Generally-speaking, how do ASU fans feel about Todd Graham right now?
There's some anxiety in the ASU community, particularly because of the trajectory of the program. If ASU hadn't experienced such immediate success under Todd Graham, the general sentiment would probably be better. Ironically, though, he is probably a victim of his own success, because back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 created such a wave of optimism that how the Sun Devils have done subsequently has really taken the wind out of the sails of the fanbase.
Primarily, the concerns are on the defensive side of the ball. Even though ASU's had to rebuild its offensive staff and is staring a new quarterback, it has done reasonably fine on that side of the ball. The program is in good shape off the field, in terms of graduate rates, APR and other aspects. The discipline is there on the field as well, with ASU being the least penalized team in the league. But on defense, the Sun Devils are headed for a historically bad year, on pace to be statistically the worst pass defense ever in Division I football, and Graham is a defensive coach and specifically a defensive backs coach, by trade.
Offensively, how has the quarterbacking situation fundamentally changed how ASU has evolved on that side of the ball this year?
There've been an unprecedented number of injuries on the team this year, with the quarterback position best exemplifying this challenge. Third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins suffered a season-ending neck injury in preseason camp. Second-string quarterback Brady White suffered a broken foot when he was pressed into action a week after starter Manny Wilkins suffered an ankle sprain against USC. Wilkins has been playing at far less than full strength since the beginning of October with ankle, toe and throwing shoulder injuries. True freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole started for ASU at Oregon several weeks ago because literally ASU's other three scholarship quarterbacks couldn't play.
ASU started the season 4-0 but has now lost five of its last six games and the injuries have been a major reason. But even a healthy Wilkins is just average at best by Pac-12 standards. He's thrown seven interceptions and seven touchdowns this season and has put himself in a vulnerable position to be hurt time and again but his approach to the position, which is really scramble oriented.
Utah came up with 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. What does the offensive line have to do to regroup?
That was probably the worst performance by ASU under Graham in terms of giving up negative plays from scrimmage. The offensive line has had two or three starters out of action in the last few weeks and it's presented all sorts of problems. ASU's not run the football successfully and had young players in the lineup who haven't been as structurally sound against a variety of defensive pressures in their protections. Add to that Wilkins' tendency to hold the football and scramble around and the result against Utah was a culmination of these issues.
ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said that four of sacks were on the offensive line and others were on the quarterback holding the football too long. Utah has great edge pressure from its defensive ends and that gave ASU fits, but Wilkins also has to be more aware and decisive in the pocket.
Graham is known for his attacking style on defense, his desire to blitz. With ASU giving up over 500 yards and nearly 38 points a game, are fans looking for Graham to change? Or is there more to it?
There's a lot going on here and really it stems from recruiting mistakes in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 classes. Graham had a handful of all-league caliber defensive backs earlier in his tenure (Osahon Irabor, Robert Nelson, Alden Darby, Robert Neslon and Damarious Randall) but only recruited one. He didn't add any high school defensive backs in those three classes who are now able to play for the ASU secondary, so there is a major talent shortage.
The Sun Devils have actually been more conservative this season in light of their coverage limitations, and especially so against Utah last week when they played a majority Cover 4. Even so, they gave up a handful of big play touchdowns and are last nationally in touchdown plays allowed of 30-plus yards and are on pace to give up more passing yards than any team in history.
Arizona State is last in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Washington is No. 1 in passing efficiency. What can the Sun Devils do Saturday to reverse the trend?
Washington is too talented and executes too well to expect this to get turned around for ASU on the road in Seattle. It really comes down to assignment integrity, communicating the defense so everyone is on the same page, playing in the proper technique, and then making the tackles that need to be made in space. But ASU's not been able to do this successfully against any potent offense this season and there's no reason to expect it will all come together against one of the nation's most potent offenses on Saturday.
Washington has not beaten ASU since 2001. That’s a 10-game losing streak. What’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
I think it will be a lopsided win for Washington. Even if ASU plays very well on offense it likely won't be able to keep pace. My prediction is Washington 51, ASU 20.