Going deep on Devils with Sun Devil Source; what's the ASU view on signal-stealing comments by Washington State's Mike Leach?

YOU ALMOST NEED an abacus and slide rule to keep up with the quarterback injury situation at Arizona State. We asked Chris Karpman of Sun Devil Source to break it all down. And as long as we had Karpman handy, we solicited his view on all the signal stealing chatter surrounding Todd Graham and Mike Leach, with Washington State heading to the desert for Saturday's big game (7:00 pm, Pac-12 Network).

Alas, our exchange with Chris Karpman occurred just before last night’s late news that Leach has been fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12.

COUGFAN.COM: The subject of ASU’s signal stealing has been brought up for the second straight season – last year it was Utah, Oregon and then Wazzu. This year, WSU's Leach was first to raise the issue, with ASU set to play Oregon and Utah next.  Where do you come down on the whole issue, and why do you think Graham is being singled out if other teams, as some have said, also look to steal signals?

Karpman: A lot of what's been said is simply rumor mongering and hearsay. No coach has brought any actual evidence to the table, which should be the basis of such a complaint. What this has done is successfully shift attention to the ASU side and created somewhat of a distraction and sideshow.

Graham candidly said last year that ASU does work to steal signs and that it's done throughout college football, but also that his program does so within the confines of what's allowed by the NCAA and Pac-12 under the rulebook. If a program was able to provide actual evidence of ASU going beyond what's permissible, it probably would have done so already since a few schools have had no problem airing out such accusations.

To be clear, I have no idea if ASU is breaking any rules or not. I just know that nobody has provided any proof in any public setting, nor has the Pac-12 ever taken any action against ASU. That's why this seems like a lot of speculation.

COUGFAN.COM: For those who haven’t seen ASU all that much this season, what’s the QB situation headed into the WSU game?  Strengths? Weaknesses?

Karpman: First-year starting sophomore Manny Wilkins suffered an ankle injury against USC and missed the UCLA game a week later before playing at far less than full strength at Colorado last week. The reason he played at all is because second-string quarterback Brady White suffered a season-ending foot injury while replacing Wilkins against the Bruins, and third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins suffered a neck injury in August that has him still wearing a brace.

As a result, the Sun Devils had to choose between an injured Wilkins and a true freshman in Dillon Sterling-Cole against the Buffaloes. They went with Wilkins even though he wasn't anywhere near his normal self in terms of mobility and style of play. He's a quarterback who wants to get out of the pocket quickly when threatened and tends to be a little too scramble-oriented anyway. Against Colorado, he wasn't comfortable and tended to throw the ball into low percentage situations to covered receivers.

The Sun Devils didn't have a great offensive game plan to counteract his mobility limitations and the result was ASU's worst offensive output in years: 199 yards of total offense. When Wilkins is healthy, he's a reasonably capable run-pass option quarterback, with good quickness and also plenty of arm, though his accuracy down the field has been a bit spotty.

He's taken some big shots while scrambling, as he puts himself into dangerous situations and is also not big enough to handle that type of wear and tear. All indications are he'll start this game and probably have a bit more mobility than against Colorado, but will still be somewhat limited.
COUGFAN.COM: Most are probably aware the ASU defense struggled with yards after contact and missed tackles last week against Colorado.  But add the proper context for our readers -  what went wrong and was it an aberration?  Or is it a signal that ASU may be in for a long night the Cougar offense?

Karpman: What perplexed ASU's coaches and other onlookers was how the team did against the run. The Sun Devils entered this game No. 1 in the Pac-12 in rushing defense at 89.3 yards per game. And yet Colorado had that many yards in the first quarter alone on the way to 315 rushing yards.

So that wasn't normal, and ASU's players appeared exhausted at elevation handling Colorado's up tempo offense without being able to substitute due to depth issues -- particularly at linebacker and in the secondary.

Other aspects of ASU's defensive play were not surprising. This is a team that entered the season last in the country in passing defense, and by a wide margin. It's also last nationally in giving up 60-plus yard plays from scrimmage, and sits in the Pac-12 cellar in yards-per-play defense.

ASU gave up a 66-yard pass from scrimmage plus a 75-yard touchdown run from scrimmage on assignment busts.  And there were problems with tackling that have been a persistent problem going back to the 2015 campaign.

What can we expect from the Sun Devils in this regard on Saturday? They've tended to play much better at home, including in their win two weeks ago over UCLA. So that makes it a little tougher to predict.
COUGFAN.COM: What is the single-most important matchup on offense, and defense, in your mind for WSU-ASU, the ones that on paper should have the most impact on which teams gets the W.

Karpman: For ASU's offense, it has to be the team's offensive front against a Washington State defense that is now leading the Pac-12 in rushing defense. ASU's not going to have a chance to win this game unless it's able to establish a run game -- and that's something it had in spades the first four games of the season, but not at all in the last three games as the competition has gotten tougher (USC, UCLA, Colorado_.

On defense, ASU's inside linebackers Salamo Fiso and D.J. Calhoun have to be improved against the pass in their man and zone responsibilities -- because they've been taken advantage of against pass-heavy teams with good quarterback play.

Fiso's going to have to identify and locate himself better in underneath zones, and Calhoun's going to have a tough assignment handling running backs releasing on the boundary side of the field with how the Cougars throw the ball to their backs.

COUGFAN.COM: What's your prediction including score?  Write as much as you'd like for our readers on how you see this WSU-ASU game playing out.

Karpman: If ASU was fully healthy I'd probably pick the Sun Devils in this game. But in addition to the Wilkins injury, two of the key starters in the secondary, field safety Armand Perry -- who didn't finish the game against Colorado with a foot/toe injury -- and cornerback Kareem Orr -- knee sprain -- are going to play this game at far less than full strength.

It's not a good match-up for ASU because the team's pass defense was already a weakness before the injuries, and its pass rush won't impact the Cougars as much because of how quickly they get the ball out.  My pick is Washington State 31, ASU 27.
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