Lot 59, where everyone's a believer
For those of you that don’t know, Lot 59 is a podcast that Andrew and myself did on this very website for the last two years. And we recently realized with our conflicting work schedules, it was going to be impossible to record and edit a weekly podcast (my work sometimes has late hours because I work so hard, and Andrew’s not even in town half the time cause he’s in the circus or something, and not one of those cool circuses where everyone has curly mustaches and you can buy drinks at intermission -- that’s a real kind of circus, too. I went to it once. But I’m pretty sure they don’t tour to that many places cause I saw them in the dirt patch part of a state park in Downtown L.A., and that’s not where big touring circuses go). It sucked because we really liked doing the podcast, but also because we knew we hadn’t gotten it to where we wanted it.
And then one day Andrew, my buddy Scott and I were in an email chain that turned into the email chain we have every year. The email chain where we completely talk ourselves into believing in this year’s team. And what should have been a quick reply turned into my entire season forecast, and by the end I had talked myself into how great this season will be. And that’s what Lot 59 should be. It should be super-cool people like myself and my friends (all three of us own coffee tables now), that might care about and believe in their team a little too much (and also people that just like ASU football. And also people that just wandered here looking for something … anything … to dull the pain of life. We’ll take all types is what I’m saying).
Andrew has been writing weird weekly game previews and emailing them to people for years. We have no clue how many got through spam blockers, but multiple high-ranking ASU faculty members have replied directly to Andrew and thanked him for his enthusiasm (he has them printed out). So we’ll have those up every week. And throughout the season we’ll have videos and written stuff and maybe even some podcasts. Lot 59 will be an online place for all the people that think that for their team, this is the year, every year. And their team is the most beautiful and pure team in college football – The Arizona State Sun Devils.
And this is The 2012 Lot 59 Season Preview (Where We Talk Ourselves into This Year’s Team).
ASU isn’t predicted to do jack-crap this year. Most people are putting them second to last in the Pac-12 South, only finishing ahead of Colorado. Colorado was so bad last year they couldn’t win an intra-squad scrimmage. And it’s obvious why everyone feels that way about us – new coach, new system, new quarterback. We lost a lot of players from last year, and last year was a disaster.
However, last year was such an unmitigated disaster that it became obvious that a new system was needed all over the place. It’s been really cool seeing the returning players from last year’s team react to the new coaching. They’ve taken it in stride, happy that someone is finally taking some reins. It’s like one of those feel good stories where some unruly kid turns it all around after someone finally holds him accountable (like those kids in Dangerous Minds that Michelle Pfeiffer sets straight or when they move that kid out of Chino in the first episode of the OC). Last year’s team must’ve been so all over the place. Like now they’re all pumped cause they can focus on football and not on possibly getting punched by a teammate. And while ASU lost a lot of players, they do return some really great ones. Players that played a large part in the hype that surrounded the start of last season. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t holes.
And with so many new guys moving into starting roles, it's gonna take them a bit of time to get together as a team. Game day is a totally different thing than training camp and practice. When I was a freshman in high school, I was a ball boy for ASU football, and it’s insane the difference between when you are on an empty field and when there’s a huge crowd on top of you. And with the crowd and announcers, you have to figure out what sounds to listen for and learn to communicate in a whole new way. And when you do that for the first time and the person on the other end is also doing it for the first time, it can start out a little bumpy. No matter the system or the personnel.
And that’s gonna be a big thing for the WR/QB hookup. RB wont be as bad cause even if they have some handoff problems, Cam (Marshall) will make sure he figures out where to put the ball, and the other RBs either know what's up from playing in some big games (Deantre Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks and even James Morrison), or are studs that excelled at the previous level (Marion Grice and D.J. Foster). And that's the hope, that some of these guys coming in or transferring in are total stud gamers … and if this coach can instill a bunch of discipline which he seems to be doing … then we can get some guys in a position to make some big plays. His teams seem to play almost-penalty-free ball, which is the sign of a guy that minds the details and gets them to listen.
If we can establish the run at all, then it could open things up, which will really help Taylor Kelly (and Michael Eubank) get their feet. And if we can get lanes to do some optiony type stuff with Eubank in alongside Foster, then we could see some guys making awesome plays and even winning some battles on sheer physicality alone. Foster seems to be a gamer from all the love and PT he got in Camp T. Biggest hype we’ve had for a RB coming in in quite some time. And there’s also been talk of Deantre Lewis getting closer to being the player he once was as he deals with the psychological effects of getting shot in a drive-by before last season. That was crazy to type. But while some are implying he may never get all the way back to what he was, they still think he can be a pretty exciting player. So, they’ve been started lining him up out in the slot for more plays to use his quickness.
