We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week we’re having fun talking with Andrew Bell, a staff writer and editor over at House of Sparky, SBN’s blog for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Because the Sun Devils are such an unfamiliar foe we took a deep dive into the ASU program, but we still had time to talk about thieving, weapons, and monsters.
TN: Maroon and Gold? Really? Are you aware that Arizona State is committing copyright infringement by stealing FSU’s Garnet and Gold colors? As if you could fool anyone by calling Garnet “maroon”. What do y’all have to say for yourselves?
HOS: Press Release from House of Sparky: At this time, House of Sparky has no further comment on the matter. Please respect our privacy. Thank you.
TN: Uh huh. The Sun Devils finished 2019 ranked 41st overall in SP+, with their offense ranked 59th and their defense 43rd. Consequently, offensive coordinator Rob Likens was dismissed, along with several offensive assistants. Herm Edwards managed to pull Boise State OC Zak Hill to replace Likens. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a coup. Talk about why Likens was let go, and what your thoughts are on Zak Hill (coordinated 29th best offense by SP+ in 2019)?
HOS: Fans and people who follow the program had been frustrated with offensive play-calling throughout the season. Through the first few games, the team was dealt with shuffling on the offensive line and freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels taking his first collegiate snaps, so it was understandable why the offense struggled out of the gates. However, later into the season, Daniels got comfortable and although the offensive line wasn’t the best in the nation, they seemed to settle in with a set group of players. Still, the consistency didn’t seem to be there.
Eno Benjamin, who will not be playing in the Sun Bowl due to the NFL Draft, was dealt with an uphill battle all year and the rushing game was not what people wanted it to be. After Likens was let go, Herm Edwards said that he wanted to average around 30+ points per game and ASU fell short in that regard by averaging around 25 points. Likens was also one of the few remaining coaches from the Todd Graham coaching staff and he was not Edwards’ hire. I think it was just time to turn the page based on the unreached potential of the offense as a whole.
As for Zak Hill, I think he’s a great hire and his resume speaks for itself. Boise State has been very successful offensively and he is going to have a lot of firepower to work with. He gets Daniels and a whole grove of talented freshmen wideouts who are coming in next year and I think the offense is in a position to be explosive.
TN: Right after Edwards reeled in Hill, defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales gets poached by his alma mater New Mexico to be the head coach. Are you sad to see Gonzales go, and who would you like the Sun Devils to replace him with?
HOS: ASU fans have mixed reviews of Gonzales, but I think he did a heck of a job based on where the defense was at when he arrived versus how it looks now that he is leaving. The group has improved a lot and they led the Pac-12 in forced turnovers this season. What’s more impressive is he did all of that with practically all freshmen and sophomores after the recruiting turnover from Graham to Edwards. Gonzales was always a pleasure to work with during media sessions and he is a football nut. He would often recite football history lessons about each opponent that ASU was facing that week. I think New Mexico is in good hands with him at the helm.
As for his replacement, I don’t think the defense will miss a step. Many people anticipated that former cornerbacks coach Tony White would get an opportunity as the d-coordinator and that is exactly what has happened. He has been working with Gonzales for the last decade going back to their time at both San Diego State and New Mexico. Nothing changes too much with him moving to coordinator and ASU will likely still have the same 3-3-5 system that they have been using since Gonzales arrived in Tempe.
TN: Why do Aquaman, the Devil, and Brick Tamland all use the same weapon?
HOS: Because who doesn’t like a pitchfork? It’s bad ass.
TN: Can’t argue with that. Now that we’ve talked about Herm Edwards’ staff, talk about Edwards a bit. I have to admit, I thought ASU hiring Edwards was a huge mistake and that Edwards would bomb, badly. Mostly because I didn’t think he’d be able to sustain recruiting. But he’s improved on Todd Graham’s last two seasons on the field and seems on solid footing. Are Sun Devil fans happy with Edwards? What have been the strengths and weaknesses of his ASU teams thus far, and how far do you think he can take ASU?
HOS: Some fans have their complaints and always compare Edwards to Graham based on their similar records, but I think Edwards has things trending in the right direction, especially when you look at the caliber of recruits that are coming in compared to previous years. Personally, I think ASU was capable of having a much better season than what their record indicates. I think youth played a big factor in some of their losses and they played very competitive games throughout the year. ASU probably plays the most freshmen in the nation on both sides of the ball, and everyone is expecting those players to only get better going into year two. I think it takes a solid three years to truly establish a program and I think next year will be the biggest indication of how to assess the Edwards hire. He has his recruits who now have playing experience, he has his coaching staff and coordinators, now how will they fare? It should be interesting.
TN: Why the “Sun Devils” nickname when Arizona is clearly the Australia of the US? Gila monsters, rattlesnakes, killer bees, tarantulas, brown and black widow spiders, scorpions, etc. In comparison ‘sun devil’ just sounds like a sorority member who spends too much time by the pool. What a shame, you guys could have been the ‘Fightin Gilas’ or the ‘Chuckin Tamlands’. Have you heard any crazy stories about a close encounter with any dangerous Arizona animal (of course you have) - and what happened?
HOS: I’ve heard multiple stories of rattlesnake encounters in Arizona but I have been fortunate to avoid one (knocks on wood). Most of them are pretty usual though, just seeing the snakes in backyards or on rocks. I hope my own personal snake encounter never comes. Also, scorpions are common in the summer time. Arizona is a great place to live for nine months out of the year — July, August, and September, not so much. Here’s a life hack for scorpions, though: To avoid them getting in your house if you are ever staying in Arizona, place screens in all your vents because most scorpions go through the vents to get in the house. I did not expect to be giving these great life tips in this Q and A, but here we are.
Additionally, for any proud Florida residents and Seminole fans, I hope this doesn’t come off as too offensive but I don’t think Florida is much better than Arizona when it comes to creepy, crawly critters. I have family originally from the state, but I’ve never visited. But from videos and news reports that I’ve seen about snakes, bugs, and other creatures, I think Florida might hold first place when it comes to those things. Based on recent recruiting news, I think people in Tallahassee might be very fond of Arizona natives who come to Florida, though (points at Chubba Purdy).
TN: That’s true, we love Chubba, and we have Florida Man so it’s not that offensive. So, Australia State opened as 4.5-point favorites over FSU, and the line quickly moved to 5.5 at the time of this chat. Which makes sense, since FSU is currently 57th in SP+. What would you rather have - a win in a bowl named after Tony the Tiger (shudders) or a loss and our respect? Tell us what you think happens in this game, and give us a score prediction.
HOS: I expect the game to be pretty wide open with two teams who seem to be missing a lot of players on both sides. Maybe some sloppiness and not the prettiest bowl game you’ve ever witnessed. I think it will be close and could go either way, but ASU takes it 33-27.