Devils in the details

There is never an easy way to take a loss. Period. This game had its moments and was filled with just about every type of test a football team will see on the road. Adversity was presented to the Sun Devils from the opening kickoff and did not go away until the clock ran down. Arizona State coming into Saturday's game had played well on all cylinders and really done so with elite execution.

The 24-20 loss in Columbia however had a very similar feeling to last year's non-conference game in Champaign versus Illinois.

That great execution that occurred in the first two weeks of the season was left in Tempe and a lot of physical mismatches on the field were exposed. Honestly, after the game started the way it did with ASU trailing 17-0 on the road the Devils were really lucky to have a chance there in the end and a lot of that credit can go to the 4th Quarter spark from both sides of the ball.

In my personal opinion had the QB situation for the Tigers been different the score of this game could have been much more lopsided. An early loss to a non-conference opponent is not the end of the world but should be a starting point in 2012 for what needs to be developed on this football team.

A stout Utah team is coming to town this coming week and after their victory over #25 BYU yesterday the Devils will need to be prepared for a tough fight.

Talking about the Offense:

Three things really stick out from this game. Our Offense Line needs to improve a ton on their one on one pass blocking, the receivers must come up with the catches and our pass game needs to have some sets that provide quicker targets. The first two games only tallied one dropped pass combined and last night the Devils recorded six. Just goes to show how playing on the road in a hostile environment can have an effect in this category. Nerves and noise can be a big factor when trying to hall in balls.

Key Stats:

18 First Downs. This High Octane Offense needs to keep its self rolling and this number should be above 20 if we are winning any type of ball control categories.

113 Rushing Yards. Because ASU trailed early. The run first Offense was basically thrown out and the Defense was not affected by the play action.

64 Offensive Plays. CTG has stated he wants to run 75+ Plays. Missouri had 88.

Four Turnovers. Enough said.

Position Grades:

Quarterbacks: Grade: C+

A tough night to be a Sun Devil Quarterback. The pressure from the pass rush and multiple looks in the box the Tigers defense presented was intense. Taylor Kelly was 14/23 for 178 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs while Michael Eubank was 2/4 for 5 yards. Kelly did add 59 yards of rushing on 15 carries which were mostly scrambles rather than designed run plays. Eubank did not fare well in the rushing department this game, rushing the ball 6 times for -4 yards.

If the Sun Devil receivers catch those six drops this grade and Saturday's game might all be a whole lot different. There were some balls that were right on the money and just not caught which is a tough thing for any quarterback.

Kelly has shown that he has the great feet and pocket presence that shinned in spring football. The run packages that Eubank comes into the game for could be taken by both players in my opinion and if Eubank's production does not increase I would look for some changes to be made on that front.

On the topic of Kelly's two interceptions. The first pick was a throw that had great play action sold in the box yet allowed the secondary defender time to lock in and get on the top shoulder making an easy catch. Kelly led the receiver about ten inches too far and instead of a catch for the Devils it ended in the hands of a Tiger.

The second interception which really ended the game came on a major over throw as Jamal Miles did a solid job getting himself open between two defenders but the ball flew too high for any kind of catch. On this play the pocket was set up nice and the throw needed to be on point. After watching the film I have to say Kelly must be kicking himself today. Lots of open receivers that he didn't see or check down to.

Lessons learned and hopefully Kelly can bounce back to playing mistake free football this week!

Running Backs: Grade: C+

16 rushes for 58 yards from the Running Backs this week. Not nearly the numbers you want to see and this really tells a big story.

The Offense's inability on Saturday to get the ball going on the ground really led to play action late in the game being dismal. Cameron Marshall carried just 4 times for 15 yards and most of that comes from one run. He seems nowhere near 100% in terms of health and if that is the case his touches should be limited until he is health improves because the stables are too deep and too talented to give carries based on seniority of any sort.

I know that is not the case and Marshall has done nothing but amazing things during his career here at ASU. Yet, if he is not healthy, which it is clear he is not in terms of speed and ability to cut, then something has to change to get him right.