And that’s a great thing about this stuff. They’re trying to tailor a lot of their stuff to the pieces they have (they’ve even been changing guys to different positions, moving wide receivers to corner). When Jamal Miles didn’t run with the first team as a small receiver last week, Coach Graham was quick to point out that he is still a primary target with all the ways he can score (he’s even tossed a TD). He said Cam Marshall, DJ Foster, and Jamal Miles are the clear playmakers, and they need the ball. It seems he’s committed to getting all the fantastic ASU running backs involved, and possibly in some creative ways. These guys are great playmakers and have proven so against some the best teams in the Pac-12. If we can find a way to get them into open spaces with the ball, they’ll make plays.
And there is some reason for excitement. Coach Graham said the keys in the first game were to take care of the ball, win the ball and finally put the car in the left lane and hit the gas. It will be interesting how poised and crisp they are to start the game. If ASU comes out clean (which we never do), it will definitely be a giant mental shift. But it will be tough to do with the new quarterback and a fleet of completely untested receivers. Rashard Ross and Kevin Ozier played some downs later in the year and made some nice plays that led to a small amount of hope for next year. Like the smallest amount of hope you can have while still being hopeful. But after a rough start to camp where he didn’t really seem to take to the coaching, Rashard Ross has been locked in and making nice plays. (Why would you fight a new coaching staff when you were about to be a starter for the first time? That’s like a weird kind of self-defeating madness. And it totally reminds me of the last half of last season. What happened to those guys last year? Like did the team and coaches all have to bury someone together because they were all culpable for the death and each of them reacted differently? We’ll probably never really fully know.) But Ross is all good now though, so that’s good!
There’s also a super-stud frosh named Richard Smith. He sounds like he might be the next to join the ranks of the great receivers we’ve had (a well that has been dry as of late). And then there's Alonzo Agwuenu. He has some size and speed but just needs to finish getting up to speed on D1 football. But there’s a chance he becomes a really solid option around Week 4. So, there’s a chance some guys can catch some balls, but there’s no clue because none of them have ever been a primary or even secondary receiver at this level before. So, that’s fun.
In the end, it’s going to come down to if the offensive line can do their job, and if the new QB can get them the ball in a place where they can make a play. But if that happens, you could see some explosive plays from our Devils. Graham’s even said that he doesn’t like to punt when he gets past the 50-yard line, which begs excitement. And Coach Graham has made it clear that he doesn’t want to take any plays off, and wants to lay it on NAU. You may not see him put all his RBs in slots and stuff like that in the first game, because he doesn’t want to show too much. But I get the feeling he wants to see these guys play clean football and never quit. And frankly, I like it. Run up the score. That’s what the big football programs do. And what ASU was capable of doing during the strongest seasons in school history. He’s trying to get these kids to think like we’re a championship program. (Then I start thinking about him wanting to build a dynasty here and maybe he’s our Bobby Bowden, the time everything falls into place and I have to go outside and walk back and forth on the driveway for a while).
The D really benefits from some key guys returning. The line and the backers all have big leader guys. Brandon Magee has really been making the coaches happy, which I'm pumped to hear since at the start of last year the old coaches were saying he was the best defender right before he went down. It's always a gamble when you go down with a leg injury. And for him to come back fully rehabbed after basically a full year off would delight the staff. Everyone loves this guy and is rooting for him. Hopefully them talking him up so much is legitimate excitement on their part and not just them trying to boost his confidence. Although if that works, good on 'em as well. There's a chance they think he'll never be the guy he was, but he'll be a senior leader as the field general in the middle. They say he's a big learner. Hard worker. Even if he comes back to 85 percent of what he was, he'll be like how Mike Nixon was out there. Being in the right place at the right time and making sure other people get to where they're doing the same (except he's built like a tank in comparison to Mike Nixon).
And if he can get the two linebackers around him in place (Chris Young and Steffon Martin), there's hope they can do some major damage. They both transferred from Arizona Western down in Yuma. Their team had like the most interceptions and tackles for a loss in the history of football with their team losing in the championship game of the International Earth JuCo World Super Bowl or something. Anyways, one of them was going to go to Purdue and the other to Oregon State, but then they decided to go to school together and they picked ASU, probably because it was closest and they knew they'd have a good shot of playing right away. And they've immediately leapfrogged redshirt juniors Anthony Jones and Brandon Johnson, who looked decent in limited mop-up time last year.
