As I'm sure you're all aware, Utah is set to play Arizona State this Saturday in both team's conference opener. The Utes lost to the Sun Devils last season at Rice-Eccles Stadium and will certainly be looking for a bit of revenge, and some momentum, entering a fairly tough stretch of play.
I'm expecting a good, contested and hot game. Hopefully Utah can show up and kick some Devil tail. The Q&A after the jump...
Are you surprised by Arizona State’s start?
While their record is not surprising, the manner in which they’ve played has been. This team opened the year with two decisive wins in a fashion that fans weren’t used to: ASU played a disciplined, aggressive, and mistake-free brand of football. After years of ASU being their own worst enemy, seeing the team really take it to the opponent truly was a revelation.
Last week against Missouri, the first three quarters were a terrifying throwback to recent seasons. The team made several crucial mistakes in falling behind 24-7. But in the fourth quarter, the "new" Sun Devils returned, and mounted an inspiring comeback that ultimately fell short.
With their early performance, I’ve had to rethink my preseason expectation of this being a five-win team, and now think they can contend for the No. 2 spot in the South behind USC.
What’s the major differences between Dennis Erickson and Todd Graham – do you see these differences?
Discipline, first and foremost. Erickson let the program lapse into disarray through his laid back approach, and it was damning. The team led the nation in penalties in two of the last three seasons, and off the field, it became a case of the inmates running the asylum.
That has changed under Todd Graham. He’s brought in a strict, no-nonsense, yet positive, attitude into all aspects of the program, from the on and off-field conduct of the players, to successes in recruiting to the way the secretaries in the offices answer the phones. As he calls it, it’s all part of "Speaking Victory", and it’s really injected legitimate optimism into a program wallowing in the depths as recently as December. That in itself is a major win.
While the team is still a work in progress, the progress that Graham has made thus far has been terrific.
What’s Arizona State’s strength?
Right now, it’s the defense. After running a passive 4-3 for the last several years, they’ve switched to an aggressive 3-3-5 as their base, but they will often show different looks.
Regardless of formation, it’s paid off. ASU ranks in the top 10 in pass defense and tackles-for-loss, and the top 25 in scoring and total defense, not to mention being tied for the FBS lead in interceptions.
The offense has had their ups and downs, but the Sun Devil defense has been stout and attacking from the outset. Defensive tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Brandon Magee and safety Alden Darby are all off to very good, All-Pac-12 caliber starts to 2012.
What’s Arizona State’s weakness?
Wide receiver. The team lost most of their top receivers from last season, and those losses, combined with learning a new offensive system, created a lot of worries around the position coming into the year. After three games, there’s been nothing to lessen those at all.
Tight end Chris Coyle has emerged as the team’s top targets, and running backs DJ Foster and Marion Grice have been important parts of the passing game, but the wide receivers have yet to make an impact. Thus far, they’ve been far more notable for their drops than for the plays they have made.
How hot is it going to be Saturday evening?
By game time, it should "only" be around 102 or so, which around here makes for some pretty typical early autumn weather. While that is a little toasty, it’s the metal bleachers that really amp up the temperature.
What are some good spots for Utah fans to check out while in Tempe?
Mill Avenue, located just a few blocks from Sun Devil Stadium, is the place to be. Up and down the lengthy stretch of road, there are more bars and restaurants than fans will have time for. Some of the better ones are the Rula Bula Irish pub on the north end, Robbie Fox’ in the middle, and the Firehouse on the south end.
I'd like to thank Brad for the answers. Should be a good one.