Many thanks to Arizona State beat writer Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic for helping out with our Five Questions, Five Answers feature this week. You can find Doug on his blog and on Twitter @DougHaller.
1. This is Year 2 of the Todd Graham era at Arizona State. From the outside, ASU looks like a program on the rise. What’s the feeling in and around Tempe about the program?
People are excited. Coming off the Dennis Erickson years, ASU needed someone who would get out in the community and energize the fan base. In two years, Graham has done a good job with this. Last year he met with just about every community organization in the Phoenix area. Driving around the city, it seemed like every time you turned on the radio he was in studio talking about his vision. (Graham can “Speak Victory” with the best of them.) The next step: winning.
2. Marion Grice leads the nation with 15 touchdowns this season. UW’s Steve Sarkisian called him the best player “nobody’s heard of” in the country. How good has Grice been and does it appear that defenses, at least, are taking more notice of him?
An ASU offensive lineman told me a couple weeks ago that he’s never seen Grice run full speed. That made me laugh, because it’s pretty accurate. Grice is hard to define. He’s shifty, but not like Barry Sanders. He just kind of glides. He makes people miss without doing much. Todd Graham said at first he thought Grice just wasn’t running hard, but soon he realized that’s just his easy-going running style. Opponents are set up to stop him, which is why Grice’s rushing average isn’t that high. But near the end zone, he’s tough to stop. He’s scored 35 touchdowns in 19 games, which is pretty amazing.
3. Taylor Kelly has a new favorite target in Jaelen Strong, a junior-college transfer. What has Strong meant to that offense?
He’s provided something ASU didn’t have last season — a big-play threat. That, of course, opens up space for Grice, receiver D.J. Foster and tight end Chris Coyle. The coaching staff new Strong would be good, but I don’t think they thought he’d be this good, this soon. Most junior-college transfers need time to adjust, but he’s placed himself among the Pac-12′s better receivers after half a season.
4. ASU’s rushing defense ranks ninth in the Pac-12. How concerned are the Sun Devils with Bishop Sankey, the nation’s rushing leader, coming in?
Very concerned. ASU worked all spring and summer on improving its rush defense but so far it hasn’t helped much. Gaham has shuffled his linebackers, trying different combinations, all season to try and find a solution. It remains a work in progress.
5. Will Sutton seemed to surprise a lot of people when he decided to come back to ASU for his senior season. How has he been with an addition 30, 35 pounds this season?
There’s been some confusion with Sutton’s weight. Last year, he played at around 280-285 so his off-season increase was more in the 20-25 range. He insists it hasn’t affected him at all and he’s still explosive as he was last season. That may be the case, but his sacks and tackles for loss are down significantly. In his defense, he’s faced a lot more double teams than last season. It’s obvious teams are making someone else beat them, and so far ASU has yet to find that player.