Part two of our football roundtable is here! Among the talking points are the tough four game stretch, Junior Onyeali’s off the field issues, the role of Michael Eubank and offensive schemes.
The schedule is obviously no cakewalk. The Wisconsin-Stanford-USC-Notre Dame stretch is arguably one of the toughest stretches of any team in college football this season. How should the team approach such a tough slate and what record would you consider good for these four games?
Jason Galvin: Anything less than 3-1 in this stretch should be considered a disappointment. If this team is really going to turn a corner in the history of ASU football, it must win at least three of these games. Everyone is talking about how tough this stretch is, and it’s not a cakewalk, but Wisconsin was not good last year, and Stanford played into Wisconsin’s strengths in the Rose Bowl, which is the only reason the Badgers hung around. The Badgers are slow, and that should play into Arizona State’s favor. Notre Dame relied on the luck of the Irish as much as they did on talent last season. The Fighting Irish were lucky they were even bowl eligible the way some of their games went. Manti Te’o and the two leading rushers are gone, and head coach Brian Kelly might be using a new quarterback this fall, all of which point towards a big fall back to reality for Notre Dame in 2013. USC has talent, but the bottom line here is: Lane Kiffin is the head coach of the Trojans. Do I need to say much else? Stanford is the real test here; the team is loaded on defense and Kevin Hogan emerged as a potential star under center last season. If the Sun Devils enter the game against Stanford undefeated and proceed to compete in Palo Alto, the team will be setup for a huge season. That is the key: they must compete in every game. Oregon circa 2012 cannot happen again.
Jeffrey Sanders: Arizona State probably has one of the hardest stretches to begin a season. The key game out of the Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame stretch is easily the USC game. It would be nice to win one of the two non-conference games and you figure winning at Stanford will be a long shot. That leaves the USC match-up at home as the key game of the season. If they go 1-3 in that stretch with one of those wins against Stanford (not likely) or USC, then they will be in great shape the rest of the way. A win against Wisconsin or Notre Dame would be huge, but it is not necessary to win the Pac-12.
Nick Krueger: One thing is for sure: this will have to be one of the toughest preseason camps that any of these players have ever been a part of. In a perfect world, ASU gets through this stretch undefeated. I will happily take a 3-1 record in these four games; however, I really can see this team going 4-0 in this stretch. If I had to pick one loss I would say USC. Max Wittek will be much improved and with a target like Marquis Lee and Silas Redd still in the backfield, USC will be very good. I also think the team might get caught looking ahead to Cowboys Stadium and the former number one team in the country. I think USC is the one loss in that stretch.
Taylor Kelly proved himself last season but Eubank was still brought in at certain points. Does Graham take the same approach this year? If yes, what kind of situations could we see Eubank in?
JG: I’m sure Michael Eubank will still see the field in certain situations, but I hate the idea. Kelly was actually the better runner in 2012, and he certainly was the better passer. Eubank is toolsy, and coaches love tools (a coach often won’t even call a recruit without seeing a tool that sticks out on tape), but tools only get you so far. Taylor Kelly proved last season that he has intangibles and is a leader, but he also showed his tools as the season progressed. Kelly reads defenses well, has great accuracy and is elusive. That is the epitome of a spread quarterback. I suspect Eubank’s touches will be limited to special read-option packages, and even then he won’t see the field more than two or three times a game.
JS: I figure you will see the same packages for Eubank as we saw last year. The thing I will be looking to see is if they let Eubank throw more in the red zone. Defenses were clogging up the middle whenever Eubank came in because he rarely was a threat to throw the ball. I think Eubank will need to throw more in his red zone packages in order to be effective this season.
NK: I think Eubank could thrive elsewhere, but it speaks a lot to his character that he remains behind Taylor Kelly. Eubank has one thing that Taylor Kelly certainly does not and that’s physical size. I like to go by the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” logic. Eubank will be used in the same capacity. There was some chatter before the Washington State game last year that Eubank could see more reps but still didn’t prove himself. Look for him again in third and short or goal line situations where he can be a threat to run.
How heavily will this team have to ground and pound? Taylor Kelly can certainly make plays and pass out of the play action but you can only throw your opponent off for so long. How does this team effectively run the ball without the opponent just consistently stacking 8 in the box? What percent pass? What percent run?
JG: This team is still going to run the ball a lot, probably 55% of the time, but it won’t be a ground and pound scheme. Kelly is more than just a play action quarterback, and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is a pretty creative mind. Norvell and Graham will have plenty of different looks for opposing defenses. Where the Sun Devils really benefit is that their three best returning receivers are tight end Chris Coyle and running backs Marion Grice and DJ Foster, so no formation is ever locked into running or passing, and audibles can be made on the fly. Expect this team to stay balanced, and don’t be stunned when Kelly takes a few shots down the field with big receivers Kevin Ozier and Jaelen Strong.
JS: I think ASU throws more just because that is the nature of college football nowadays. With that said though, ASU has a sneaky run game. With two explosive backs in Marion Grice and DJ Foster, they have the potential to make many big plays out of the backfield.
NK: I’ll go 60 percent run, 40 percent pass. I’m sure Todd Graham is not oblivious to the lack of balance and is probably drawing up his fair share of new schemes and formations. Taylor Kelly is too good of a quarterback to not pass, despite the wide receiving core’s inexperience. The play action was dead in the water by the middle of last season as more and more teams watched game tape and figured it out. If the Sun Devils can mix up their offensive looks switching between Foster and Grice, using Chris Coyle more like a Jimmy Graham, occasionally in the slot. With that and using Eubank at certain times, it should be plenty to keep the defense off balance.
Junior Onyeali can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. He’s a key piece to ASU’s defense but in June was again in trouble during a domestic violence incident. He was suspended for the 2011 Las Vegas bowl as well. The last thing ASU needs while trying to build a program is a scar or a bad reputation. Todd Graham “suspended” him once but he was back on the field by the start of camp last year. Although he’ll be a senior this year, how much more leniency can Graham give Onyeali? Should he be off the team already?
JG: Oh, Junior, why must you be such a pain? There is no denying Onyeali’s pass rushing talent, but he is a one-dimensional pony who is undersized and unreliable off the field. If I were Graham, I would send him packing now, just to send a message. But my guess is Onyeali misses the season opener against Sacramento State and is reinstated one last time for Wisconsin. This will be Onyeali’s last chance, however, so he should make the best of it. One more slip in character will force Graham to either cut ties with the sack artist or be labeled a hypocrite.
JS: Onyeali is not really needed on this team anymore with the talent ASU has in their front seven. It is a shame to see a guy like Onyeali, with so much potential, just throw it away, but Graham does not need Onyeali to be successful. Onyeali was given a chance last season and he blew it again, so I do not think Junior should be on the squad next season due to off-field actions.
NK: I will give Onyeali one more strike. One more issue and he’s gone. He probably knows this too. For a program on the rise and incredibly high expectations, Todd Graham can’t afford any setbacks or problem players. Graham preaches discipline; this was evident in the lack of Sun Devil penalties last year. If Graham can’t screw Onyeali’s head on straight, then the senior defensive end is a lost cause and should be gone if something else happens.