UCLA Football Preview: ASU Thriving Despite Recruiting Scandal
Herm Edwards continues to lead the Sun Devils to wins, even as his coaching staff is the focus of an NCAA investigation.
Tonight, UCLA will welcome the Arizona State Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl. Despite being just the second conference game of the season for both teams, this week’s game is an important one. That’s because both the Bruins and the Sun Devils are undefeated in conference play heading into this weekend and the winner will have an advantage in the standings in the event the teams finish the season in a tie.
When Herm Edwards first took over the Sun Devils, most Pac-12 observers snickered because Edwards had proven incapable of succeeding as coach of the Jets or Chiefs. After experiencing a few seasons of success, Edwards had started to silence the critics, but just as that was happening, a scandal broke which alleged that ASU had shown an absolute blatant disregard for the NCAA’s COVID-19 recruiting regulations.
Somehow, despite the allegations of significant recruiting violations during COVID, most of the ASU coaching staff has managed to keep their jobs so far, including Edwards who is still at the helm of the Sun Devil program. Only three position coaches have been suspended to date.
I guess having your former agent as your boss has its privileges.
Speaking of the ASU coaching staff, let’s look at Edwards and his coaches.
After playing just four games in 2020 and finishing with a 2-2 record, Herm Edwards has already exceeded his 2020 win total by winning three of ASU’s first four games of the 2021 season. In Edwards’ first two seasons, the Sun Devils finished 7-6 and 8-5, respectively.
Edwards, generally, is known to fill his role as a CEO. He’s a head coach who delegates a lot to his assistants.
That means that the roles of offensive and defensive coordinator are very important under Edwards.
The Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is Zak Hill. Hill is in his second season as ASU’s OC after coming over from Boise State where he worked in the same capacity. According to Hill’s ASU bio, “[d]uring the abbreviated 2020 season, ASU’s offense was among the top 20 teams in the nation in yards per completion (fifth), rushing yards per game (seventh), scoring offense (12th), total offense (20th) and third down conversion percentage (20th).” Meanwhile, running back Rachaad White led the nation in yards per carry, was 14th in all-purpose yards and led the Pac-12 in scoring. Jayden Daniels was 14th in the nation in yards per completion and he was second in the conference in pass efficiency.
That’s impressive. And, it means that the Bruins’ defense is going to have its hands full tonight.
Antonio Pierce is in his fourth season as part of the Sun Devils coaching staff and in his second as the team’s defensive coordinator. Beyond that, he is also the team’s recruiting coordinator. It’s that role that put Pierce in the center of the COVID-19 recruiting scandal firestorm and it’s why it’s surprising that Edwards didn’t turn to Marvin Lewis who was the team’s co-defensive coordinator last season to serve as an interim replacement for Pierce when the scandal broke.
Regardless, Pierce is still in place and his defense is currently one of the top defenses in the country. Like the Sun Devil offense, the defense has the potential to give the Bruins fits tonight.
Cristian Zendejas is the latest kicker in the Zendejas family of kickers. The redshirt junior has made his only two field goal attempts this season and he is 11 for 12 on PATs. His career long is just 43 yards though. So, don’t expect ASU to try any really long field goals tonight.L
Logan Tyler, a grad student who previously punted at Florida State, will handle kickoffs for the Sun Devils. He will not, however, handle the punting duties tonight. That job belongs to freshman Eddie Czaplicki who is averaging 43.17 yards per punt and whose season long is 59 yards. No wonder he was able to beat out a grad student for the starting punter job.
The Sun Devils will turn to redshirt freshman defensive back D.J. Taylor for most return duties. Taylor has been the guy returning all but three punts so far this season. He’s averaging 15.27 return yards per punt and his long is 47 yards. He has also returned four of the team’s 11 kickoff returns. He is averaging 23.50 yards per return there with a long of 34.
The remainder of the team’s kickoff returns have been handled by a committee of five guys. Tommi Hill is the only one with more than one return. His long is 25 yards and he is tied with Taylor and Rachaad White for the second longest return on the team.