Every week, we talk to the someone who covers the Arizona Wildcats' upcoming opponent. Yes, even if that opponent is the Arizona State Sun Devils. We asked Ryan Bafaloukos, managing editor of House of Sparky, a few questions about Arizona State's offense, which quarterback ASU hopes to see take the field on Saturday, and how Arizona State will try to take advantage of a depleted Wildcat defense.
1. Last week’s comeback against Washington was absolutely huge for the Sun Devils. What changed in the second half that allowed Arizona State to come back and secure the victory?
Ryan Bafaloukos: The first half against Washington was the worst half of football ASU has played under Todd Graham. The Sun Devils looked lethargic and frankly it looked like the team had quit. It is hard to say exactly what changed. It started with the play of quarterback Mike Bercovici, who looked very sharp in the second half and ASU in general just moved the football a lot better than they did in the first half.
Defensively, ASU was finally able to force turnovers which is something the defensive staff has preached all season yet the team has struggled to do. Washington turned the ball over on their last four offensive possessions and ASU applied consistent pressure to freshman QB Jake Browning. It was really a season-saving half for the Sun Devils.
2. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied have you been with offensive coordinator Mike Norvell this year?
Ryan Bafaloukos: The ASU offense is a very interesting test case this season. At the end of the day, it just does not look like Mike Bercovici -- a pocket passer -- is suited for Norvell's scheme. The read option that worked so well with Taylor Kelly has been ineffective this season and it has affected the ASU rushing attack.
From a play-calling standpoint, Norvell sometimes tries to get too cute with his calls, instead of doing what works, which for ASU this season has been running the football up the middle with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, Norvell sometimes tries to out-think the other team.
With the size of those running backs and Bercovici's pocket style, ASU is actually built to be a pro-style offense. However, Norvell and the rest of the staff preach spreading things out and moving quickly. For the season, I would give Norvell a seven because I still believe you can call the best play, but if the players don't execute it does not matter.
However, I will say you can make the argument that he has not put his players in the best position to win.
3. Arizona’s defense (and particularly the linebackers) have been disappointing this year. How do you think Arizona State will try to take advantage?
Ryan Bafaloukos: As I noted above, ASU is built to run the football. They have three seniors along the interior of the offensive line (four total) and two big running backs that like to pound the rock. If I were Norvell, I would run up the middle until Arizona stops it. One issue for ASU this year has been the wide receivers not creating enough space and not getting open consistently, which has affected ASU's ability to take shots down the field. Because of this, I would expect ASU to attack the middle of the field.
4. As of this second, Anu Solomon’s status for this weekend is up in the air. At the same time, Jerrard Randall has outplayed Solomon for stretches this season. Who would Arizona State rather see line up at quarterback for Arizona this week?
Ryan Bafaloukos: I would say Randall. There is a reason Solomon won the job last season and all he did as a freshman was beat ASU and lead Arizona to the Fiesta Bowl. I know ASU will prepare for both guys and they will say they don't care who plays, but any time you can face a backup QB you will take it.
5. What is your prediction for how this game will go?
Ryan Bafaloukos: One thing Todd Graham preaches is winning on Senior Day. With Bercovici, D.J. Foster and a host of others playing their last game on Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, expect this team to come out fired up. If both teams were fully healthy, you could make a healthy argument that Arizona is better.
Even though ASU lost starting safety Jordan Simone for the year last week, the Wildcats have been so beat up this year you wonder what their record would be if they stayed even somewhat healthy. I think this will be close and ASU pulls away in the fourth quarter and the Sun Devils win 38-24 with a late TD putting the game out of reach.
Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions this week. You can follow him on Twitter at @RyanBafo, and for the Arizona State perspective on this year's Territorial Cup, check out House of Sparky.