Five questions: Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller on Arizona State

UCLA responded to losing three defensive starters in a big way last weekend, rolling out to a 56-30 win at then-No. 16 Arizona. Can the No. 7 Bruins keep it going against an Arizona State team that might be the most disappointing in the conference? Doug Haller, who is covering his sixth season of ASU football for the Arizona Republic and, answered five questions about the Sun Devils.

1. During Arizona State’s 42-14 loss to USC last Saturday, you called this the worst half of football you’d seen out of the Sun Devils in your time covering them. What set this apart from their performances in other blowout losses?

Mostly, the overall sloppiness. They fumbled twice in USC territory — once at the 1-yard line. That one was picked up and returned for a touchdown. Then on the ensuing kick-off, ASU’s returner made a poor decision to bring the ball out of the end zone and fumbled. So that gave USC 14 points in about 30 seconds. Contributing: The defense tackled as poorly as it has all season and couldn’t get off the field on third down. It was ugly.

2. Mike Bercovici’s numbers haven’t slipped that far overall compared to last season, but against Texas A&M and the Trojans, he’s only completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 471 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Was he playing over his head during his three-game tear in 2014, or was that stretch closer to his true abilities?

When I think back to his performance last season, I always wonder: Had that last-season Hail Mary fallen incomplete, giving Bercovici one win in three starts, how would that have changed the offseason excitement? It’s a hard question to answer. Either way, here’s what’s changed: Last year, ASU had a solid offensive line. This season it has two first-time starters at tackle. Continue reading “Five questions: Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller on Arizona State” »

First look: Arizona State Sun Devils

No. 11 UCLA Bruins (3-0) vs. No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils (3-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. PT, Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, Ariz.)
TV: FOX Sports 1 (Tim Brando, Joel Klatt, Jenny Taft)
Radio: AM 570 / SIRIUS 108 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: Remember when Todd Graham looked like the biggest turncoat in college football?

A little more than a year ago, ESPN’s anonymous poll of 92 college football players found that 14 percent said Graham was the last coach they’d want to play for — beating out Lane Kiffin by three percent.

But Graham only needed two seasons to win a Pac-12 South title, endearing himself to the Arizona State fan base and pushing his messy departure from Pitt deeper into the newspaper archives. ASU has compensated him handsomely for that success — paying him around $800,000 in performance bonuses for the 2013 season.

Key players:

QB Mike Bercovici, Jr., 6-1, 200 — 9/17, 79 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 7 carries, 12 rushing yards
— Once considered Brock Osweiler’s heir apparent until Taylor Kelly won out, Bercovici finally gets his chance to start in the wake of Kelly’s foot injury. He’s not the same type of running threat as Kelly (ASU’s second-leading rusher at 19 carries for 168 yards) but Bercovici has a strong arm and has been in the program for years.

RB D.J. Foster, Jr., 5-11, 205 — 54 carries, 510 rushing yards, 5 TD, 11 catches, 139 receiving yards, 1 TD
— Looks like a workhorse back capable of racking up yards after contact. Averages 216.3 all-purpose yards per game, good for second in the country and one spot ahead of Georgia’s Heisman candidate Todd Gurley. Continue reading “First look: Arizona State Sun Devils” »