A View From The Desert

Dawgman.com spoke with DevilsDigest.com's Hod Rabino to get some more perspective on the Arizona State-Washington matchup, scheduled for 7:45 pm Saturday at Husky Stadium. Rabino gave us his thoughts on ASU's offense, defense, Todd Graham, what went wrong against UCLA, and more.

In general, are ASU fans happy with Todd Graham? He's done a great job on the field, but with his reputation as a coach that jumps to the next best opportunity, are fans scared his head is going to get turned by the next big job opening that comes around?

Quite frankly the talk about Graham possibly leaving ASU after this season or even in the near future has jumped the shark, if you will. Just a few weeks ago he donated $500K towards Sun Devil stadium renovations (as did ASU’s Athletic Director Ray Anderson) and if that doesn’t squelch any talk about Graham not being here for the long haul I don’t know what will.

For the most part, every time Graham moved from one job to another he did so for a better opportunity, and that’s something that often gets lost in the narrative about the Sun Devils’ head coach. Yes, there are better jobs out there than ASU’s, but you also have to keep in mind that Graham knows that he put his family through hell for the one year he was in Pittsburgh and now that he lives close to his in-laws that’s the last thing he has to worry about. And as all of us married men know: Happy Wife=Happy Life.

Graham has really galvanized the community here, and he has made several hundred public appearances in the valley ever since taking office just under three years ago. He talks the big talk but also delivers on over 90 percent of his vision. He has changed a team culture that was badly in need of reform and the evidence is one the field with minimal number of penalties and off the field with virtually no police incidents.

So, yes ASU fans couldn’t be more elated with Todd Graham. ASU is 18-5 in the last 23 games, the second-best record of all Pac-12 teams behind only Oregon (19-4). In his first ever stint in the Pac-12, which is just 2.5 years old, Graham has beaten every conference team aside from Oregon. The job he has done here in such a short amount of time is truly amazing.
What happened against UCLA? And are ASU fans wary of that happening again, or are they taking that game as a one-off, considering how the team has played the rest of the season?

It was really a snowball effect that started with the pick-six right before halftime that I frankly believe made ASU shell shocked for the rest of the game. That showed in the first few minutes of the second half where the Sun Devils give up an 80-yard touchdown followed by a 100-yard kick return and it was game over.

The fact that the defense has tackled much better and improved their play since, as well as special teams turning the corner (especially against Stanford) I would say that ASU fans are treating that UCLA game as an aberration. Sure, ASU could still lose another game or two this season, but most likely it won’t be in the same fashion.

Furthermore, if you take an honest look at ASU’s season, there were certainly warning signs leading up to the UCLA game, and that loss was the wakeup call ASU needed. It had no choice but to play better ever since and they sure have.
Bercovici or Kelly? Which one gives ASU their best chance at winning in Seattle?

Naturally, health is the number one factor to consider here. No one can predict if Kelly will be 100 percent by Saturday although it’s reasonable to think he will be.

Some wondered if Bercovici, who certainly has a gun slinger mentality would do well against a stout Stanford defense which would negate his natural skill set and force him to be more a game manager. Bercovici passed that test. Leading up to that same game, some wondered if the run game would be all but completely halted since Bercovici doesn’t run the read option as well as Kelly does, and that never happened.

The reason I bring up all of this up is that Graham does see a lot of similarities between the Stanford and Washington defenses, so if Bercovici played well last weekend he should do fine on Saturday so I don’t think Kelly starting truly improved the chances of a win.

But going back to first point, health is really the biggest thing to consider here because Graham has stated that he expects Kelly to start and that scenario will only happen if Kelly is 100 percent. Personally, while I went on record prior to the Stanford game saying there was no way Kelly would play in that contest, I’m tending to believe that he will start this Saturday.
We know about D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong...who are the other ASU offensive weapons UW fans need to know about for Saturday night's game?

At running back senior Deantre Lewis is really coming on strong spelling Foster or more often allowing Foster to line up in the slot. He may not have the numbers that Foster is posting, but in terms of traits he’s also an explosive runner who is a home run threat everytime he touches the ball.

Cameron Smith may be the fastest wide receiver on this team and has proven many times that if you focus a little too much on Strong, he’s just as capable of hurting you with the big play.

Although inconsistent this season, tight end De'Marieya Nelson has a potential to be another significant aerial target in the Sun Devils’ passing game.
Defensively, are ASU fans looking at the Stanford game as their breakout performance, given how the defense has performed up to that point? And which players have stepped to the fore to provide leadership and playmaking ability that UW fans need to be aware of?

For a group that has been much maligned, and for good reason, the entire year the Stanford game was a coming out party for this unit. With the confidence gained and a new look heavier defensive line personnel, there is the belief that now this unit has at least the ability to turn the corner and play in more formidable fashion from here on out.

The two outside linebackers, Antonio Longino and Laiu Moeakiola, really ensured against Stanford that there were no big plays given up on the perimeter and both have benefited from the new faces on this blue collar defensive line.

The ASU secondary is loaded with playmakers. Safety Damarious Randall, this week’s Pac-12 defensive player of the week, is just your classic ball hawk that covers a lot of range. His fellow safety Jordan Simone, a name probably familiar to some Washington fans, is one of the best tacklers on the team and a high IQ player. Corner Kweishi Brown had his own coming out party last week with five pass break ups and six tackles and on the other side corner Lloyd Carrington is a veteran that has been solid in his play.

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