Know your foe: Sun Devils Q&A

WHAT SHOULD COUGAR fans be on the lookout for on Saturday in the game at Arizona State? We asked that and more of the guy with his finger on the pulse of the Sun Devils -- Hod Rabino, the publisher of Here's the in-depth Q&A.


CF.C: Who are the players the Cougar fans should watch for most on offense and defense for Arizona State?

Rabino: On offense there are three players that have emerged as play makers. Tight end Chris Coyle who is the team's leading receiver with 48 receptions and 586 yards, and nationally he is second overall with 4.8 receptions per game. Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster have both proven to be very versatile. Grice has 692 yards in both rushing and receiving and leads the team in scoring with 13 touchdowns. Foster leads the team in all-purpose yards with 866 (393 rushing, 473 receiving) and has six touchdowns.

On defense, Will Sutton is having a career year and it's not out of the question that the Washington State game will be his last home contest as the junior could forgo next season and enter the NFL draft. The defensive lineman is first in the Pac-12 in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (17). Linebacker Carl Bradford isn't far behind with 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Linebacker Brandon Magee is the leading ASU tackler with 83. Safety Alden Darby has three interceptions on the year and cornerback Osahon Irabor has ten pass breakups.


CF.C: When the ASU defense is at its most effective, what does it look like in terms of scheme, amount of blitzing, etc?

Rabino: ASU runs a 3-4 scheme but is very diverse in its looks. Bradford plays a Devil backer position which is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker and he has excelled in that role quite a bit this season. Chris Young is a Spur backer which is a hybrid linebacker/safety and just another example of the different looks this side of the ball can present.

Overall the defense is very aggressive with its front and does blitz often. The cornerbacks are normally on an island playing bump and press coverage.


CF.C: When the ASU offense is at its most effective, what does it look like?

Rabino: It's downhill running team that sets up play action passes. As mentioned, its running backs are just as effective running and catching the ball, are very dynamic and when put in space can eat up a lot of yards.

Coyle is a big aerial target downfield who creates mismatches for defenders. Unlike most classic tight ends he can be just as effective catching the ball on the sidelines and isn't regulated to the middle of the field.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly can take off and run the ball if needed and usually is able to gain quite a bit of yards on each rushing attempt.


CF.C: What's the injury situation for ASU headed into the game?

Rabino: The Sun Devils are actually healthier than they have been in recent weeks.

Cornerback Osahon Irabor wore a non-contact jersey in Tuesday's practice but I feel that chances are he will play.

Offensive lineman Andrew Sampson practiced with no limitations on Tuesday and should start at right guard.


CF.C: ASU seemed capable of beating anybody on any given Saturday early in the season --now it doesn't feel like they're playing at quite that high a level. Is that attributed to injuries and/or something else?

Rabino: Well, the easy and obviously frustrating, answer is that ASU has suffered four straight losses as a result of increased quality of competition. All four teams that beat the Sun Devils are ranked in the Top 25 and those losses showed the Sun Devils how much they are lagging behind the conference elite. In their defense, ASU is a young team which lacks depth and the injuries a couple of weeks ago to two of their top linemen, Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali, had a profound effect on the rest of the defense.

Another issue is the predictability of the offense. Sun Devils fans knew that coming into the season the wide receivers were lacking experience, but I don't know if anyone expected that unit to be such a non-factor. So this forces Taylor Kelly to primarily throw to his running backs and tight ends and defenses have defended as such and have often shut down the ASU offense. Some of the play calling has been very questionable as well on this side of the ball. I also feel as if the offensive line has really regressed in recent weeks both in pass protection and run blocking.


CF.C: ASU also seems in recent games to have started very strong, but then slowing down as the game goes on – what do you see as the reasons for that?

Rabino: As mentioned, a transparent offense is easy for defenses to adjust to and ASU has never seems to effectively counter adjust to the schemes the opponent has thrown at them.

High tempo is such a staple of this offense, but when the plays cannot be executed with consistent success then the offense appears to be really out of rhythm and then it is all downhill from there.

The defense is normally able to hold its own in the first half, but eventually without support from the offense it does wear down.


CF.C: What does ASU need to do in order to beat WSU on Saturday?

Rabino: The offense needs to be more creative than it has been in recent weeks. It needs to make sure that no matter what its playmakers are getting touches early and often and the offensive line needs to do a better job in the run and pass plays.

The defensive line has to get consistent pressure on the quarterback in order to disrupt the passing game and the secondary must be sound in its assignments against a potent aerial Cougar offense.

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