We sat down with (or rather exchanged emails with) our friends over at House of Sparky. Special thanks to Andrew Bell for giving us such quality answers!
1. What has most impressed you about Jayden Daniels and what do you think he needs to improve on?
Aside from his natural playmaking and scrambling out of the pocket, I’ve been most impressed with his calmness and poise. Obviously, ASU has had some gut-wrenching losses in recent weeks, but you wouldn’t know it by Daniels’ demeanor. He has never let loose any anger, frustration, or emotion and he really does play like a quarterback who is wise beyond his years. As for what I think he can improve on, I think his accuracy on deep balls can improve just a tad, although he did connect on a few deep throws last weekend against Oregon State. He really has been impressive for a first-year QB, and he hasn’t been to blame for ASU’s recent skid.
2. The o-line seems to be a weakness for the Sun Devils, how has the offense coped with this problem?
The o-line has been an uphill battle all year. The problems started all the way back in fall camp when senior Zach Robertson left the team due to a personal matter. Then there were a few injuries along the way, and Cohl Cabral (who is being looked at by NFL teams at center) started the year not playing center because of having to fill other vacancies. They shuffled things back around during the Michigan State game with Cabral going back to center, and they have since had two freshmen in Dohnovan West and LaDarius Henderson playing all season. I think both West and Henderson are going to have good careers as Sun Devils, but playing as freshmen at such vital positions against programs like Utah is tough. It’s been a struggle with the rushing game, but it’s what ASU has been dealt with all season.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this defense?
When Danny Gonzales’ 3-3-5 scheme is at its best, you will see a lot of players shifting around and getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers. I’d say the strength is the linebackers with Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler, but the true weakness of the group in recent weeks has been their collective slow starts. Between USC and Oregon State, ASU gave up 42 points in the first quarter. Starting games off slow has been a constant theme, and after the first quarter, the defense seems to settle in. But they have been digging holes for themselves on this current losing streak.
4. Any promising young players that you believe will develop into solid starters?
I chuckled a little bit when I saw this question only because every player on the roster is young right now. 20+ freshmen have seen quality playing time on both sides of the ball this year, and the entire roster is full of youth. But just to name a few players who I believe will develop nicely over the next couple of years, I believe Ricky Pearsall and Jordan Kerley are going to be future top receiving targets for Daniels. Additionally, Ethan Long is a captain as a freshman, and his nickname is Captain America. He’s been used sparingly at times, but he’s a swiss army knife who can play anywhere. Think of him like Taysom Hill on the New Orleans Saints. And of course, there’s Daniels as the collegiate version of the franchise quarterback.
5. Is the fan base still firm for Herm?
The tides have started to turn a little bit on the Herm Train. I think that’s the case with any program who has lost four straight conference games at a power-five school, but fans have definitely voiced some of their frustrations with this recent losing streak. They believe ASU should be in a far better situation, and they have underachieved in some sense, especially after a 5-1 start.
Above all, the fanbase has been most frustrated with the slow starts on defense, and the play-calling on offense with offensive coordinator Rob Likens. There are trends that have continued, and it’s caused frustration. For me, I think it’s still too early to assess the Edwards takeover to its full degree when he has had such a massive roster turnover in the wake of getting his own recruits after the end of the Todd Graham era, and when you consider how many freshmen have played. I will say this, though. This season for ASU is kind of just up for bowl eligibility at this point, but next year will give a much better sense of how far along the program is.
6. Health wise, how has the season been for Arizona State?
I mentioned those injuries on the o-line, and Daniels missed one game against USC. Backup Joey Yellen played against the Trojans, and he actually suffered a sprained shoulder while going through that matchup. It’s still up in the air whether he’ll be suited up this weekend, but for now it looks as if Long is the backup, and walk-on Trenton Bourguet is behind him. It was announced that defensive lineman George Lea was also lost for the season earlier this week due to a knee injury, and there have been a few guys in the secondary who have missed games. But other than that, it’s been a relatively healthy season. I feel as if every football team goes through their injury bug over the course of a long season, but ASU has been okay in that regard.
7. If the Sun Devils were to upset the Ducks, what would that look like?
Euphoria, taking down the goal posts, madness. Just kidding, I am not sure if the field would be stormed, but I’d say there’s a chance if they did pull off a top-10 upset. As for the actual play on the field, I think it’s all about getting pressure on Justin Herbert and making him uncomfortable through different looks and pressure on defense. Edwards has said it before, but a grind it out style of game with controlling time of possession is more suited to ASU’s style of play, and I think they will try to keep the ball out of the hands of Herbert’s offense as much as possible. I don’t believe the Sun Devil offense wants to get in a shootout by any means, and a lower scoring affair would likely bode in the favor of ASU.
8. Who are the game-changing skill players?
Brandon Aiyuk should be threat No. 1 for Oregon. He can do it on special teams as a punt returner, and he can do it as a wideout. He was named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week a couple days ago, and he has been “the guy” to replace N’Keal Harry after his departure to the NFL. Among others, running back Eno Benjamin is an obvious choice, but he has fallen on some hard times. He has coughed up a few costly fumbles this season, and it’s been a challenge for him with a young o-line. Still, he’s always a name to circle just because of his ability to break out.
9. Game and score prediction.
I think this one will be closer than some people might think. If ASU fixes its defensive woes in the first quarter and is able to score first, that will be step number one in trying to secure a huge upset. In the end though, I think the Ducks have too much talent and more experience, and they have something bigger to play for. I’m going 28-17 Oregon.
10. Best place for traveling Duck fans to grab a bite?
One of my favorite questions. Right near Sun Devil Stadium, there is the Chuckbox, which is a campus staple. It’s a charcoal-broiled burger joint, and it’s a unique experience. And if any Oregon fans get in town on Friday, and are looking for somewhere to eat near the airport, I’d recommend Little Miss BBQ on East University Drive. There is almost always a big line, but it’s worth it. Andy Staples of The Athletic put Tempe as No. 9 in his top-25 rankings for college football food cities earlier this year, and Little Miss was included in his list. I’m hungry now.