Know Your Foe: Arizona State

Washington and Arizona State aren't the only one sharing information this week - Dawgman.com and DevilsDigest.com are doing the same. Today we talk with Hod Rabino, Editor of DevilsDigest.com, as he takes our questions about the Sun Devils heading into their Homecoming game hosting the Huskies Saturday at 3 pm. He also provides us with his prediction on the game.

Are ASU fans happy with the 4-2 start through the first half of Pac-12 play?

Rabino: I would say that the general feeling is somewhat that of disappointment, but certainly not a sense of failure. Their challenging four-game stretch (Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame) was one that was met with equal measure of excitement and apprehension. To come out of that slate 2-2 naturally doesn't generate overflowing content nor great dissatisfaction.

When you look at the two losses, the Stanford game was extremely frustrating because ASU basically didn't show up in the first half and trailed 29-0, and if they didn't dig themselves that Grand Canyon size hole their improved play in the last 30 minutes could have been rewarded. The Cardinal's performance in their last two games against Washington and Utah only enhances the missed opportunity the Sun Devils had.

The Notre Dame game caused much aggravation as well. ASU made a plethora of mistakes that didn't allow them to significantly control the game early on and once again their comeback fell short. All in all, a chance to really shine a big bright and national stage was wasted. Additionally, having the two losses taking place on the road, and with the performance during those contests being markedly worse than their play in Tempe, is probably a huge red flag at this juncture.

On the other hand ASU has protected their home field and after six games has only one Pac-12 loss, so those are some positives that come with the 4-2 mark.
How would you gage the current team's psyche going into this game after a relative easy time with Colorado? Do you see a legitimate concern for a possible letdown?

Not worried about a letdown at all for this week. Was concerned to some extent about a "Notre Dame hangover" versus Colorado but ASU came blazing out of the gates and simply dominated a team that they were expected to dominate and didn't really take their foot off the gas in the second half where the vast majority of players on the field were reserves.

ASU is taking Washington very seriously, and knows that even coming off back to back losses to two Top 5 teams at the time, the Huskies are plenty talented and will pose many challenges this Saturday. The Sun Devils know that a win this weekend will obviously get them that much closer to their goal of winning the Pac-12 South. So there is plenty motivation for the Sun Devils in this game, and again if they were not lackadaisical against a much inferior Colorado squad, there is just no way that they will lack enthusiasm against one of their most challenging foes this season in no. 20 Washington.
Assess Taylor Kelly's year so far.

Interesting question, because last year Kelly was extremely efficient and this year with six interceptions in six games the junior could very well eclipse his impressive nine interceptions in 13 games that he recorded last year. On the other hand, his 16 touchdown passes and 1,965 passing yards in six contests are extraordinary and he's on pace to better his statistics in those categories over last year.

One thing to keep in mind, which ties into Kelly's lower efficiency this year, is that his number of passing attempts per game has mushroomed from 27.6 in 2012 to 39.5 thus far in 2013. His highest number of passing attempts last year was 45, and this season he already eclipsed that number three times and in two of those instances he actually attempted more than 50 passes.

Granted, the running game in ASU's two losses was anemic so that's more than a valid explanation to Kelly's increased passing attempts, but at the end of the day he's a signal caller that thrives in a balanced offense and not when he's asked to bear the load and sling the pigskin 40 plus times each week.
Do ASU fans think Marion Grice is underrated nationally? What has allowed him to be such a prolific scorer?

With the abundance of prolific running backs in the Pac-12, I think Marion Grice often gets overlooked even in the conference, let alone nationally. The senior leads the nation in scoring (15 ppg) and rushing touchdowns (10) and already has 15 total touchdowns on the year. So, yes I think he doesn't get his due in the national media and I'm sure the vast majority of the Sun Devil nation shares that belief.

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 and come back to be a scoring machine the next week.
Does Todd Graham like the current ratio of rushing yards to passing yards? Does he want more balance in his attack?

That ties into my answer about Taylor Kelly. For all the talk of a high octane offense, Graham views his scheme as a downhill running system that establishes the ground attack before truly airing out the ball vertically. Until now, it's been hit and miss in terms achieving the desired equilibrium on this side of the ball, let alone having a consistent and effective running game. So there is no doubt in my mind that Graham is far from content with the run game and balanced offense.