Marion Grice had a solid night punching in for his two scores. His effort, burst through the holes and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is something that merits a bigger role.

D.J. Foster had another good performance snagging a nice reception and scampering for the touchdown that started the ASU comeback. He is another player, be it a freshman or not, that needs to have the ball in his hands more than six times a game.

This offense seems to work best and be the most dynamic when both Foster and Grice are on the field together. I would look for more of this in the future. I have a feeling this position group next week is going to be back in the A grade out range.

Offensive Line: Grade: D

A disappointing night for this group from beginning to end and one I am sure they can learn a lot from.

The Missouri defense produced three sacks for -20 yards and enough quarterback hurries to cause all sorts of rushed throws and quarterback scrambles. Edge pressure and great play from the Missouri defensive line wrecked the Devils protection schemes in place.

Evan Finkenberg had a game I am sure he is going to want to forget. Defensive End Kony Ealy was damn near unstoppable at times and caused enough damage himself to alter the game a ton. Several times Finkenberg was fully locked out on Ealy and it looked like Ealy had about another 6 inches of reach on him. Huge disadvantage for any O-Lineman when they are out matched physically like this.

Brice Schwab fell into some of this as well although he did do a good job in the run department. Both tackles overall did not hold the edge down well enough for any of the play action pass game to hold up.

Same can be said inside as Jamil Douglas played his poorest game of the season. Jamil early in the game was getting tossed around quite a bit. His hat was far too high on plays if he wants to win those battles inside he needs to get that knee bend going and play a lot lower.

Kody Koebensky had his work cut out of him inside and probably played the best out of everyone up front. The one knock on Koebensky's grade would be that his snaps on some big plays were a bit wild. This can happen of course when the pass rush is having the success it was. This group will face a heavy dose of Utah's big D-Line next week. Let's see if the boys up front can bounce back!

Wide Receivers: Grade: D-

This is a group that to this point in the season has shown they are the missing link. Lack of production, poor execution, dropped balls and a lot of missed blocks in the run game are showing the receivers have a long way to go.

On paper, and knowing the talent here, the sky is the limit. Yet for some reason they are not clicking and perhaps this is the position group that has not bought all in yet in terms of the playbook and energy it takes to make this High Octane machine run.

Eight total catches from the wide receivers is just not enough. I heard that Todd Graham called out this group specifically this last week in practice asking them to get it together and come to play. They did not get that message done on Saturday and it affected the game in a negative way. Hopefully a big performance against Utah this upcoming week will spark some life for the wide receivers.

Tight Ends, H Backs: Grade: C

As impressed as we all have been with this group there were some key errors in Saturday's game that led to some game changing events.

Chris Coyle has been a stud so far this season. The guy that will move the chains and give the defense all kinds of problems to worry about in both the run and passing game. He totaled five catches for 43 yards with the longest being 24. However his blocking this game was very average and several missed blocks led to added QB pressure.

My biggest question though is where is Darwin Rogers? He had great practices during spring football and is that big target that has the speed but he is nowhere to be found on game day other than missing key blocks on the goal line which led to points being left on the field.

The goal line play at the end of the game on 3rd down is the play which I am talking about and if you are going to pull tackle down there you HAVE to seal off the defensive end! Cut block, great get off, anything to get your body in between him and the ball carrier. Honestly, pulling any offensive lineman when you are that close the goal line is risky since the defense is usually working with a very tight box and every gap will often have a man in it on the line of scrimmage.

Small things, but they all equal the final outcome.

Talking about the Defense:

A game that is hard to describe in a lot of ways. That is how I feel after watching this effort from Saturday's loss. There were far too many ups and downs and a lot of 2011 characteristics that seemed to crawl back out of the dark.

The tackling overall would grade out as an F. Guys were leaving their feet far too often rather than putting in that extra bit of footwork and running their hips to contact. In the end that showed and the Missouri ball carriers must have broken 40+ tackles. There were a lot of concerns after last week's performance in the execution of the run defense. Those same errors played out again against Missouri.

