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Opponent Q&A: Talking ASU Sun Devils Football

Hod Rabino from Devils Digest dishes on the 1-4 Sun Devils

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Eastern Michigan at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier this week we had the chance to talk to Hod Rabino from Devils Digest regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:


UWDP: Florida transfer Emory Jones is completing 63% of his passes this season, but for only around 7.5 yards per attempt. How has his play been since joining the Sun Devils? How about the pass protection?

Hod Rabino: Emory Jones has been greatly inconsistent all season long. There have definitely have been moments where he did fulfill the wishes of the coaches and the fans for that matter who got to see a quarterback who does run through his progressions, doesn’t run and take off just because he can, and overall display solid decision making skills.

On the other hand there have been some long stretches of inaccurate passing that may not show up in the completion percentage but probably are reflective more in the yards per completion. I do think objectively that faulty play calling, a largely shaky pass protection and receivers dropping the balls especially in shots down the field, have all certainly affected him. But overall it’s fair to say that if we all expected him to be even just a modest upgrade over Jayden Daniels I don’t believe that we have seen that yet.


UWDP: Elijhah Badger leads ASU with 24 grabs for over 300 yards. Who are the primary deep and possession targets for the Sun Devils? Will we see the backs and tight ends get involved in the passing game?

Hod: Ever since he arrived on campus, Badger has been considered the highest potential ceiling wide receiver on the roster. It took him a while but I feel that his potential is getting realized more and more this year even though it’s fair to expect even more from him. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Washington defensive staff is putting him front and center on the scouting report. Will other wide receivers step up this weekend? That’s a big time unknown because we really haven’t seen it happening that often so far. Bryan Thompson who transferred from Utah a couple of seasons ago has finally showed some flashes of being that formidable wideout and maybe against a secondary that hasn’t been all that suffocating he could continue in the modest upward trend that he is exhibiting.

Eastern Michigan v Arizona State
Sophomore Elijhah Badger has emerged as the most consistent ASU receiver.

I don’t know if there’s any other wide receiver right now that I would expect to have an impact on Saturday so yes in theory I would think that the staff would look more towards tight end Messiah Swinson and running backs Xazavian Valladay and Daniyel Ngata to contribute in the passing game. But in all honesty I don’t know if there are huge expectations no matter who the opponent is for Arizona State’s aerial attack to really force their will against any of its opponents. It’s simply has not a showcased feature so far.


UWDP: Xazavian Valladay got off to a great start with three 100-yard games. Tell us about his running style. Who else can help from the RB position? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?

Hod: I think Valladay has been solid so far in his performance, But yes I do agree that once Pac-12 play started that he ran into more obstacles than he did the first three weeks of the season. It might have been more expected that the Utah front seven would bottle him up, but against a USC defense that was letting everybody and anybody run the ball down their throat it was disappointing to see the ground attack truly halted.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Southern California
Senior RB Xazavian Valladay has averaged 6.2 yards per carry this season.

I don’t know if I would call him an explosive running back although he can do some damage on the edges. Yet he’s definitely more adept at gaining yards North and South. Much like the offensive line hasn’t been great pass protecting, I can’t really give the front five high marks for run blocking either and again against a defense like USC You definitely expected a better performance.

The eternal question concerning the other running back, Daniyel Ngata, is why isn’t he getting more carries? He’s been largely consistent in making the most out of every game day rep that he gets. So in theory yes he’s somebody who can definitely help ASU in their rush attack but if the season trend continues we’re just not going to see him that often on the field. And if his reps are few and far between it’ll be interesting to see how much it does hurt the Sun Devils on Saturday.


UWDP: The ASU defense has surrendered nearly 400 yards per game, and rank toward the lower-middle of the Pac-12 in both rushing and passing defense. How has the unit performed as a whole? Who are some players on that side of the ball to watch on Saturday?

Hod: I don’t think you would even be marginally harsh to say that the ASU defense has been very soft this year. True, there have been spurts of dominance in some contests, but weather it’s there lack of pressure on the line of scrimmage or the fact that they are content playing off the wide receivers and generally dropping into zone coverage that has plenty of holes for the opponent to exploit, It has been a disappointing performance and the stats are reflecting that painfully and accurately. There’s no doubt that they lost more than a couple of impactful players from last year one of the best defenses we’ve seen in Tempe this century, But those will follow the team believe that there was still enough talent to compensate for those losses. I personally really have not seen good play calling from defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson who has been on the staff for a few years but actually is assuming this title for the first time. So so that has also been a contributing factor to the subpar showing on this side of the ball.

The heart and soul of the ASU defense are its pair of senior linebackers Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson. Safety Khoury Bethley is another notable contributor on this group.


UWDP: What are you hearing about the head coaching search for ASU?

Hod: There hasn’t been all that much news concerning the coaching search. But we do know that due to the NCAA investigation that the job security of Athletic Director Ray Anderson is tenuous which is why University President Dr. Michael Crow will take the lead in this process. It’s always a very dramatic move to fire a coach just a few games into the season but that does give you a leg up on teams that will only dismiss their head coach around Thanksgiving weekend where the market for available coaches may be thinner. I could see ASU perhaps landing a head coach that is currently out of a job which again can put them ahead of the game rather than looking for a head coach when a dozen of other teams are doing the exact same. It does seem that ASU would want to get somebody that does have head coaching experience at the power five level, but some of Crow hires Have also been out of the box so to speak. So I guess nothing would shock me in this regard.


UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?

Hod: Even though ASU is playing a ranked team and one that wasn’t all that far from being undefeated coming into this weekend, I do find this game one that is hard to predict.

For the second week in a row Washington does travel on a long road trip which I think negates the extra day of rest that they have on ASU. And it’s always anybody’s guess how a team will respond after that first loss on the year. I don’t mean to overstate the temperature aspect too much but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that ASU is much more comfortable playing a game in the 90’s than Washington is.

From ASU’s perspective we’ve seen improvement between the Utah and USC games and it seems as if slowly but surely the team is really taking to the new culture that interim head coach Shaun Aguano is trying to establish. I definitely think there should be concern in how the Sun Devils can stop an explosive passing game by the Huskies, But at the same time I feel that the ASU defense is due to play a more complete game and that the offense has a capability of playing solid four quarters and displaying a more balanced offense than they have so far.

This may be more of a gut feel prediction more than anything, but I see ASU winning a close one 27-24.


Thanks Hod. For more on ASU, be sure to check out Devils Digest.