The Observer had an email Q & A with Evan Webeck, a football beat writer for Arizona State’s student newspaper The State Press. Here are five questions and Webeck’s answers, along with his prediction for the game:
1. Like Notre Dame ASU has a dynamic quarterback in Taylor Kelly, how would you evaluate him since returning from his injury? And what does he add to the ASU offense?
1. Kelly has definitely not been himself since coming back from injury. He didn’t connect with Jaelen Strong last game until the second quarter (and four missed tries). His timing seems to be a little off, but it’s understandable — he missed six weeks. Now that it’s his third week back, though, I believe this is Kelly’s breakout week. ASU’s going to need good quarterback play, with how well Notre Dame plays the run, and I think Kelly leads the Sun Devils to a win.
2. Brian Kelly said he was concerned about the connection between Kelly and Strong, how much of a threat is he to the Irish defense? And will he be the best ASU receiver ever?
2. Huge. He’s easily ASU’s best weapon. You might think guys like Kelly or DJ Foster compare — and don’t get me wrong, they are great players — but Strong is nearly unstoppable. Few corners have even come close to shutting him down in his two years at ASU. The last two games, however, he and Kelly have seemed a little off. He has eight catches and 132 yards, but he’s had opportunity for far more.
3. What was the team’s and campus’ reaction to ASU jumping Notre Dame in the College Playoff rankings?
3. We didn’t get much reaction from the team. At his weekly press conference, Graham addressed the severity of the game and meaning of it (that was before the playoff rankings were released). I doubt it affected the guys much, though some fans are worried about not being the underdogs anymore, which is a little outrageous because ASU’s been the underdog in the large majority of its games.
4. ASU’s defense has done surprisingly well this season, carrying the team when Kelly was absent. How has the defense progressed from last season?
4. It’s been a big transformation. One of the positions Graham’s defense is most known for, Devilbacker, isn’t featured most of the defensive packages ASU is running now. At the start of the season (when ASU struggled), Graham was trying to force guys in to the position. Of course, no one could match what Carl Bradford did there last year. One of them, Antonio Longino, took over for freshman DJ Calhoun at Will, a more traditional linebacker spot. He’s thrived there, and that’s been a big part of ASU’s newfound defensive success. Another has been its better run defense. ASU has gone bigger up front, inserting Mo Latu and Demetrius Cherry into the starting lineup, and it’s worked really well.
5. What are the keys to the game for ASU to beat Notre Dame in Tempe?
5. Firstly, the defense can’t revert back to its early season form — that’s a given. Everett Golson is likely the biggest threat to ASU winning this game. Since the defensive shakeup, the Sun Devils have yet to play a really talented quarterback. A run of Kevin Hogan, Cyler Miles and Travis Wilson (without Dres Anderson) isn’t exactly daunting. Not only that, but Golson can hurt you two ways. If ASU can limit at least one facet of Golson’s game, they should have some success.
ASU 27, ND 20.