Devils in the details

Ex-ASU player Kyle Caldwell breaks downs the Sun Devils' 17-14 loss to Illinois.

Just when I thought the sail had been set and the wind was behind us, the ship was cast into the rocky shore. After a huge win last week at Sun Devil Stadium and finally the big break ASU fans have been dying for over the last three years we showed that just maybe we have not yet turned "the corner".

A game filled with common penalties and a tremendous overall lack of execution; there are either way too many words to sum up the loss or hardly any at all.

It is never easy to travel on the road and especially to non-conference venues for any collegiate football team. I was able to be a part of trips to Iowa, North Carolina, Northwestern and Colorado and without a doubt it was never easy to go on the road to any of these unfamiliar atmospheres.

Fans in your ear, weather that is nothing like that of Arizona and so many other small intangibles that fit into the scheme of traveling to a non-conference stadium. Boil it all down into some sort of equation that we all like to do and it equals a lot of trial and tribulations.

It tests any team and any level of bond that you have between yourself and your teammates. The nerves and ability to critically think among the hostility will separate the good from the great and the average from the weak.

It is obvious that Arizona State was not game for this test on Saturday night.

In my opinion on paper Illinois is a team that we should beat 8 out of 10 times. If you break position groups down one on one, the Sun Devils have what you would call more overall talent across the board.

So what went wrong?

Did ASU fall into that equation that equals out to a loss because it was a road game in an unkind venue? Did the ball just not bounce their way? Were the referees treating us like all the other Pac teams that travel to the Big10?

It could be broke down, critiqued for weeks to come yet the bottom line is that the final outcome was 17-14 and our Sun Devils seemed to regress back to a team with a lot of unanswered questions.

With all of this being said and the fact that the sun came up Sunday morning there is now one thing that should be on all of our minds and that is that the USC Trojans are coming to Tempe this weekend and ASU has the chance to prove themselves once again.

Let's Talk about the Offense!

The theme that summed this night up was that it was a true roller coaster ride. When the momentum was up it seemed like life was good and the Devils were going to drive and perhaps pull away.

Yet, with all the highs there were so many gut wrenching lows. The Sun Devils had opportunities squandered on nearly every drive either by a costly penalty or a turnover which eventually led to opposing points. The Offense lost the battle on first down far too often putting drives in a hole from the get go.

We saw a missed chip shot field goal that showed to be the difference in creating overtime. Drives were ended because of the inability to pick up the pass rush and dropped balls seemed far too common. All of these basic Offensive skills and lack of continued to haunt the Devils all night long.

Can we please hit the reset button and do it all over again...? Please...?

Breaking down the Position Groups:

Quarterback Grade: C

Brock Osweiler showed us every series that he is the leader we have been missing for awhile now yet also showed us he is still very much maturing as an elite Quarterback. On several drives he again proved he can extend drives with his legs and with some designed QB run plays he was able to put one in the score column two weeks in a row.

His ability to see the field because of his height is fun to watch. He has a big strong arm and really stretches a defense out with it.

My critique however started in the first series when you could see that it was going to be a rough night when he missed a simple swing route out of the backfield and put the ball well into the ground. After getting hit early and often, Brock never seemed like he was able to find any kind of sync.

He was holding on to the ball starring down receivers while option 2 and sometimes 3 were open. Even on some of the key completions he had the ball was poorly thrown being either behind the receiver or off the stride so the receiver was forced to fall or get hit instead of staying on stride.

The obvious turnovers that could be blamed on a couple elements. The key to it all though now will be learning on it and coming away with a sour taste in his mouth that inspires the rest of his play. He was finally hit hard and got right up every time and we know he will come back this week and continue to show us he is our leader. Can't wait to see him bounce back and turn it on this next week.

Offensive Line Grade: D

I am aware of this semi harsh grade but it represents the outcome of the game. This was supposed to be a group of O-Linemen that was filled with some quality experience. The group that finally had some chemistry and was going to be able to help be a catalyst for this potent Offense.

