Behind Enemy Lines: House of Sparky preps us on Arizona State

Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE

A Sun Devils fan gives ATQ the lowdown on a surprising Arizona State squad

In anticipation of tonight's matchup, Brad Denny, of SBN's excellent Sun Devils BlogHouse of Sparky has given us a primer on Arizona State:

Last time we talked, there was a seemingly underwhelming QB battle with a myriad of mediocre candidates. Where did Taylor Kelly come from?

Kelly was definitely running third during the offseason competition behind Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici, but made a strong move early in fall camp. While being perceived as perhaps the "least talented" of the group, Kelly was by far the best at taking care of the ball, something that had been a point of emphasis for Todd Graham since he took over, and that ultimately earned him the job.

He was perceived at the time as the safest choice, and it was also expected that he'd merely warm the seat until Bercovici or Eubank were ready. However, Kelly has been magnificent, emerging as a legitimate playmaker. He is a confident and smart leader, has very good mobility, and the improvement he has made as a passer over the last few months have been pretty remarkable. In three conference games, he has 11 touchdowns passes without an interception, so now it's time to see how he does against the big boys.

ASU is averaging over 40 ppg, and runs an exciting, uptempo offense. Tell us about this unit.

The offense is a run-heavy spread attack, nearly identical to the one that Cam Newton operated at Auburn. As you mentioned, it's definitely an up-tempo attack, and the Sun Devils want to run plays at a blistering pace, much like Oregon. The ground game is a three-headed attack led by true freshman DJ Foster, Marion Grice and senior Cameron Marshall, and the backs are also heavily involved in the passing game. Tight end Chris Coyle has emerged as the top target, and has been excellent along the seams and is very difficult to tackle. The wide receivers have been better in recent weeks, but lack a true "go to" target. Rashad Ross has elite speed on the outside, and Kevin Ozier is a possession-type. Expect to see a lot of runs from the backs and Kelly to set up some shots downfield.

The defense continues to have athletes, but they have taken care of the discipline problems that plagues them under Dennis Erickson and give up less than four yards per play on the season. What is the biggest change this season defensively?

New defensive coordinator Paul Randolph discarded the previous 4-3 scheme that embodied a "bend but don't break" style for a 3-4 base that was built on aggression. This new attacking defense has really fit the players well, and it show. ASU ranks second in the nation in both sacks and tackles-for-loss, and is top 10 in a number of other key defensive categories. The Sun Devils are relentless in bringing pressure, and will blitz a ton from the linebackers and the defensive backs. It will be interesting to see how their speed matches up with the Ducks.

The one knock on ASU is that the schedule has been pretty mediocre--wins against Utah, Cal, Colorado, and Illinois, and a loss, albeit on the road, to a bad Missouri team. Is this team for real? Are they going to keep this up as the schedule gets tougher?

It's hard to say. In four of the six games, they've faced backup quarterbacks, and in the others they faced Zach Maynard and Jordan Webb...not exactly Murder's Row. Yet, ASU has done what good teams are supposed to do against that slate, and that is blow those teams out. The Sun Devils have often had the talent to compete with the nation's best, and that's no different this year. What has changed is that they are no longer an undisciplined mess that is their own worst enemy. Graham has whipped them into a focused team, and one that should be a contender sooner rather than later. Whether that starts this year...well, we'll find out on Thursday.

Complete the sentence. Will Sutton is ____________.

A front runner for first team All-American honors. For years, people have expected Sutton to be a dominant force, and in the new attacking defense, he's finally arrived. His stats are elite: 8.5 sacks (second in the nation) and 13 tackles-for-loss, but his dominance goes beyond the numbers. He's been penetrating backfields at will, and the teams he's faced so far have had no answer for him. Outside of his production, his play and the attention he's drawn has helped other defenders, namely Carl Bradford (4.5 sacks) and Junior Onyeali (four sacks) to have strong starts.

Give me an underrated Sun Devil on each side of the ball that Duck fans need to keep an eye on.

On offense, Duck fans should watch running back DJ Foster. ASU uses him a lot like De'Anthony Thomas, lining him up in the backfield or as a wide receiver. A highly touted recruit, Foster has a skill set similar to Thomas, and while he's not quite as speedy or explosive as Thomas, he's bigger and more physical. In just six collegiate games, he's asserted himself as ASU's top offensive weapon.

On the other side, watch out for Chris Young, who plays the "spur" position, which is a hybrid outside linebacker/safety spot. Young has tremendous range and closing speed, and already has 10.5 tackles-for-loss. He's been excellent roving around the field, and I'm intrigued to see how he will be used to try to slow down De'Anthony Thomas.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the chances of a Sun Devil upset on Thursday?

I think it's certainly a possibility. The Sun Devils have enough talent on each side of the ball, especially with an aggressive, fast defense, to do it, and they finally have the discipline in place to not shoot themselves in the foot. Plus, they'll be at home in front of a sold out crowd. However, I think that Oregon is just too good this year for ASU to nab the upset. Unless the Ducks commit a few major mistakes and turn it over a bunch, I expect Oregon to win 35-31.

Thanks to Brad for sharing his insight with us. Be sure to visit House of Sparky for more on the ASU perspective.

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