Welcome home Arizona State football.
The road trip went as planned as the Sun Devils went 2-0. Obviously the scare at Utah caused the worries to be vocalized, yet the resilient come-from-behind win was actually ideal. The Sun Devils' 7-2 record puts them atop the Pac-12 South standings, one game ahead of UCLA and USC.
Oregon State rolls into Tempe undefeated on the road at 4-0, defeating Utah, San Diego State, Washington State and California. Meanwhile, Todd Graham and company are perfect at home at 5-0. One of those streaks will come to an end on Saturday.
On the season, the Beavers are 6-3, coming up short in their previous two contests. The ups and downs of the Mike Riley-led team makes the Beavers hard to gauge. Despite the peaks and valleys for Oregon State, its offensive fire power can create problems any given week.
The big game for ASU, playing at UCLA, is only one week away. Before the trip to California, taking care of business against the Beavers should be the Sun Devils' sole focus. No matter the result of the ASU-Oregon State game, next week will basically decide it all. Conversely, ASU can give themselves wiggle room by defeating Oregon State.
The famous Haber's Hunches record for last week remains in question. I predicted Richard Smith to be the unexpected hero, which he was because of the game winning catch, but he failed to live up to the 80-yard proclamation. Simply based on the magnitude of the Smith touchdown grab, I decided to give myself credit there, meaning I went 2-1. Heading into week 10, I proudly own an 16-10 record.
First Hunch: ASU offense scores at least 49 points
Don't get caught in the moment.
Taylor Kelly and the rest of the crew were stymied in Salt Lake City. That disappointing performance was a blip in the road. The ASU offensive problems will get solved and taken out on Oregon State.
USC and Utah, two average attacks, combined to average 39.5 points per game against the Beavers. The Sun Devils' offense ranks significantly higher than either team, averaging 43.7 points per game and 51.2 at Frank Kush Field. The least ASU scored within the Echo of the Buttes was 32, and that was against a physical Wisconsin squad.
393.2 and ninth are numbers to note. Those numbers are the yards allowed by Oregon State per game and the Beavers' conference ranking for the same category. It takes elite defenses to slow down Kelly, Marion Grice, Jaelen Strong and more. Below average won't get it done. The complexities to Mike Norvell's offense and the versatility in personnel are too much for the Beavers.
I also think the redemption factor should be taken into account. For the first time in a while, some people are ridiculing the offense. ESPN college football analyst Mark May did so on Burns and Gambo of Arizona 620 earlier in the week. Kelly bounces back and Grice finds himself back in pay dirt as the team tallies 49-plus points.
Second Hunch: Sean Mannion won't throw for 300-plus yards
The Oregon State passing game goes stride-for-stride with any program in college football, accumulating the second most yards per game at 404.8. The majority of the credit should be attributed to Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.
The lack of balance plays right to the ASU strength on defense: pass rushing. No running back on the Beavers roster has surpassed the 300-yard maker, which requires Mannion to do it alone. How do you successfully throw the ball? Run the rock to set up the pass. Terron Wood, Storm Woods and the offensive line can't get it going on the ground, and that approach doesn't work against solid defenses.
Will Sutton and Carl Bradford have vastly improved in their run defense. Sutton and Bradford made their names and will make their money because of their rare ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. Mannion exposes defenses with clean pockets, but just like any quarterback, pressure up the gut turns those dimes into turnovers. The Sun Devils have three interceptions in the last two weeks, while Mannion tossed three interceptions against USC in his last game.
The growing trend of ASU picking off passes and Mannion taking additional chances will prevent him from reaching 300-yards.
Final Hunch: Todd Graham and his staff out-coach Mike Riley and staff
In the 2012 matchup, Oregon State beat ASU 36-26. As I watched the game, I didn't think Mike Riley ran circles around Todd Graham. According to Graham, Riley and his disciples were more prepared for the encounter. I can't see that happening again.
Kelly, Grice and the rest of the players deserve the credit for the rise of the ASU football program. I say Graham means just as much and arguably more. Once Steve Patterson left to take the athletic director position at Texas, all of our hearts stopped. Why? Partly because Patterson was great at his job, and the other part was worrying about Graham joining him at Texas.
Those rumors got shot dead quickly. Patterson can't hire anyone from ASU because of an agreement with president Michael Crow. Suddenly the somber mood was only that. If Graham left, the Sun Devils would've been set back years. Losing Patterson hurts. Losing Graham would've been devastating.
Riley and Oregon State are the third straight ASU opponents coming off byes. The extra week off definitely helps out. On the other hand, the Sun Devils don't need extra time to figure out the Beavers.
Graham wants ASU to become champions. He won't let his defensive play calls or team-wide decisions hold the Sun Devils back.