Did ASU have a drastic culture change going from Dennis Erickson to Todd Graham? We ask House of Sparky that and more, getting an insider look at this week's opponent.
Brad Denny from House of Sparky was kind enough to exchange a Q & A with us this week in advance of the match up with the Arizona State Sun Devils. Our questions for him are first, followed by some answers to his questions.
House of Sparky answers questions:
Taylor Kelley has had a break out year but has stalled a bit recently. What does he need to do to get things back on track against WSU? Are we going to see Michael Eubank if he struggles?
Kelly's struggles have really been the product of two major shortcomings on the Sun Devil offense. First off, the wide receivers have been entirely ineffective, and been unable to provide any downfield targets. Second and most importantly, the offensive line has been terrible. Last week, ASU surrendered a season-high seven sacks, and by the second half, Kelly was visibly rattled. When given protection, we've seen that he can be among the nation's most efficient quarterbacks and a viable playmaker, so his rebound will heavily depend on the performance of the line. As for Eubank, we'll see him no matter what, as the team has specific short yardage packages for him to take advantage of his size, but if Kelly's struggles continue, it's possible we could see Eubank inserted for an offensive jumpstart.
Assuming WSU can keep the pass rush out of the backfield a couple times, what can we expect from the Sun Devil secondary when they defend the Air Raid?
Osahon Irabor has quietly developed into one of the Pac-12's better cornerbacks, but his counterpart Deveron Carr has really struggled over the last several weeks. Safeties Alden Darby and Keelan Johnson are very talented athletes with a good nose for the ball, but each can be caught out of position. There have been several instances of broken coverages in the last few games, and the team has subsequently been gashed for huge gains. Should WSU attempt to shoot more downfield, there could be some big plays to be had.
Did the coaching transition from Dennis Erickson to Todd Graham involve a huge culture change in ASU's program like we've experienced this season at WSU? Did you see many players leave the program?
Yes on both counts. The change in culture has been a near-total 180 under Graham. He's been relentless in instilling the much needed discipline, and the results both on and off the field have been remarkable. Most notably, the team that led the nation in penalties in two out of the last three seasons is now the fifth-least penalized team in the country. The team has experienced the expected growing pains in learning new systems and working with a new staff, but the improvements in execution, attitude and focus of this team as compared to last year's is truly amazing. One of the biggest reasons for this success is that almost every key player has bought what Graham has been selling, and while a few players have departed, none were of any significance.
What does ASU need to do to clinch a bowl berth Saturday?
This is a game that favors the Sun Devils in most every way. Defensively, with no threat of a run to worry about, ASU should be able to unleash their potent pass rushers and shut down the Cougar attack. On the other side, I can see Travis Long causing some big problems for ASU, but in the end, I think the Sun Devil offense should be able to mount a bounceback game. If ASU can avoid self-destructive mistakes and turnovers, they should be in great shape to get the win.
CougCenter answers questions:
What's been the reaction from the WSU community over Marquess Wilson's allegations, and what do you think the immediate fallout will be?
It's been split. Some people feel like Wilson's letter was truthful - and point to Coach Leach's characterizations of player performance in press conferences to back it up - while some people are convinced it was a ploy to save face as he exited the program.
Both sides, however, are very supportive of the investigations and happy with the quick action of President Elson Floyd and AD Bill Moos. If there is abuse happening or it did happen, it needs to be stopped immediately and appropriate actions need to be taken. If this is a PR tactic by Wilson, those highly damaging claims cannot be allowed to linger around the WSU program or be unfairly attached to Coach Leach personally. Hopefully the investigations will provide a clear resolution before team heads to Tempe.
Jeff Nusser eloquently laid out the ramifications of alleging abuse. I can't provide any insight better than he did, if you're interested in the potential fallout, I would direct you here.
No current or former players (18 have left the program this year) have publically backed Wilson's allegations, as of yet. So far of the 6 players that have spoken to the media since Wilson's letter, 4 have refuted his claims and 2 have refused comment. We assume player interviews will be conducted as part of the investigations, where some could support his allegations, but for now all we can do is wait.
What positives can you take away from this season?
The play of the freshman (RS and true) has been outstanding at times. Brett Bartolone, Gabe Marks and Dominique Williams have become integral parts of the offense at receiver, Teondray Caldwell has stepped up at running back and kick returner, Xavier Cooper and Darryl Monroe are beasts on defense. The young talent on this team is getting a lot of game experience, I think 8 or so play regularly, we can only hope that pays off in future seasons.
While the offensive transition to the Air Raid wasn't as fast as Coug fans hoped, it is happening. Week by week there are signs of improvement, it seems as if they are right at the cusp of picking it up and really playing well.
I think the defense is a lot better than people would've hoped for at the beginning of the season. The linebackers have really taken to the 3-4 and the defense as a whole has put together some really nice performances this season. Going forward, the defense could be really fun to watch with how aggressive it is, and very competitive after a full year in the new scheme.
The special teams has seen a dramatic improvement under Coach Russell, they were by all accounts horrible last year. The past two games haven't been particularly awesome (KO return and 4 blocked kicks), but until that point WSU's special teams unit ranked highly.
What's your assessment of the Air Raid offense so far, especially considering the nearly total neglect of the running game?
The Air Raid offense is potent and very difficult to defend, the WSU Air Raid has been those things only a handful of times this season and not really for a full game. The running game is usually mitigated by short, high percentage passes, Coug QBs have struggled to hit those routes consistently. When they do run, the offensive line has had problems opening running lanes. Air Raid running backs have produced under Coach Leach in the past, the Cougs inability to run is most likely a product of the offensive line and not the scheme itself. They struggle enough with pass blocking.
The defense seems to be quite effective in making plays in the opponents backfield. Considering ASU quarterback has struggled in the face of pressure lately, what should the Sun Devil offense expect to see from WSU's defense on Saturday?
No. 89 Travis Long. He'll line up all over the field, from our BUCK position or outside linebacker in a 3-4, and specializes in rushing the passer. DC Breske will call a lot of stunts as well. WSU does have some athletic linebackers, the pressure will come from different angles and Breske brings it almost every play.
What must happen in order for the Cougars to leave Tempe with a win?
They need to contain the Sun Devil offense. WSU hasn't proven it can win a shootout type of game, and ASU hasn't scored less than 27pts against a PAC-12 school. They need to keep ASU around that low point for the offense to have a chance at putting up a bigger number. The past two weeks the Cougs have come out of halftime down at least 30pts, it would be really nice if that didn't happen three weeks in a row.