We talked with Ryan Bafaloukos of SBN's Arizona State blog House of Sparky to find out more about the Sun Devils - here's what he had to say:
UWDP: After two straight seasons of 10 wins and a Pac-12 Championship game appearance, how are Sun Devils fans reacting to what appears to be a down year in 2015?
HoS: To the surprise of no one, Sun Devil fans are not taking a 4-5 record and a three-game losing streak well (nor should they). Before the season began, Todd Graham said this was his best team since arriving in Tempe and that this season they could complete for championships.
With a senior quarterback and nine starters back on defense, most fans expected this team to compete for the Pac-12 title and it simply hasn't happened. ASU has landed three, four-star recruits in the past 10 days so the program is in good shape, but this season has not gone the way many (including a lot of local media) thought it was going to go.
UWDP: One thing from afar that seems to be an issue for ASU is a downturn in QB play with the graduation of Taylor Kelly. While Michael Bercovici had some big games last year in relief of Kelly, he just doesn't seem to have the same level of consistency, nor does he appear to be as much of a threat with his legs. What's your analysis of the QB play this year, and how much can be attributed to the graduation of Jaelen Strong?
HoS: There have been a lot of issues with the ASU offense and the passing game in particular. Some of these issues stem from Mike Bercovici and there are some he can't control. The fact is the Sun Devils not only miss Jaelen Strong, but their No. 2 receiver from 2014 Cameron Smith, who tore his ACL in spring practice. The ASU receivers have had a hard time creating separation and as a result, Bercovici sometimes has nowhere to throw the football.
The Sun Devils replaced four new offensive linemen in 2015, and Bercovici was sacked nine times in the season opener against Texas A&M. While the line has improved, it is not as strong as the offensive lines have been the past few seasons.
Now, to Bercovici. The admiration that fans felt for Bercovici in 2014 has quickly gone and now some would like to see ASU make a change. When he has time and an open receiver, he can make just about any throw. However, he struggles on the run when his feet aren't set and when he has to throw into coverage. While he has made some plays with his feet, he is not as mobile as Taylor Kelly and this hurts ASU in the run game. While I don't think you can put ASU's offensive woes solely on him, he has not been as good as he was in 2014.
UWDP: Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage give ASU two very tough, effective backs, and you still have the very dangerous D.J. Foster - should the Sun Devils be running the ball more?
HoS: I think most of Sun Devil nation shares your sentiments. Against Washington State, Demario Richard carried the ball 5 times for 53 yards on ASU's opening drive. He ran the ball just 13 times the rest of the game. Ballage and Richard are bruising backs that have taken over times the past few weeks. However, when you are trailing in the second half, sometimes it it hard to run the football. Also, ASU typically wants to run around 90 plays a game and even if you run the ball 50 times you still are going to throw it a lot and sometimes that can skew some numbers.
UWDP: Who else on the ASU offense should Husky fans be watching out for?
HoS: The breakout star for ASU this year has been receiver Tim White. The redshirt junior returns kicks and also gets involved withs screens and some runs. He has been the most explosive player on the ASU offense in 2015. UCLA transfer Devin Lucien leads the team in catches and TE Kody Kohl is a safety blanket for Bercovici, especially close to the end zone. D.J. Foster has had a down year, but is always dangerous out of the slot and he will get a few carries on Saturday as well.
UWDP: Arizona State under Todd Graham is known for a defense that features a heavy dose of blitzing, and it was very effective in 2013 and 2014. The numbers aren't as good so far in 2015 - is this just a drop in talent, or are there signs that opposing offenses are doing a better job of reading and exploiting those blitz packages?
HoS: I think it is a little bit of both. The Sun Devils have struggled the past two seasons to get pressure rushing just four. They miss Carl Bradford, Will Sutton and Marcus Hardison and this season really don't have a lot of pass rushers who can beat an offensive lineman one-on-one consistently. To compensate for this, ASU blitzes more than any team in the conference and this season it has bit them more than it has helped them.
Because of how often they blitz, ASU leaves its secondary one-on-one with opposing receivers in space. Because of this, ASU has given up the most plays of 60 yards of any defense in the nation. They, like Washington, struggle to tackle in space and it cost them against Texas A&M, USC and Oregon. The Ducks broke off two runs for touchdowns of over 60 yards and explosive plays have killed ASU on defense all season.
Recruiting has been going well down in the desert under Graham. While 2015 may be a small step back on the field, it appears there's a good supply of talent coming in to the program. What are the expectations for Arizona State football over the next few years?
HoS: Next season will be interesting because they will be playing a new quarterback and four new offensive linemen. However, in year 5, Graham will now have a roster full of players that he recruited and they have been the highest ranked classes of the internet era. The Sun Devils will be young but they will return Richard and Ballage along with plenty of talent on defense.
I am not sure if they will compete for the Pac-12 South next year. I think they will win between 7-9 games next season (very early prediction) but I think 2017 and 2018 this team has the potential to be Graham's best.
A big thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out House of Sparky for all your Arizona State athletics