However, what we saw Saturday night in Champaign was a clinic put on by Illinois and frankly I don't think it should have happened.

For the second game in a row ASU was only able to produce 100 rushing yards. Their skills in zone blocking and the lack of being able to hold solid double teams to the second level was again ineffective. The pad level is far too high and thus the result is guys are getting no push and having to turn shoulders that open lanes for the Defense.

All of that mixed with some bad hands and the lack of ability to lock onto Defensive Linemen (legally) needs to be a common theme if we are going to see any success in the run game.

All of this was the same in the pass blocking. All defensive linemen know that if you get the guy in front of you to turn his shoulders and hips to the line of scrimmage and are forced to run with you that you have nearly every move you want. Getting them out of their kick step and unable to roll blocks is all you want as a defensive lineman.

This was all I was seeing out of our offensive tackles and often times the guards as well. Poor hand placement, bad hips, over committing and some clear holding penalties led to one frustrating night for the Sun Devils.

The bottom line is that if ASU is going to compete in the Pac-12 this year they are going to need to improve drastically up front. I am counting on a big turn around and some mean, legal swagger to be brought back home and put on display this upcoming game!

Running Backs Grade: C

Cameron Marshall got dinged early and showed some toughness taping his ankle up and coming back in for some decent runs. On several plays you could tell he was not able to put the foot in the ground and make the cut but none the less I very much respected the aptness to continue playing after a hard ankle role.

I asked for it last week and didn't get any but I truly love watching Kyle Middlebrooks run with the football. I think he is the kind of guy that needs to get five, six carries under his belt before the adrenaline turns to comfort but with the score being what it was and drives being forced into long distances we never got to see much of him.

Middlebrooks as well as Marshall still need to improve the pass blocking if we are going to be passing the ball 45 times a game. Overall, it was an average showing for the running backs. When I think about the potential here and the amount of missed tackles we could put on a defense it then becomes the every game expectation! I want to see it this week!

Wide Receivers Grade: C

Drops, missed blocks and inability to break tackles was what we witnessed all game long. Watching Cameron Marshall get blown up in the backfield the first series with the swing route after a missed block was very unsettling.

When you look at the box score this group looks impressive. GRob: 88 yards, Pflu: 75 yards, Willie: 65 yards.

However, each had their own key drops that killed offensive drives. Add all those yards dropped up and it equals another 100 yards of passing and potentially a score or two because of it. All this kind of falls back into my equation of what it is like playing on the road and what it takes to be great. The mental toughness needs to be there when you are called on to catch the rock and every chance you get to block for your teammates needs to be 100% every down.

This is an extremely talented group of young men and they will continue to improve all season long leaving us with lots of highlights at the end of the season. Just look the ball in, secure it, get those eyes up field and the world is yours!

The summary of the night was the lack of picking up the 3-4/3-3 pass rush as well as key detrimental turnovers. The O-Line needs to get tougher when they are asked to run the ball. If and when there is only a three man rush it HAS to be blocked.

Osweiler should never hit one of his own linemen in the back being 6'8.

The wide receivers have to and will get more mentally tough.

There needs to be more discipline with penalties and they have to start winning on the first down!

The last thing is that when the defense goes and gets you the ball you have to do something with it! Points off turnovers and red zone scoring are the two biggest dictators in the game of football. Change all these fundamental things and it is a different outcome. ASU will learn. This is a talented bright group. I have faith!

On to the D-Side!

The bright spot of the night at times the Defense finally came up with some big turnovers. It was great to watch guys finally trying to rip the ball out and wrapping up on tackles in space. There was more attitude on the field and even overcoming some early injury problems the Defense continued to show they were there to play. As a whole I think the Defense improved on tackling as it was shown but they still have a ways to go to get ball carries to the ground consistently. In the pass game even against a very average passer the coverage looked very suspect at times. Not a good indicator two weeks in a row headed into pass happy Pac play so this definitely an area they need to improve. The final outcome didn't show through for this group yet they put the Devils in a position to win the game all night. With continued efforts I will have no complaints so long as they take care of the tackling and keep the pursuit to the ball up!

