WSU-ASU: Great insights from Devils insider

WE REACHED OUT to Chris Karpman, publisher of SunDevilSource.com for insights on Arizona State ahead of Washington State’s tilt vs. ASU – and he did not disappoint. Plus, his predicted final score is sure to surprise Cougar fans.

COUGFAN.com: Has the “Spygate” story become a distraction, or is it a non-entity, when it comes to ASU coaches and players' preparation this week?  Do you see it as ultimately having a small, large or non-effect in how things play out on Saturday?


Karpman: I think it's a non-issue from a distraction standpoint for ASU's players and coaches. Todd Graham kind of laughed it off. I don't think ASU's players' preparations will change whatsoever from it. It may serve to make them angry but while some players better better angry, others don't and usually that sentiment wears off early in games and then it comes down to who has prepared better, who executes better, who is more capable.

I'm sure it will be a talking point for television broadcasters and writers but doubt it has any real bearing on the outcome of the game, no matter what is said after it's over.


COUGFAN.com: How healthy is ASU, what's the injury situation?


Karpman: This is perhaps the healthiest the Sun Devils have been all season. The only guy who absolutely would be starting or a top reserve who is out with an injury is sophomore field safety Armand Perry. He suffered an ankle injury in the non-conference schedule and hasn't played since, with true freshman Kareem Orr stepping into his place and having mixed results in a high learning curve position.

Starting senior quarterback Mike Bercovici was limping a bit early in the week in practice after seemingly getting banged up against Oregon last week, but was moving better by the end of the week.


COUGFAN.com: What areas have opponents had the most success in going against the Sun Devil offense and defense?  What does Arizona State do best  and worst on special teams?


Karpman: ASU is extremely attack-oriented on defense, blitzing more than any team in the Pac-12. So that means it gets the most sacks and tackles for loss in the Pac-12 -- but on the flip side, it gives up the most yards per passing attempt in the league. This is primarily because the Sun Devils play more man free coverage across the field or on half of the field than anyone. That's something that can be exploited by opponents and is a dual-edged sword that ASU constantly is managing.


ASU's senior safety Jordan Simone and freshman safety Kareem Orr have had their share of physical errors (Simone) or coverage busts (Orr).


Success against ASU's offense stems primarily from being able to limit its running backs and tight ends from being productive not only in the run game, but also in run replacements and other passing plays. When the Sun Devils get into longer third down situations and have to target its perimeter receivers more frequently, it isn't as potent.


On special teams, kickoff returner Tim White is one of the best in the league if not in the country. Junior kicker Zane Gonzalez missed three field goals against Oregon but two were more than 50 yards. He'd made seven in a row before that. Junior punter Matt Haack has been quite improved this year but still had some lapses.


COUGFAN.com: Drill down a bit for the Cougfan.com readers and talk about each Arizona State unit on D, and from an overall standpoint how have they done in defending the pass/an Air Raid-style team like WSU?


Karpman: The tendency for the Sun Devils against the Air Raid has been to play a lot of base nickel defense, with an extra defensive back, senior Solomon Means, on the field as well as an extra pass rusher, redshirt freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson, and more of a blitzing linebacker, sophomore D.J. Calhoun.

Just like it does against all opponents, the Sun Devils will try to generate quick pressure on the Cougars' quarterback Luke Falk to get some negative plays and force the ball out quickly. Falk had 600 yards passing last year against ASU so he was very successful but he also threw four interceptions and that was perhaps the most prominent factor in the game.

ASU's defense was extremely opportunistic in that regard in its back-to-back 10 wins seasons, finishing first and second in the Pac-12 respectively. Its pressure forced bad throws that it picked off and a lot of pressure fumbles.

This season, even though it has had a comparable number of sacks and TFLs, it hasn't generated the turnovers and that's been one of the major factors in its 4-4 record. ASU is going to blitz a lot, play a lot of man coverage and try to avoid coverage busts that Falk has the time to take advantage of.


COUGFAN.com: Who are some of the players on offense and defense you haven't already mentioned that WSU fans ought to keep an eye out for and why?


Karpman: On offense, ASU's key players besides quarterback Mike Bercovici are sophomore running back Demario Richard, senior receiver/running back D.J. Foster, senior receiver Devin Lucien and junior receiver Tim White.


Richard is just a very solid, physical inside zone-style runner who finds the hole and gets yards after the catch. Foster is the only player in FBS with more than 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 receiving. Lucien is a (former) UCLA post-graduate receiver who gets a lot of targets on the outside. White is a great athlete and emerging weapon in addition to being a great kickoff returner.


On defense, junior SAM Salamo Fiso is one of the most productive linebackers in the country, leading the Pac-12 in tackles for loss and solo tackles. Sophomore inside linebacker Christian Sam is also putting up big numbers and is a great athlete.


Former WSU walk on and ASU senior safety Jordan Simone is the only Pac-12 semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award. He's very good against the run and makes a lot of tackles but isn't a rangy athlete against the pass. Senior corner Lloyd Carrington is a lock down player on the boundary side and senior Devil backer Antonio Longino and sophomore tackle Tashon Smallwood are very solid players up front.


COUGFAN.com: What's the pulse of the ASU fan base – ASU was ranked No. 15 nationally in the preseason and as a contender for the Pac-12 South title. Graham said they were his best ASU team ever and welcomed discussion of ASU as a national power. Now at 4-4 overall, 2-3 in Pac-12 play, are fans upset with Graham, the OC, other assistant coaches, players? Or are they taking a more measured and patient view of the season and pointing to better things in 2016?


Karpman: ASU fans are upset with all of the above depending on whom you ask. Graham is very hyperbolic and sets an extremely high bar and so obviously fans have been dismayed and even angry with the team's 4-4 start.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has taken a big brunt of the criticism, with ASU's offense underperforming its productivity from the last few seasons.


There's been some frustration with players -- and I think too much was expected of senior quarterback Mike Bercovici to start with this season given the rest of the offense's talent.


COUGFAN.com: What's your prediction for Saturday's game including score?


Karpman: I think Washington State will gain a lot of yards and ASU will also move the ball relatively well with the game coming down to two categories: red zone success and turnover margin. ASU needs to force some turnovers and also convert touchdowns on scoring opportunities. Last year it did both, intercepted it four times, didn't turn it over, and had six touchdowns on six red zone trips.


I don't think it'll do as well in either category this year and Washington State wins 44-37.


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