Arizona State is 5-1 and riding high at the half way point of the season. Not many felt that first year Head Coach Todd Graham was going to turn around a fundamentally flawed program in anything remotely close to one year. The Sun Devils under previous Head Coach Dennis Erickson were consistently undisciplined, unorganized, and chronic underachievers. Todd Graham, who has a reputation as a disciplinarian, wasn’t a popular choice in Tempe, however, but Sun Devil faithful have been pleasantly surprised so far.
The UCLA Bruins, also led by first year Head Coach Jim Mora, have been another surprise in conference play. Sitting at 5-2, the Bruins have a bye week before taking on the Sun Devils on Saturday, October 27th at Sun Devil Stadium. During the bye week, the UCLA coaches will obviously prepare for the Sun Devils as well as possible, but fans deserve knowledge, as well. ASU takes on Oregon this Thursday on ESPN.
Here are three things to think about as you watch ASU take on Oregon:
- Is Taylor Kelly for real? Sophomore Quarterback Taylor Kelly may individually be the biggest surprise of the season so far in the Pac 12. He is completing 68% of his passes, averaging 266.67 yards per game, and has a 14:2 touchdown to interception ratio. Admittedly, ASU has played a soft schedule thus far and haven’t seen a defense with the speed of Oregon all season(not many have). If Kelly performs at a high level against the Ducks on Thursday, he will likely give the Bruins fits.
- Who gets the bulk of the carries? Last season, Cameron Marshall rushed for over 1,000 yards and was expected to have another big year for the Sun Devils. Thus far, besides his red zone effectiveness, Marshall has struggled a bit. Freshman Running Back D.J. Foster has come in and lit up scoreboards. He averages 6.0 yards per carry and leads the team in rushing yards despite having 17 less carries than Marshall on the season. Who does Todd Graham trust in a big game? Can Marshall step up and find his 2011 form? Does D.J. Foster have what it takes right now to be “the man” for the Sun Devils? We will find out Thursday.
- What is the role of Michael Eubank? Eubank was considered by many the man to beat for the QB position. He got beat out by Kelly, but hasn’t disappeared. He is used in the wildcat and pistol formations at times and is fifth on the team in rushing. He hasn’t been as effective as Graham had hoped running the ball, however, and he has seen a decline in his snaps the last couple weeks. He does throw the ball well and is 16/22 for 147 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
The Bruins catch a break with their well-timed bye week. ASU has slid under the radar for the first half of the season, but will be on national television against the number 3 team in the nation on a Thursday night. If ASU answers the aforementioned questions and passes the Oregon test, win or lose, with a solid grade, UCLA will be in for a dogfight. If they wilt on the big stage, and get crushed by an opponent superior to almost all, they leave doubt. Arizona State appears to be a good team, but tune in Thursday to find out just how good.