Summer Opponent Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Christian Petersen

SHAMROCK SERIES LET'S GO!

It's the 3rd meeting ever between Arizona State and Notre Dame. It's the Shamrock Series contest. Weird uniforms. Possibly from both teams. Cowboys Stadium. Giant video board. Glamor & glitz. What more could you want?

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Arizona_st_c_medium

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Head Coach: Todd Graham (2nd year)

2012 Record: 8-5

2012 S&P Rating: 34

'12 S&P Offense: 46

'12 S&P Defense: 36

'12 FEI Rating: 37

In Todd Graham's first year in Phoenix he led the Sun Devils to 8 wins---their most since the 2007 season. ASU opened the season with a blowout victory over Northern Arizona and followed that up with an early-season statement game beating Illinois 45-14 at home.

They took a step back in a close loss to Missouri on the road in which they turned the ball over 4 times and a valiant comeback just fell short. However, the Sun Devils opened Pac-12 play 3-0 with wins over Utah, California, and Colorado by a combined score of 115-41.

ASU met the meat of their schedule beginning in late October by facing 3 ranked teams in 4 weeks. They were blown out by Oregon, lost on a last second field goal to UCLA, blew a second half lead against Oregon State in a defeat, and wrapped up the stretch with their 4th straight loss against USC.

After looking at a possible Rose Bowl bid early in the season, Arizona State dropped to 3-4 in conference play. However, they did finish strong on the season with an easy win over Washington State and a 24-point 4th quarter to take down in-state rival Arizona.

The Sun Devils wrapped up their 2012 season with a bowl win over Navy in which they piled up 648 yards and 62 points on the Midshipmen.

~~~

Q&A with Kerry Crowley from House of Sparky:

1. First off, tell us about head coach Todd Graham. Is he doing good things out there in the desert? Is there any doubt that he's an upgrade over Dennis Erickson? Is there any concern he'll skip town in the near future?

Todd Graham has really changed the culture of football at Arizona State. Under Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils were viewed as a talented, yet undisciplined bunch that beat themselves on a consistent basis. When Graham was hired, he immediately brought a sense of urgency to the program because he understands the proud tradition of Arizona State football.

While some folks believe Graham has his eyes set on the SEC, he reiterates that Arizona State is the place he wants to be and his work ethic reflects that.

2. Many Irish sites have ranked the opposing quarterbacks for the upcoming fall schedule and Taylor Kelly has been the best on many of those lists. Tell us a little bit about him and what makes him so good. Is he wildly talented or is he more a productive of Graham's offensive system?

Last fall, Taylor Kelly shocked Sun Devil fans everywhere by winning the starting quarterback job. Kelly outgunned two different players who looked to have the inside track on the job and he started the season on fire. Much of Kelly's success last season was the result of his great instincts and his ability to make plays with his feet. When given time in the pocket, Kelly is efficient and accurate in locating the open man.

But when forced to scramble, Kelly showcases the abilities that helped him win the starting job in the first place. Against elite competition, Kelly did appear prone to making some mistakes, but as a rising junior, he's already displayed so much promise and has a ton of room for growth over the next two seasons.

3. Graham's offense is known for spreading the ball around through the air, so is losing a pair of senior wide receivers that big of a deal? What is the biggest weakness on offense heading in to the fall?

While the Sun Devils definitely spread the ball around through the air, they believe the heart and soul of their offense are their running backs. Marion Grice, D.J. Foster, and Deantre Lewis can all gain tough yards on the ground, but they are also effective in splitting out wide and catching passes. Chris Coyle is a dangerous target at the tight end spot and he broke records previously held by Sun Devil greats and NFL athletes like Zach Miller and Todd Heap.

While losing two key wide receivers hurts any offense, the Sun Devils are versatile enough to weather the storm. Todd Graham focused on recruiting pass catchers, and it'll be interesting to see how quickly they are incorporated into the offense this fall. If the transition is successful, Arizona State should have no problem picking up where it left off in the passing game.

4. Defensive tackle Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford had outstanding seasons last year and are known stars in the Pac-12, if not nationally. Can you talk about a few more players on defense that you expect to play at a high level in 2013?

It's hard to find a better 1-2 punch than Sutton and Bradford, but the Sun Devil defense is more than just these two playmakers. Arizona State is loaded on the defensive line with Freshman All-American Jaxon Hood, as well as returning starter Junior Onyeali at defensive end. At linebacker, Chris Young racks up tackles for loss like it's nobody's business, and Steffon Martin looks poised for a breakout year.

While there are definite question marks in the secondary, safety Alden Darby is the anchor and is one of the vocal leaders on the team. Finally, Osahon Irabor is quietly becoming one of the best cover corners in the Pac-12.

5. This will be only the third game between Notre Dame and Arizona State after a home-and-home series back in 1998-99. How much anticipation is there among the Sun Devil fan base? Does Notre Dame trying to cancel the game at ASU in 2014 add some bad blood to this game that might make it more hyped than it normally would have been?

Sun Devil fans have the Notre Dame game circled in maroon on their calendars. Defeating a team like the Irish would make Arizona State an instant threat to reach the Rose Bowl (assuming all goes well before October 5th), and the nationally televised affair is an opportunity to make a huge statement.

Of course, much of the anticipation leading up to this game is due to Notre Dame trying to pull out of the 2014 contest, which would have made Arizona State's nonconference schedule look like that of an SEC team. Quite honestly, the Sun Devil fan base harbors feelings of resentment, and pummeling the Irish would be an awesome feat.

6. What are expectations this year for Arizona State? The schedule is ridiculously front-loaded (Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, & Notre Dame in a row!!!) but the last two-thirds is very manageable. Will this team win 10 games in 2013?

Expectations are higher than they have been in a long time and that's something that Todd Graham has brought to the program. Fans used to settle for a nice bowl game as long as the Sun Devils beat Arizona, but that's not the case this year. The coaches, the players, and the fans are all thinking Rose Bowl and anything less will feel like a disappointment.

For the Sun Devil to reach that goal, they'll likely have to go 3-1 during that brutal four-game stretch. This team appears to have the talent to win 10 games, now it's just a matter of staying healthy, consistent, and improving on a weekly basis.

7. I've contended that the newer Arizona State logo looks a lot like the USB symbol. I also noticed there is a makeover of ASU's mascot Sparky in the works. Do you like the new pitchfork logo or do you want Sparky back on the football helmets?

The Arizona State athletic department has done its best to re-brand the Sun Devils and bring uniforms and logos into the 21st century, but the changes have been met with a lot of resistance. The pitchfork is definitely a neat feature that should be incorporated, but nothing speaks to the Sun Devil tradition more than Sparky.

I'm all in favor of new uniform combinations and trying to market the program to recruits, but Sparky is an icon and deserves to have a space on at least some of the football helmets in the rotation.

