Players to watch
Last season, the Sun Devils could have hardly hoped for a more impressive year than what they got in Todd Graham's debut season. After firing Dennis Erickson in the wake of losing six of their last seven games in 2011, the Sun Devils ranked 14th in the nation in scoring offense with 38.4 points per game, and appeared ready to make the leap into the Pac-12's upper-tier after starting the season 5-1. A four-game skid that included losses to three ranked opponents took some of the luster off of the season's early successes, though, but the Devils regrouped to end the season on a three-game winning streak, including an impressive road win against No. 24 Arizona in one of the more entertaining Territorial Cup showdowns in memory.
2012 was the year of the young quarterback in the Pac-12, and even measured against competition like Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, ASU's Taylor Kelly stood out for the quality of his play, completing nearly 67 percent of his throws for 29 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Kelly hasn't suffered much of a sophomore slump this year, either, having thrown 16 touchdowns against six picks in the season's first half. Where he's really dangerous, though, is his ability to keep plays alive with his legs. While I won't compare him to the currently incomparable Marcus Mariota, Kelly does possess a similar skillset to the Oregon quarterback, and Washington's defensive success will depend on their ability to effectively corral him.
Arizona State runs a pass-first scheme, and no player has benefitted from that more than Juco wide receiver Jaelen Strong. The 6-4, 205 lb. target ranks third in the conference and 12th in the nation in averaging 113 receiving yards per game. Strong has hauled in six or more passes in all but one game, Arizona State's blowout win over Colorado, and he'll undoubtedly be a factor in ASU's attempt to stretch the field on Saturday. Tight end Chris Coyle led the team in receptions last year, and while his receptions have diminished from 4.4 to 2.2 per game, he remains a viable target for Kelly.
ASU's running backs are utilized virtually as much in the passing game as they are in the ground game, and D.J. Foster (32 receptions/334 yards/1 touchdown) and Marion Grice (29/265/5) have stepped up to the challenge. Grice in particular is a dangerous player in the mold of Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, as he averages more than 100 offensive yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game. Bringing Grice down in the open field will be a particular challenge for Washington's defenders, and they'll need to play technically sound to come away with a chance to notch a road win against a respectable team.
Arizona State's offensive line is far from one of the conference's premier units, as only left tackle Evan Finkenberg has garnered any post- or preseason recognition, being named an all-conference honorable mention following the 2012 season. Their 13 sacks allowed trails only California as worst in the conference, a dubious honor that they share with USC.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
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