Defensive Line Grade: B

Overcoming Junior Onyeali's early knee injury this group showed they have some good athletic depth in place. Davon Coleman came in a helped secure down the edge. He has a good motor and likes to run to the ball however with his athleticism he needs to get more creative in the pass rush.

That goes for all the guys up front on the D-Line. There is no reason that with this group and the style of defense that ASU runs that they can't continuously get to their targets every play or at least more often.

I did not see one spin move or any violence from the hands. The points of contact in the run game where better being that I saw some more guys getting their hands in place at the V of the neck and shoulder they were playing on but once that is in place they need to extend the arms more locking out, getting the eyes where they need to be.

You could see that the Devils, defensive front came in wanting to stop the run and for the most part they did a great job controlling our gaps and swarming to the ball.

Corey Adams did a nice job getting some pressure and pursing downfield for some saving tackles. Bo Moos is a fireplug but he needs to get nastier with his hands. This group will be the key other then the secondary in this upcoming game. I look for them to bring it all game long!

Linebackers Grade: B

Wrap up, Wrap up, WRAP UP!!! Please!!!

A group that should always put some fear into opposing running backs yet I just haven't seen it so far this season. Still too many missed tackles and over running the gap in place instead of staying square and slow playing reads out. This is causing guys having to either make up for the gap missed next to them in the lineup or consistently attempt diving tackles rather than running through the ball carrier with your hips on point and arms fully wrapped up.

We saw Vontaze Burfict come up with some saving shoe string tackles in space which was nice to see but once again the lack of discipline in place with him led to a drive extending penalty.

I thought that Colin Parker played very well again. He plays so smart out there with his angles to the ball and ability to predict the cuts of the ball carrier. Parker always seems to be in on the tackle.

Aaron Oliver played a good game getting in on some nice efforts but like the common theme needs to keep his eyes up and use his arms more when tackling. Overall an above average performance from this group but I think we all still expect more. This week will tell a great story with this position group and I look forward to watching it!

Secondary Grade: C

We need to start by working on our hips with this group. It was shown all night that guys were opening up in the wrong direction and having to over correct it then being out of good position.

When you find yourselves then in a bad position you are forced to over commit yourself and often times draw a penalty all because it all broke down. Timing on pass breakups needs to improve and attempting to get the eyes back on the ball because they got there in time would be great to see.

In the run game this group really needs to develop some meanness! Being tentative and the lack of wrapping up were not encouraging signs yet it can be fixed and I believe in these guys. Let's see some big hits this week and start playing with some confidence. It will all fall into place!

Special Teams Grade: D

A key missed field goal, shanked punt and very average kickoff coverage lead to the final outcome turnovers or not. This area of the team needs to be improved drastically because field position and points from the kicker win close games! We lost four games by nine points last year if my stats are right and it's proven this is where the team needs to be a lot more constant.

Overall Team Grades:

Offense: C-

Defense: B

Special Teams: D

I have faith that Coach Erickson and Staff this week will fix some key fundamentals. That they will be excited to start Pac play even though this was a tough loss. The Devils have the chance once again to go against a good USC team and break this horrid streak they having going with us.

I believe the Sun Devils will get back to basics and with Frank Kush Field hopefully rocking like the Missouri game we all can be witness to something special and the awakening of Arizona State Football! Here is to a special week and here is to believing! Go Devils! Show us who you are! -KC50

Defensive end Kyle Caldwell played for the Sun Devils from 2003-2006 and finished with Sun Devil career with 90 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honors in 2003 and Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition in 2006. A graduate of Scottsdale Saguaro High School, Caldwell was a member of the Sabercats' coaching staff who won the 2010 Class 4A Division I state championship.

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