Offensive explosion in spring game

Spring practice started in rather unimpressive fashion for the offense, but the last couple weeks this side of the ball has shown some progress. In today's spring game the signs of growth turned into a resounding statement. QB Brock Osweiler threw for five touchdowns and along with two scores on the ground the offense collected 601 Yards in front of 6,400 fans at Sun Devil stadium.

Saturday's spring football game was the break-out performance this Sun Devil offense and its fans had been looking forward to since the close of the 2010 season. Despite being without a number of key contributors, the maroon team erupted for an offensive explosion that left spectators smiling and the defense more than a just a bit humbled. The final score (based not only on TD's and field goals, but also length of plays, three and outs, etc.) was 83-27 in favor of the maroon team.

Junior Brock Osweiler led the charge, completing 17-22 passes for 237 yards and five touchdowns on the day. The junior displayed great awareness and composure in the pocket, attacking the opposition with an array of short and long passes, in route to his best performance since taking over for Steven Threet last November.

Along with its 611 yards, the offense had a total of seven touchdowns and six plays of 30 or more yards. Afterwards, head coach Dennis Erickson applauded his team's performance and effort in the final practice of the spring.

"It's kind of a two-way street, you look good on one side and don't look good on the other side," he said. "They go back and forth. I thought defensively we played vanilla; obviously we didn't blitz or anything like that. It's probably as good of a performance we've had offensively since I've been the coach here. So that's good! It's a real, real positive.

"The other thing it shows is be ready to play every time you line up. I don't care if it's a scrimmage or a game, you better be ready to play, because this is a game with a lot emotion.

"I thought the first team offense caught the ball a lot better than we had in quite a while. It was a good offensive effort. We got better and we need to continue to get better on offense and also get back to the kind of defense we're capable of playing."

Osweiler, who had been plagued by inconsistency throughout much of the spring strung together nearly two weeks of good practices leading up to Saturday. Both his performance, and the unit overall, is something he says the team can build on as they head into the summer months before fall camp rolls around.

"I think it's big," said the signal caller. "Anytime you can leave spring ball on a high note, that can carry you all the way through summer and into fall camp, like how we took the University of Arizona game and carried that all the way through winter workouts and into spring ball. Now we've got something to build upon and we just got to keep getting better and we'll be alright next year."

One of the knocks on Osweiler this offseason was his accuracy, or lack thereof. However, after completing 77% of his attempts against the aggressive, albeit short-handed, Sun Devil defense, the quarterback feels confident that his hard work has paid dividends so far.

"I was happy with it," said Osweiler. "I thought I got better everyday and that's what I was striving for. There were a couple little things, with how I play my game, that I was trying to get better with, and I thought I did. I take this spring as a win, and I was happy with it."

Erickson commented after the game that he's noticed a change in the junior's game. While there's still room for growth, Osweiler has progressed from last season as a backup to this upcoming season's starter.

"Brock has made a lot of strides. He took over as a leader. He's throwing the football a lot more accurately. And as you can see, he can move around and make some things happen with his legs."

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Helping matters on Saturday was the stellar play of the Sun Devil wide receivers. Having had their share of dropped balls throughout the spring, the unit registered their best day as well, helping move the chains with a dizzying display of catches, both long and short.

Gerell Robinson (4-65-1TD) and Aaron Pflugrad (3-74-1TD) led the way in today's aerial attack. Cameron Marshall (3-24-1TD), Kyle Middlebrooks 1-12-TD and George Bell (1-20-1TD) scored as well via Osweiler's passes.

"Well we got (Aaron) Pflugrad back and they (the receivers) caught the football," remarked Erickson. "We didn't have the greatest spring out there, consistency-wise, but I think I mentioned this last Thursday, we've got a really good receiving corp. We made some catches today that we've got to make every time we play. I was happy with how they played today."

Middlebrooks was the leading rusher with 66 yards on four attempts. Marcus Washington scored on the ground and had 28 yards on three attempts. All three Sun Devil quarterbacks, and even WR Jamal Miles who completed a 44 yard pass to Pflugrad on the day's first play from scrimmage, did a good job of spreading it around to their receivers, making it hard for the defense to focus on any one or two players each time. Even without injured key players, such as Mike Willie and T.J. Simpson, the receivers showed off their quality depth on talent on Saturday.

"I can list off about ten playmakers and an offensive line, and that's why," said Osweiler of his performance. "I have more faith and trust in this football team than any team I've ever played for. It really makes my job easy when the offensive line plays the way they do and our receivers and running backs play the way they do."

"Defenses are going to have a lot of trouble this year. They can try to stop one guy, or maybe two guys, but then we got three or four more to throw at them. I couldn't be happier with how the offense came out here and performed today."

"It's a group that has really worked hard the entire offseason and through spring ball to get better. I'm so proud of those guys and I'm looking forward to the season."

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Needless to say that the defense did have a rough outing today but some of its members were able to stand out. Safety Clint Floyd led this group with five tackles. Linebacker Anthony Jones had an interception of Kelly which he returned for 27-yards. Defensive linemen Will Sutton, Gregory Smith, Derrall Anderson and Charles Beatty all had sacks.

On special teams Alex Garoutte was 5-for-5 on extra points, and 3-for-3 on field goals form 43, 47, and 49 yards. Punter Josh Hubner had punts of 42, 36, 59, 54, and 25 yards.

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One of the contributing factors to Osweiler's development has been his attention to detail, especially in the film room. Like any good quarterback, Osweiler has spent considerable time this offseason breaking down film, looking for ways to run the offense in a more efficient matter.

"I've seen game film of when Phillip Rivers ran it at North Carolina State," he commented. "You see how powerful it can be. My deal was getting this offense to its potential. Keep working towards where it can truly go. As long as we got better everyday, I took it as a win, and that's something we did do."

"Our biggest thing is don't turn the ball over and play fast. If we do those two things, which we did today, watch out."

While Osweiler's position as starting quarterback has been known since day one, the battle for his backup has been a tight one between Taylor Kelly and freshman Mike Bercovici. Long believed to be Kelley's position to lose after he ran the scout team last season, Bercovici has registered a number of impressive outings this spring to stake his claim. But even as the team breaks for the summer, Erickson was reluctant to tip his hand one way or the other in terms of the backup quarterback position.

"He's got a lot to learn," said Erickson of Bercovici. "I've said this before, he's got a lot of God-given talent, a great arm and a great release, but it's not seven on seven. He's got a lot to learn. And so does Taylor (Kelly), really."

"I couldn't give you who's number two going into the fall. We're going to let them and Michael Eubank battle it out."

While that battle will rage on, the Sun Devils and their fans can take solace in the fact that the team overcame some injuries this spring and finished on a high note. With a few months to recover, the team and their coach look forward to the season ahead, and the opportunity that awaits this talented squad.

"We've got a chance to be pretty good," said Erickson. "We got a lot of talent. We missed a lot of guys, but if we just keep improving and do the things we're supposed to this summer and have a good fall camp, there's no reason why we shouldn't have a good year."

"It's a group that's been through a lot. It's their time."


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