Young appears to be the big prize of the two. He played safety his first year. Than last year he moved to linebacker where he was first-team all-American and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Western US and took Becca Sanders to Homecoming. Plus our linebackers coach seems to be legit and has coached on some good teams where he had some guys go pro. And everyone seems to think Young is going to fit this system well. They're going to send lots of blitzes and change packages constantly. Which brings up another player at LB. Anthony Mendoza is a true freshman, but they've already said he will not be redshirted. He's playing behind Magee at the WILL linebacker spot, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them on the field together a bit. They seem to have gotten some guys on D that could complement their system. GUYS I CAN GET EXCITED ABOUT!!
They seem to have brought in some help on the D-Line as well. Transfer Mike Pennel was sounding like he could be the real deal at nose tackle. He's a juco guy as well, but he is a huge dude. 6-feet-5, 355 pounds. That means he is one inch and 155 pounds bigger than me. Six-5 is awesome height for the DLine. And yet, he's not even the story at nose tackle. After Pennel was slowed with a small injury in camp, a local kid, true freshman Jaxon Hood, is taking over first team.
Guess big colleges didn’t go after him because he’s only 6-foot-1. Isn’t that crazy that they just don’t even look at dudes that are 6-1? Schools like SC don’t even look at a guy that height because they can get the super-stud dudes that are even bigger. Well their loss, cause it sounds like this kid is going to be something special. Reminding some people of Suggs. If he starts against NAU, he’ll be the fourth Devil EVER to start his first game as a true freshman (John Jefferson, Terrell Suggs, and Zach Miller were the others -- and are all-time greats). So, even if this is all hype because they’ve been playing against a terrible offensive line all camp and Pennel also stinks, it is impressive. Hopefully, he’s awesome.
The more we can shake up teams and get in the backfield the better, because the secondary was an absolute nightmare last year. The secondary is bad. Bad-Bad. Not Good-Bad like Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Bad-bad like sad YouTube video of awkward teen singing “Bad” that gets sent like wildfire and messes him up in the head for life-bad. Keelan Johnson supposedly had a great camp at safety and was named a captain, which the coaching staff didn’t see happening when they got there. So, that could be good. The rest of the starters in the secondary are shell-shocked returnees from last year. And it didn’t sound like they stopped too much offense at the end of Camp T. Now, the offense is supposed to improve over camp, but it sounded like it is going to be a problem. There is a chance that some teams are going to be scoring some points on us.
In the end, it’s going to be about guys stepping up on D and making big plays. And hopefully, the secondary stopping some people sometimes. Our offense may be relied upon to score some points. If we can get the run going it will really help the maturation of Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank (who are supposed to receive 50 and 30 plays in the opener against NAU respectively). But they will be called on to make some passing plays to relieve the pressure against the run at some point this season.
But to do that, Coach Graham has to get the whole team to buy into his system. There is some talent on the field. But you have to break these guys down and build them back up. I think he’s starting to feel like they’re getting there, saying they had their best practice ever last week. He seemed excited talking about the captains and the extra responsibilities that come with it. He likes getting teams ready to play. Or maybe it’s all an act. There’s a bit of a snake-oil salesman vibe to him. But if it works with the kids, then I’m cool with it. He’s selling them on winning. And he’s said he doesn’t believe in rebuilding. He wants to win now. And if he can do that – and if he decides to stay here in the desert, he can become a coaching personality like a Jimmy Johnson or a Les Miles or a Mike Gundy or maybe even just the coach in Necessary Roughness (played by Hector Elizondo). But to join those ranks, he’s going to have to win. Winning and confidence are going to be like the chicken and the egg. They’re going to need confidence to win games, and they’re going to need to win some games to keep their confidence. But it’s going to be fun to watch.
And that’s the good news. Football season is back! And there is still hope for Sun Devil Football even after the monumental collapse at the end of last year. It’s just good for the games to be back and to have something to root for. You couldn’t really say that halfway through last year. I have a guarded optimism about this year. If we can play disciplined football, we can finish 6-6. But it is going to be a lot of fun to watch and root for. We’ll be in a lot of games, maybe even some we shouldn’t be. And if we do play disciplined football, there’s a chance we could even BEAT somebody we “shouldn’t” and have a 7-5 season that feels like a cleansing rain. If any of that or better happens, it will be so fun to tune in and see these guys give it their all. I’m excited to see what they put on the field. Ladies and gentlemen … It’s time for Sun Devil Football.