Question: What has been the biggest surprise from Arizona State through its first three games?
Kerry Crowley: I'll start things off by saying the lack of offensive firepower has shocked me. The Sun Devils put up 55 points against Sacramento State, but that's to be expected. Against Wisconsin and Stanford, the Sun Devils looked like they didn't have an offensive identity. Coordinator Mike Norvell has not figured out ways to maximize the talent on the offensive side of the football, excluding Jaelen Strong. In Norvell's defense, the receiver drops have plagued this team and that's something that Norvell can't teach.
The disappearance of D.J. Foster from the running game (six carries in three games), Chris Coyle's declined production in the receiving game and the dropped passes from every skill position player have contributed to the underwhelming start. Foster and Coyle should see more opportunities because of all the weapons Arizona State has at its disposal, but the Sun Devils must stop falling in love with building a game plan around formations and tempo and start figuring out ways to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
Arizona State has enough offensive talent to hang 40 points on any defense. If the coaching staff can figure out creative ways to start getting Foster, Grice and others the ball in space, the offense will be just fine. Of course, all of this is pending on strong offensive line play and the ability for receivers to catch the ball in space, which we have yet to see so far too.
Ryan Bafaloukos: The biggest surprise to me thus far this season has been Arizona State's lack of a running game. Last season the Sun Devils were driven offensively by a powerful running game. This season, the Sun Devils rank 107th nationally in rushing offense. Arizona State is averaging just 108 rushing yards per game. Through three games, Arizona State has not had a 100-yard rusher. Marion Grice has been able to find the endzone six times already this season, however he has only rushed for over 60 yards once.
The Sun Devils have been able to get by on offense with a steady passing game that ranks 8th nationally. Taylor Kelly is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards this season. This is surprising to me because all offseason we heard how much the team wanted to establish the running game. The team came out against Sacramento State and started throwing the ball all over the field to the tune of five touchdown passes from Kelly. In the past two games, Kelly has attempted 51 and 55 passes respectively. I have been surprised how ineffective Arizona State has been at rushing the ball and how quickly the Sun Devils have abandoned the run early in the season.
Nick Krueger: Where in the world is Will Sutton and what has Todd Graham done with him? The All-American defensive tackle has been noticeably absent in the first three games. I almost feel the need to put him in one of those red and white sweaters and wool knit caps with blue jeans and create a children's book called "Where's Willy?"
I digress, but Sutton only has nine tackles in three games averaging three per game and has yet to record a sack. While others such as Carl Bradford and Osahon Irabor have stepped up big getting stops when needed, the signature dread locks of Sutton have rarely been seen in the backfield. I want to see Sutton eat but he somehow has not gotten his hands on an opposing quarterback yet. Opponents have run 71 pass plays and 112 rushing plays against the Sun Devils for a total of 183 plays. For rest and injury I'll take Sutton out on 20 of those plays to be fair. So in 163 plays Sutton has been in on a tackle 5.52 percent of the time, which is not nearly enough for an All-American impact player like Sutton.
Perhaps their is some truth to the rumor started by NFL scouts that the weight Sutton put on in the offseason truly is "bad weight" whatever that means. I will be watching Sutton closely against USC. Something is awry but we've yet to find out what the issue is.
Ben Haber: Throughout fall camp, I noticed Arizona State practicing more special teams than usual. The extra attention to detail foreshadowed the problems we are all witnessing now. The kicking situation was supposed to improve significantly with Zane Gonzalez at the helm, but his practice expertise hasn't transferred over to game day. For the punters, Dom Vizzarre and Matt Haack are nowhere near as good as Josh Hubner (last year's starter.) Even if Hubner was still around, the blocking would still be a liability. Opponents have already blocked three of ASU's punts, with nine points coming off those costly turnovers.
Todd Graham consistently stresses the importance of special teams, so I'm surprised about the unit's incompetency. Beyond the miscues, the punt returning and kick returning hasn't set up Taylor Kelly with favorable field position. Between Rick Smith, Marion Grice and more, I thought there would be some trips to dirt. If the special teams doesn't get their act together, the offensive and defensive outputs might not matter.
Nick Marek: I am in agreement with Nick. I think the Sun Devils' defense has made me scratch my head a lot. There are some drives that as a unit, it looks incredible. But from an individual standpoint, Sutton, Bradford, and Chris Young seem out of most plays. The funny part is, that is the exact opposite. They are all involved in the plays, but it's their teammates who are making the tackles and big stops. Osahon Irabor anyone... he has surprised me. The front seven has been better than average, but the fans expect greatness.
On offense, there has not been any flow. When Arizona State runs it's up-tempo, no huddle offense like they SHOULD, they have no problem and they storm down the field on teams like Wisconsin and Stanford. For the most part, I truly believe that Arizona State should lose the play action from its playbook. All it does is cause trouble and we saw how rattled Taylor Kelly was on the road (to be fair, he did play against a fantastic DL of Stanford). Grice has been a touchdown machine, but he has only made four great rushes this season. That being said, why are we not seeing DJ Foster in the running game more? Arizona State can't use him in both the slot and backfield for different plays?
After all of that, Arizona State is still a very good team and there is no doubt that they were expected to lose to No. 5 Stanford. I'm curious to see if the coaching staff reads any of our comments and makes some of these adjustments for this weekend against USC. If the Sun Devils can't beat the Trojans by double digits, it's going to be a long rest of the season. The reason being is Arizona State needs to start proving that it's getting better each week, not staying the same.