There are not too many words to sum up this weekend's loss to UCLA other than heart breaking. The Sun Devils who were coming off an impressive win against Colorado a week before had taken the driver seat in the race for the South.
We as a fan base were starting to believe that maybe a corner had been turned and Sun Devil Football was potentially becoming something it has strived to be for the last decade.
Well, Saturday at the Rose Bowl we were humbled once again and similar faults seemed to be the sum of the 29-28 loss to UCLA.
From the beginning of the game it seemed like UCLA was the more confident team. The Bruins came out playing with fire that I have not seen from them all season long and it would be the major difference in the end. Their play up front against the Devils on both sides of the ball was dominating.
The Sun Devils who have showed much improvement over the last couple of weeks in the tackling department reverted back to some sloppy techniques which is inexcusable in a game of such magnitude. Brock Osweiler and Cameron Marshall made a valiant effort to move the ball into UCLA territory throughout the game and yet when the points were within their grasp the Devils failed to achieve them.
By far the most disappointing thing from Saturday night and a theme that has run heavy over the last couple seasons is leaving points on the field which has cost the Sun Devils plenty of victories to this point. It is not cliché to say football is a game of inches and every point matters. The loss to UCLA proved much of that saying to be true. The thing that rings clear and Coach Erickson said so himself was the inability to score points off turnovers.
When special teams units and defense force the ball back to the offense there has to be great effort to score off those opportunities especially when the field position is in such favor. The lack of execution in such crucial moments was the difference in the end. ASU won the third down battle, the turnover battle and total yards gained and still managed to lose which proves execution and finding a way to get it done matters most in football.
The team that wants to win more is going to get the victory even if the stats show otherwise. UCLA wanted it more in Saturday's game. So once again, ASU football must regroup this week and saddle up for another go on the road. Washington State is the next opposition and a cold game up in Pullman surely will be another game that could easily bite the Sun Devils if they don't come out eager to dominate.
I personally have lost no faith in this group of players and coaches. It is just a matter of executing and doing so when the game is on the line. ASU has all the talent to play with anyone any Saturday of the year. It just hasn't clicked yet... when that moment happens.. This team will be special.
Time to talk some Offense:
Cameron Marshall had his best performance of the year rushing for 168 yards on 27 carries and one score. His burst through the hole and ability to break tackles was the highlight of the offense in this game.
Brock Osweiler and the receiving core were very connected all night as eight different receivers caught balls. The offensive line played down in my personal opinion from what I have seen from them this year in their pass protection and run push, and although they only gave up one sack there was consistent pressure on the quarterback which led to a lot of confusion in the Offensive scheme.
When ASU's offense did get in position to score the unit was let down by special teams and a 0-3 performance out of Alex Garoutte. The Sun Devils lost by just one point and it's unfortunate a lot of the blame is being put on one unit's failure.
Cameron Marshall said it best in his post game comments saying "we win as a team and lose as a team." That is the truth and that is football....
Grading the film
Quarterback Grade: B+
Brock Osweiler went 22/38 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He totaled 29 rushing yards on nine attempts and a score close to the goal line. Overall, Brock played well. He led his team like he has all season long and threw some good balls all night long. The pressure from the UCLA's defense looked to create a lot of confusion out of Brock's play and was a huge impact on several drives. Brock will keep this team heading in the right direction and hopefully we see a huge night from him in Pullman this upcoming weekend.
Offensive Line Grade: C+
ASU rushed for 201 yards which was a high note from our Offense and a positive thing to look at when talking about the play of the Offensive Line. The thing to note though as I have now mentioned was the lack of protection in the pass game. Creating a good pocket is when guys can work together to not open up major rushing lanes. When Offensive Tackles can kick step and still maintain balance with the guard next to him and same with the relationship between guard and center as they work together inside.
Too many times the ASU Offensive Tackles are having to turn their shoulders and run with the D-End instead of helping themselves from the beginning and using great footwork to try and stone an End from the snap. When the Offensive Tackle is forced to turn and run to save the speed rush from getting to the target you see a B gap that allows the inside rush to dominate. This is the one area I have trouble watching as I know we have the Tackles to get this done. Footwork is the key to any great Offensive Lineman.
Running Backs Grade: A
Cameron Marshall dominated from a run game stand point. His 6.2 yard average helped march ASU up and down the field. In the end it potentially should have been his ball on 4th and short. Marshall had another solid night in pass protection. I seem him having a monster night up in Washington this next week! Keep it up Cam.
Wide Receivers Grade: B+
A very solid performance from this group and eight different players caught balls. Gerell Robinson led the group with 131 yards on six catches but his after catch antics at this point in the season are really starting to get ridiculous and I promise refs and opposing players are really starting to take notice of it all. You are a stud and a great guy so please act like it!
A.J. Pickens had an awesome TD as did Jamal Miles breaking a tackle to spin into the end zone. It is still unfortunate to see Mike Willie still under performing in terms of stats (three catches for only 19 yards). Willie needs to get the ball in his hands 5+ times a game as his after catch skills are some of the best on the team.
Good outing from this group... now get ready to do it again this next week when your hands are cold!
The Offense moved the ball on UCLA's average Defense and in the end of the night just couldn't find the edge to take the lead. Hopefully against Washington State the Sun Devils are able to find their swagger and get after it in the score column. This system in place and talent on the Offensive side of the ball should never be short of 500+ yards. Have a great week of practice Offense.. take it to the Cougars!
Time to talk about the Defense.
As a guy who played with a lot of great defensive groups here at ASU it was really a hard night to watch. The Sun Devils and their swagger on Defense; being able to cause turnovers and scare opposing quarterbacks was very much a non factor all night.
