressure on the quarterback. Otherwise, just being assignment sound -- which again is the key for ASU to be successful in any game they play. So far I'm sensing that the players have mentally bounced back from the Cal loss and have a renewed sense of urgency.

CF.C: What's your prediction for this game – ASU or Washington State? Final score?
H.R.: I see ASU winning but at the same time I don't see a crushing victory. My prediction: ASU 34 Washington State 20.

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