Looking at Washington's rushing defense struggles, you wonder if this contest allows ASU to take advantage of that aspect and have a strong rushing attack and achieve the balance they so desire on offense.
Outside of Jaelen Strong, who else should Washington fans look out for when it comes to ASU's passing game?

With the rest of the wide receivers not coming even remotely close to Strong's caliber of play, running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, as well as tight end Chris Coyle have been shouldering a lot of the burden in the passing attack. Players who have been less consistent in this aspect but are worth keeping an eye on are tight end De'Marieya Nelson and wide receivers Kevin Ozier and Cameron Smith.
Are the coaches and fans happy with how Will Sutton has returned from his knee injury, and in general what has accounted for the lack of production along the ASU defensive line compared to last year?

There's no panic over Sutton's low numbers (18 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack) but there is obviously no sense of content either. Not that this is any excuse but the extremely physical offensive lines that Sutton has faced in his team's four-game "gauntlet" have effectively neutralized him. It does appear that Sutton and the entire defensive line are going to have less of a challenge against the Washington offensive line so it will be interesting to see if the senior can revert back to his 2012 form, something that is guaranteed to delight his coaches and the ASU fans.
Who have been some of the defensive standouts to date?

Linebacker Chris Young, a name that should be familiar to Husky fans, has been head and shoulders above any ASU defender and anchors a unit that has been average at best this year. Young leads the team in tackles with 41.

Hybrid defensive end/linebacker (aka Devil backer) Carl Bradford started out the season slowly but now has 24 tackles, 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Defensive lineman Davon Coleman, mostly a reserve this year has 29 tackles, five for loss. The secondary has two talented seniors in safety Alden Darby who has 29 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions, and cornerback Osahon Irabor who has 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions as well.
Any injury concerns heading into Washington and how those injuries may impact Saturday's game?

ASU has been very lucky for the most part in this department and currently doesn't have any injuries that should impact them on Saturday.
Given that ASU and UW would ideally like to run a lot of plays, do you think this game will be a shootout, or will both defenses rise to the occasion and make this a lot lower scoring game than maybe expected?

With both defenses struggling against the run, and both having highly talented rushing attacks, and overall very dynamic offenses, I would be surprised to see a defensive slugfest on Saturday. After scoring less than 30 points in their last two outings, I suspect the Husky coaching staff is pointing to the ASU game as a contest where they can get the offense back to their high scoring ways.
Do you think Graham has the long-term support of ASU fans given the fact that he does have a reputation of jumping from job to job and hasn't really settled into one job for a significant period of time?

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.

In all seriousness, Graham knows that he has a great opportunity to build something special here and has been doing a great job in interviews and public appearances to rally support from the community. I don't think most of the fan base fears Graham leaving in the next few years.
Has Graham's arrival done anything to spark the school and community in terms of their support for the program, given that he seems to have them trending in the right direction?

Graham has been "accused" of being a slick salesman, but knowing the lay of the land here in the Valley of the Sun when it comes to ASU support, Graham's style is exactly what the doctor ordered.

A dormant fan base needs someone to constantly knock on their collective doors and be enthusiastic about Sun Devil football. Furthermore, fans were sick (and rightfully so) of the Dennis Erickson teams where the inmates ran the asylum, and have welcomed Graham's new culture of discipline and accountability that has players representing themselves very well on the field (incredible turnaround in penalties committed per game) and off the field (a lot of "Yes Sir" and well mannered players interacting with the community).

The student crowd numbers has already been broken two, three times this season (eclipsing the 14,000 mark), there has been a high renewal rate of season tickets from last year and overall attendance is one of the better ones in the Pac-12. Thus, Graham's efforts are yielding dividends but the success ASU is having, albeit modest at this time, is naturally helping a great deal as well.
What are your keys to the game and score prediction?

Facing a team that is less physical than most of its previous opponents and one that will try to beat you with their speed, is on paper a more favorable matchup for the Sun Devils.

ASU will have to take advantage of a seemingly less than average Washington run defense to ignite their offense, but at the same time try to overcome their own run defense struggles and contain running back Bishop Sankey (I know, much easier said than done) so the Huskies become one dimensional. The Washington secondary is very strong but aside from Oregon I don't know if it has been tested with a passing offense such as ASU's which averages over 340 yards a game.

If Washington's collective psyche is as damaged as some may believe it to be after two consecutive losses, a strong start by ASU could make things even worse for the Huskies.

As mentioned before, I'm expecting a shootout, but not a blowout.

ASU 41 Washington 35.


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