Colin Parker said it perfect after the game "we are a gap defense and tonight we had a lot of missed assignments." Well, that was the major thing I noticed and something you CANNOT do when playing a pistol/read zone type of offense. Gap control and slow playing the read play is key on the edge.
Yet, time after time the ASU Defense was sucked inside completely giving up their edge rules and assignments. It was really a shame to watch the defense time and time again lose contain on the edge and lack of a force player being able to come up and make the play they are supposed to make.
Basic rules to playing a read zone team require defensive ends to squeeze tight to the tackle and do a great job in keeping square to they can make a play on the RB they are assigned to on the play or the QB whichever the call requires. Throughout the whole game the ends were shooting up field and coming far too much inside which would allow an easy read for the UCLA quarterback who rushed all over the defense.
There was no push up front and UCLA's offensive line dominated the game. Missed tackles from the linebackers, undisciplined eyes from the secondary and a few lucky breaks for UCLA with an under thrown ball and you know the outcome.
The thing to note for myself is that over the last three games the ASU defense has allowed 1,372 yards of Offense against them. This has to change if we expect different outcomes. The high note obviously is all the turnovers yet the group really needs to find the effort with the guys in the box and a mentality that needs to be established.
The defense is not huge up front but smaller guys have gotten it done before. A gap based defense is all about the basics and some of them to this point have been missing. This week against the Cougars ASU needs to find a way to get back to those basics.
Grading the Position Groups:
Defensive Line Grade: C-
Between Jarrett, Adams, Sutton, Moos and Coleman the group only tallied 11 tackles against a team that ran the ball 48 times and one sack in the pass game. As I stated here above it really looked like a lot of the basics in the run defense were left back in Tempe.
The play of the edge and how to play the read zone looked like we have never seen that type of offense before and we know that is not true as we have played four teams to this point with that style of run game.
I know we are not that big up front but I like to always compare D-Lineman when it comes to size to a guy named John Randle. Randle was 6-1 290lbs and DOMINATED every play he played. The guy went to seven pro bowls and showed me that up front it is not always size that matters and it's all about heart and passion to get the job done. Hopefully this group gets back to where they have all the potential to be. I am waiting for it!
Linebackers Grade: C+
Kind of the same theme with this group as I just spoke about when watching the film on the D-Line. A group that has potential to literally be one of the best groups in the Nation and yet we see many of the fundamentals being forgotten. There was a lot of production in terms of tackles and tackles for loss from this group yet some of the key moments of the game came off of some of their missed tackles and that stands out over all the ones they are supposed to make.
I thought Colin Parker did a solid job and his effort really stands out when you watch him. Parker is always running hard to the ball and takes great angles to get it done. Shelly Lyons also played a good game collecting five solo tackles and a forced fumble. Burfict showed some athleticism hurdling a defender and grabbing a sack yet too many times Vontaze once again took plays off.
Loafs are part of the game and if you are too tired to give it a full go, tap out and get the next guy in!
Secondary Grade: C
The Sun Devil secondary made Kevin Prince look like a guy who was all Pac-12 in the stat sheet. He only threw the ball 17 times, yet that low total collected 196 yards, a score, and a couple big plays that turned the game.
As the rest of the defense has been graded the secondary just lost the basics. Deveron Carr's play where he locked his eyes in the backfield and gave up a 76-yard play to Nelson Rosario was a complete lack of discipline and basic techniques as a corner. Far too often throughout the night it looked like the secondary was getting blocked and unable to help in force on the run.
Osahon Irabor looked like he played a solid game as did Alden Darby until he gave up the big third down play on an under thrown ball. Once again though that falls on basic technique as a corner and being able to trail the receiver with great feet and hips. If the receiver motors down so must the defender in that situation.
The highlights from the secondary were their ability to create some pressure on the QB. Keelan Johnson came up with a nice sack and five tackles to go with it. Overall, this was not the best performance from the secondary and hopefully this group gets it back on track this week.
The defense needs to get it back together and find a way to create some three and outs. There has not been one game this year where the Sun Devils have one the time of possession battle and that needs to change even if the offense is a fast paced Tempe system. Washington State should allow ASU to get some of their mojo back on the defensive side of the ball and we all will look forward to this group coming out and dominating up in Pullman, Washington.
Special Team Grades:
Three attempts at field goals.. Zero made. Enough said. I have been on Garoutte's side all year long and that won't stop. Just like a golfer kickers have off days. All ASU needed in the end was one and it didn't happen. Hopefully Alex can get his confidence back this week and have some chances to do so against Washington State.
Josh Hubner went five kicks for 192 yards with a 38.4 yard avg. Two kicks inside the 20.
Coverage Teams: C
UCLA's returner Josh Smith had four returns for 146 yards the longest being 78 yards and once again this kickoff coverage unit dropped the ball in winning the field position battle. The punt coverage was the best it has been on the year and there were no returns in this department.
Overall Team Grades:
Special Teams: C-
Here is the bottom line. We as a fan base and devoted followers know what this team is capable of. It is a lack of execution by the players or is it that guys are not being put in position to make the plays they are expected.
Either way you look at it the ball is continuously being dropped and it must be fixed or things will be deserving of change. This season has truly been a roller coaster and to this point the Sun Devils are underachieving. This is easily a team that should in my opinion be 8-1 not 6-3 and I am sure the coaches and players feel the same way.
This week will allow the Sun Devils to fix the road woes and hopefully we see a game in Pullman that is filled with excellent execution and effort all around. The Pac-12 South is still in reach for the Devils yet now it is going to take some help to get it done.
Mission: Win out! Get it done!
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.