~~~

PROJECTED 2013 SUN DEVIL DEPTH CHART

BOLD signifies returning starter

*Quarterback

Taylor Kelly, RS Jr.

Mike Bercovici, RS So.

Michael Eubank, RS So.

The towering Brock Osweiler was picked in the 2nd round of last April's NFL Draft and in came Kelly to fill his shoes. His first season in Phoenix was very solid putting up 3,040 yards and 67% accuracy with 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He can get out and run too producing 520 rushing yards in 2012.

20121103_jla_aa8_811

Taylor Kelly. [Scott Olmos, US Presswire]

Eubank got some time last year throwing 53 passes but will be fighting Bercovici for backup minutes. Outside of these 3 quarterbacks there will be a freshman walk-on named Taylor Cohan.

*Running Back

Marion Grice, Sr.

D.J. Foster, So.

Deantre Lewis, RS Jr.

Cameron Marshall departs ASU and led the team in carries (137) last year but there are plenty of other options and depth. Factor in QB Kelly's rushing and the Sun Devils are bringing back 3 out of their 4 top rushers.

Grice is a JUCO that came from Blinn College last season and played really well in 2012. With 11 touchdowns, and 679 yards at 6.59 per carry he was easily the Sun Devil's most effective runner. Grice also caught 41 passes for 425 yards and 8 more touchdowns so he's a big playmaker.

D.J. Foster had a big freshman season as well totaling 1,026 yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns. Lewis started out his career as a running back, switched to defensive back, and made the transition back to running back last fall. He didn't play much in 2012 but adds solid depth.

*Wide Receiver 1

Kevin Ozier, 5th Sr.

Alonzo Agwuenu, Sr.

*Wide Receiver 2

Gary Chamber, RS So.

Blake Covey, So.

*Wide Receiver 3

Rick Smith, So.

Frederick Gammage, RS Fr.

Major questions at receiver for ASU as their top 2 receivers depart from last season. Kevin Ozier returns from a decent 2012 (21 receptions, 324 yards, 5 TD) but was just the 6th top pass catcher in the offense last year.

This is one position where there should be a lot of competition through August---9 of the 16 listed receivers are either JUCO's or walk-ons. Rick Smith had a great spring after a decent freshman season and good things are expected of him this year. Beyond that there are just 12 receptions returning from 2012 among the rest of this unit.

*H-Back

Chris Coyle, 5th Sr.

Billy Davis, RS So.

This hybrid position is led by Coyle who led the entire team with 57 receptions and 696 yards a season ago. He was a special teams standout prior to last year but has grown in to one of the better tight ends in the country.

*Tight End

Darwin Rogers, Sr.

Kody Kohl, RS Fr.

