For this week’s installment of Five Questions, Five Answers, we tracked down Doug Haller, the Arizona State beat writer for the Arizona Republic. You can find Doug’s work here and follow him on Twitter here. Many thanks to Doug for helping out this week.
1. With Mike Bercovici at quarterback, Arizona beat USC and Stanford (plus a loss to UCLA in his debut). What went into the decision to reinsert Taylor Kelly as the starter this week against UW, and how has that been received — in and out of the program?
Todd Graham has said from the beginning that Kelly would take over once he was ready. It appears that time is here. The players are behind it — Kelly is pretty much the team leader — but the fan base is split. A lot of people want Graham to stick with the hot hand. Considering Kelly hasn’t played in six weeks, it’s hard to blame them.
2. Having lost twice to Stanford last year — including in the Pac-12 title game — was there added significance for the Sun Devils in beating the Cardinal last weekend? Is there a sense that that win was important for them to get over the proverbial hump?
I think Graham and the team built it up that way. Their season motto is “Unfinished Business” and that came up a few times during Stanford week. In the big picture, they would’ve been better off beating division-rival UCLA, but there’s little doubt knocking off Stanford helped their confidence.
3. Much was made of the ASU defense losing nine starters after last season. How has the defense responded this season? Who are the top newcomers to emerge?
At first, slowly. They went 10 consecutive quarters without forcing a 3-and-out series. And the only reason that streak was broken was because USC was trying to run clock. I wasn’t sure they had any answers on defense — until the Stanford game. Graham made some personnel switches — basically going with older players over true freshmen — and it paid off. They still have issues. Their line doesn’t get much pressure on the quarterback and they’re not forcing turnovers, but the Stanford win was a start.
4. D.J. Foster might be the most versatile offensive player in the Pac-12. How has he been used in the offense this season?
Depends on the quarterback. With Kelly behind center, Foster had more success running the football because teams had to account for Kelly in the zone read. When Bercovici took over, teams loaded up on Foster because they knew Bercovici wasn’t going to run as much. As a result, ASU lined up Foster more as a slot receiver. He’s dangerous in both places, but tends to do better when he’s carrying the ball 15-plus times.
5. Jaelen Strong burst onto the scene last year, and now leads the Pac-12 in receiving. What’s made him so effective?
He’s one of the best in the country at going up and catching the ball in the crowd. He’s tall and athletic — which means he can out-jump most defensive backs — and he has strong hands. Last year he arrived at ASU late and didn’t get to spend much time in the weight room. This season, he had an entire summer to train, and that’s helped too.