Posted on September 18, 2013 at 7:17 PM
TEMPE, Ariz. – With the swirl of controversy still in the air following their victory over Wisconsin, Arizona State will be facing arguably their biggest test of the season this week when they hit the road to face No. 5 Stanford.
The Cardinal boast a formidable 3-4 defense led by one of the top linebacker groups in the nation that will pose a stern challenge to the explosive Sun Devil offense.
I caught up with tight end Chris Coyle to get his thoughts on the team’s play against the Badgers, and what the offensive gameplan will be against Stanford.
The offense had to battle through adversity against the Badgers, but turned it on when it counted. What was your evaluation of the offense on Saturday?
Chris Coyle: They were very technically sound. All of them were doing their job on defense. It took us a little while to get started because we had to find the weaknesses first. We made some halftime adjustments, and in the second half we really focused on maintaining the tempo and keeping the speed up on them. They’re not used to that tempo over in the Big Ten. We figured out that we could find those weaknesses in the defenses.
We didn’t really have too many explosive plays, but what we were able to do is to chip away. We had a couple of long drives—80 and 90 yards. That helped us build confidence. If you have five or six yards every play, you’ll eventually get to the endzone. That’s something that we are hoping to do against Stanford.
Jaelen Strong has already made a major impact on the offense, and there are several other potential difference makers among the newcomers. What can they do for this offense?
Coyle: The biggest thing for the new guys is getting into the Division I game tempo and mindset. It’s a different game out here. I’m sure they were great back in juco or coming out of high school, but it’s a totally different thing when everybody out on the field is just as good or better than you. It really comes down to who prepares the best. Jaelen has done a great job, stepping up to this next level. He’s been able to jump up over guys. That has helped open up the middle of the field for the run game. I’ll find spots open in the middle of the field. It helps us spread things out instead of focusing, like last year a lot of it was on me and defenses started keying on it. No team can key on what we’re going to be throwing at them.
Taylor Kelly appears poised to take that next step in his maturation. How has he been coming along in Year Two?
Coyle: He’s doing a lot better. He’s had more experience and he understands it a bit better. He’s reading defenses better. But it also comes down to the offensive line. They’ve done a great job and have really stepped up. He got sacked quite a few times last year. We’re trying to change that around this year so he feels more comfortable in the pocket. We all know he can get out of the pocket and make plays, but we want him feeling comfortable in the pocket, throwing downfield without worrying about being hit.
Coming off a record-setting year, how do you feel your first two games have gone?
Coyle: I feel I’ve done pretty dang well. I have five or six catches (five for 81 yards and one touchdown). My run blocking has greatly improved. Last game, I had three catches in the first half and there were two passes in the second half that I should have caught because they touched my hands. At the same time, I open up a lot of holes in the run game. To be able to have that success against Wisconsin, with big linebackers and big defensive linemen, it was a boost of confidence. I was able to move them around a little bit and help Marion find room downfield.
What is your scouting report on the Stanford defense?
Coyle: Stanford’s defense is very similar to Wisconsin’s. They run a similar Okie front, 3-4 defense. Their personnel is very similar as well. They have a lot of big, physical guys. The one thing I give Stanford is that they are all extremely smart. They are going to prepare well for the game. They know how to win. They went to the Rose Bowl last year and won it. It’s our job to find the weaknesses during the week and then take it out on Saturday.
What new wrinkles will we see on Saturday?
Coyle: We’re going to change it up a little bit, because we don’t want to run the exact same stuff that we ran against Wisconsin. We’re going to throw some different looks at them. It helped us this past week running against that defense because we know what works.
What are going to be the primary challenges of heading on the road to such a hostile atmosphere?
Coyle: The biggest thing is that it is on the road. We have to be road warriors. If we want to get to the Rose Bowl, we have to win on the road. Some of the California teams, their fans aren’t as crazy as some of the others in the Pac-12, but they have a great stadium and great weather. We’ll hopefully be able to train in this heat and then go over in the nice weather and pick in up even more. We know they are going to be a good team at home. We’re just going to have to take it to them.
At the end of the day, the biggest keys to getting a win at Stanford will be…?
Coyle: The biggest element will be ball security. Also, our defensive line and linebackers will need to sack their quarterback. If we get to the quarterback and get in his head, that’s when he’ll start making mistakes and throwing interceptions. As an offense, we need to hold onto that ball. They are great at stripping the ball. They will have coverage. It’s our job to cancel those out. If we have zero turnovers and our defense gets tackles-for-loss and sacks, we’ll come home with a victory.