The more traditional tight end role is led by JUCO transfer Darwin Rogers who came to campus last fall from Arizona Western. He only caught 3 passes last season but should provide a capable second option behind Coyle.

*Left Tackle

Evan Finkenburg, 5th Sr.

Evan Goodman, So.

*Left Guard

Sil Ajawara, RS Jr.

Devin Goodman, RS So.

*Center

Kody Koebensky, 5th Sr.

Nick Kelly, So.

*Right Guard

Vi Teofilo, RS So.

Mo Latu, RS So.

*Right Tackle

Jamil Douglas, RS Jr.

Tyler Sulka, RS Jr.

Arizona State will be replacing 2 starters on the offensive line just like the Irish. Sil Ajawara saw a little bit of action last season and moves in to the left guard spot while Vi Teofilo should start at right guard and brings a physical presence.

Left tackle Evan Finkenburg is entering his 4th season as starter and Kody Koebensky returns at center after starting every game there for the Sun Devils in 2012. Koebensky was also named to the Rimington Watch List this off-season. Right tackle Jamil Douglas returns after his first year of starting last fall.

ASU has a couple big recruits on the line---sophomore Evan Goodman (.924 Composite) is the backup at left tackle while super-recruit Christian Westerman (.992) is sitting out this year after a transfer from Auburn.

*Defensive End

Gannon Conway, 5th Sr.

Davon Coleman, Sr.

Junior Onyeali, Sr.

*Nose Tackle

Will Sutton, RS Jr.

Jake Sheffield, Sr.

*Defensive Tackle

Jaxson Hood, So.

Sean O'Grady, RS So.

The Sun Devils are looking strong up front. Will Sutton exploded on to the scene last year earning consensus All-American honors after notching 63 tackles, 13 sacks, and 23.5 tackles for loss. He should be great again and a 1st round pick in next April's draft.

20121229_jla_se9_293

Will Sutton. [Cary Edmonson, USA Today Sports]

Next to Sutton will be Jaxon Hood who is coming off a freshman All-American season after totaling 26 tackles, 3 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss. Davon Coleman returns at defensive end and was productive last season with 66 tackles, 5 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss---but he's been in a positional battle with Gannon Conway this off-season.

Overall this should be a very tough and developed position for ASU---Conway, Coleman, and Sheffield are all JUCO's while 3 more transfers come in this summer from the junior college ranks to add depth.

*Devil Linebacker

Carl Bradford, RS Jr.

Kipeli Koniseti, Sr.

*Sam Linebacker

Steffon Martin, Sr.

Salamo Fiso, RS Fr.

*Will Linebacker

Chris Young, Sr.

Grandville Taylor, 5th Sr.

*Spur Linebacker

Anthony Jones, 5th Sr.

Dwain Bradshaw, Jr.

Senior Chris Young (83 tackles, 14 tackles for loss in '12) moves from Spur to Will this off-season but he is expected to see time at both positions. Two more starters return in Carl Bradford (80 tackles, 21.5 for loss) and Steffon Martin (27 tackles, 6.5 for loss) giving Arizona State great experience in the front seven.

The Spur position vacated by Young is being held by Anthony Jones and Dwain Bradshaw---the former notching 27 tackles and 1 interception last year.

*Cornerback

Osahon Irabor, 5th Sr.

Rashad Wadood, Jr.

Marlon Pollard, Sr.

*Cornerback

Robert Nelson, 5th Sr.

Lloyd Carrington, RS So.

*Safety

Alden Darby, Sr.

Shane McCullen, 5th Sr.

*Safety

Viliami Moeakiola, RS Fr.

Ezekiel Bishop, RS So.

The Sun Devils are replacing half their secondary this off-season but senior safety Alden Darby brings a lot of experience with 145 tackles and 6 interceptions in his career. He was named to the Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List in recent weeks. Osahon Irabor is another highly experienced vet with 125 tackles in his career.

A pair of transfers are vying for time at the one vacated corner spot. Nelson came over from Louisiana-Monroe, sat out 2011, and started one game last season. Lloyd Carrington came to Phoenix last year and is eligible after leaving Pitt.

Viliami Moeakiola is an athletic safety who played a little bit last year and Sun Devil fans are pretty excited about him.

~~~

Final Thoughts

If you haven't heard it already at some point this off-season I'll say it again. This will be one of the toughest games on the Irish schedule in 2013. Arizona State is a program with a boat load of starters coming back, a new coach that has brought enthusiasm, and a grand total of 25 JUCO's that are going to provide some maturity and physicality---traits that might usually be a disadvantage for the Sun Devils.

The one thing Notre Dame has going for it is facing ASU after they play Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC in a row. Then again, the Irish will be coming off games against Michigan State and Oklahoma as well.

Don't sleep on Arizona State this year they should be strong on both sides of the ball.

Predicted Game Day Spread- Arizona State (+4.5)

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