It’s bowl week Q-and-A time with House of Sparky, SB Nation’s—you guessed it—Arizona State blog. I chatted this week with site author Josiah Destin about what to expect from the Sun Devils. I also answered a few questions for him here.
1. I'm curious what the mood is within the fanbase now that Herm Edwards has been hired. It's an interesting hire for sure--are you guys terrified or excited or a little of both? Are most folks on board with this hire?
Destin: I’m not sure if it’s marinated well, but at first, most ASU fans did not like it. The biggest problem was it looked like there was only one candidate, and Athletic Director Ray Anderson hired his buddy. Anderson was Edwards’ agent in his eight NFL head coaching years.
On the flip side, I went to Los Angeles for winter break where people love the hire. It seems the move was so bold that it may need time to sink in. However, he signed 11 of 12 commits on early signing day, and has yet to do it, but may land some seriously big recruits. If he can set the tone in recruiting in January, he’ll have Tempe’s back.
2. What are the issues that have plagued Arizona State's defense this season, and where are the biggest mismatches for ASU's defense?
Destin: Big plays. Big plays from running backs.
ASU gave up 301 rushing yards to Stanford’s Bryce Love alone. It was the most he had in any game all season. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and USC’s Ronald Jones rushed for 216 yards each in games against ASU. It wasn’t really all the yards, but the monstrous plays within them. The Sun Devils gave up multiples 40 to 50-yard touchdown runs to all three of those running backs in each game.
There isn’t really a major mismatch with ASU, it’s just the defense is so inconsistent. Just keep the ball away from the middle of the field. Linebacker Christian Sam led the Pac-12 in tackles and fellow LB DJ Calhoun didn’t miss a tackle until midway through the season. I mean, when you’re passing defense ranks No. 119 and rushing is No. 79, it isn’t pretty. Throw the ball, and NC State will likely have success.
3. In light of the coaching change, do you expect the Sun Devils to look any different in terms of scheme on Friday?
Destin: Yes, but not exactly. Since offensive coordinator Billy Napier fled to Louisiana-Lafayette, soon-to-be offensive line coach Dave Christensen will help head coach Todd Graham call plays. Christensen has been both the Missouri and Toledo offensive coordinator and last head coached at Wyoming from 2009-13.
Even without Napier, I’d expect Arizona State to be fast like they have all year. ASU averages 79 plays per game, which is 12th in the country, and had the fifth-best red zone offense in the country, scoring 95.8 percent when within the 20-yard line.
4. What are quarterback Manny Wilkins' strengths and weaknesses?
Destin: He’s not going to beat you with his arm. He’s fast, but won’t beat you with his legs. Wilkins is just extremely tough and very efficient. He had just five interceptions after being sacked 37 times. He’ll run, and isn’t afraid to get hit. His signature move is actually hurdling over people.
His 2,918 yards and 17 touchdowns come from his ability to manage a game well, making the right throws at the right time to keep the offense rolling. His weakness is singling out and locking eyes on certain receivers. Wilkins is well-aware N’Keal Harry is an NFL receiver, but will make it obvious half the time he throws it to him.
5. Who are a couple guys that might be a little under-the-radar that we should look out for?
Destin: He may not be under-the-radar, but you haven’t asked about him yet, so I’ve got to mention Demario Richard. He had 220 yards in ASU’s first six games and finished with 761 in the second half of the season, including four 100-yard or more games in his last four games. He’s listed 5-10, but might be a bit smaller, and can slip through holes easy.
Watch out for Kyle Williams too. He’s also 5-10, but brings speed and fits ASU’s offense perfect when its running tempo. Averaging 11.5 yards per catch for 678 receiving yards is not bad.
Kalen Ballage can also be a game-changer. With just 657 rushing yards and six touchdowns, Ballage was overshadowed by Richard. But he’s still a 6-3, 230-pound running back who scored eight touchdowns against Texas Tech in 2016.
*You didn’t ask, but I’ll give one. Score prediction: NC State 34, ASU 27.