The edge of the defense at the line of scrimmage needs to get shored up immediately. Guys are coming too far up field, allowing kick out blocks to work clean. There were a lot of plays where it was a sure run down and there would be a defender in the C gap on snap yet they would often end up in the B gap after the snap. Basically just giving the edge and usually this is called being reached. Not sure at this point if it is by design or not. But not having an overhang player somewhere up in the box will get you killed.

Some of Missouri's biggest run gains came off the edge of the offensive tackle where there should be a defensive end or outside backer yet they are not holding the point out there well enough and working in too much space. Big gains are easy to find if you are going to play that lose in your techniques up there against any strong O-Line.

Key Stats:

2.7 yards per rush avg. They allowed 153 yards but this was on 46 carries. As bad as it felt at times, this is an impressive stat.

Zero scores through the air. I believe this has not happened in a long time.

22/42 with one INT from the quarterback. Impressive pass defense!

On the other hand, with 42 passing plays from Missouri there should be more than two sacks totaled.

Position Grades:

Defensive Line: Grade: B-/C+

There were a lot of nice plays on the night from this group. They came to play with a big SEC Offensive Line and came out on top more often than not.

"The Beast" Mike Pennel was back in action and much needed. He had a lot of great plays especially in the 4th quarter when the game was tight. Using his massive frame he was able to take up a lot of the blockers and really allowed some other guys to make plays because of the double team up front. He doesn't have much in terms of moves at this point and really just wins match ups with strength and size. If he can find a way to get those hands and hips more involved the outcome would be scary!

I thought Jaxon Hood played another good game. He was very stout in the run lanes and did his part to win a lot of plays. He also collected a nice sack early in the game which came on a play where he came unblocked by default and made a play he should make every time.

Will Sutton was all over the place again. His production led the defensive line with eight tackles one being a big sack. Sutton is playing with so much maturity this season and the guys around him feed off his energy. When Sutton is making plays in the backfield and getting the guys fired up this defense has been unstoppable.

There was one mistake he had in the 1st quarter and it came on Missouri's first touchdown. He was the read man on the run play called which means the QB is looking for his progression to either give or keep the ball. Sutton did a good job staying square and sitting at heal depth on the line but when he had the chance to make the tackle he whiffed and thus the result. That was a big down and holding them to a field goal on that series rather than a TD is the difference in a win and loss on the score card. Every play matters and one on one tackles in the box at the line of scrimmage have to be made.

His position is the Devil Backer but by alignment he is playing Defensive End and that is Carl Bradford I am talking about- his grading falls into this group. One thing I have noticed in the last two games is that he has a long way to go when defending the run. Play after play on the edge he seems to be unsure of the blocks he is getting and his default move is to get too deep in the backfield. That works great when you are playing NAU. But against pulling guards from the Big Ten and SEC that will get you knocked around and exposed more often than not.

Playing the line of scrimmage and running your arms long while holding your points of contact as an edge man will win you a lot of battles and Bradford needs to find a way to get this done. He tends give up his entire blocking surface by playing with short arms and not locking out on the man which at 6-1 233 is tough.

I am curious to know if some of the plays where he lines up in the C gap and takes the B gap if those were by design or if he is doing his own thing and losing the edge because that is where ASU was gashed several times.

Davon Coleman played a step down from his performance from last week and looked out matched. This next week will be a great test for this bunch as Utah gets it done up front and plays with great technique.

Time to get this group up in the A category and not so close to a C.

Linebackers: Grade: C+

Brandon Magee was the man and if not for him this group would be lacking a lot of production and big plays so far this season. He understands the game so well and his leadership skills out there make everyone else around him better. He led the team with 12 tackles, 1.5 TFLs and a beautiful INT. In the box he fit very well and does such a great job taking on blocks. The footwork and ability to shock lock and rip off blockers is all there with Magee and he was getting it done on Saturday.

Now if we can Anthony Jones, Steffon Martin and Brandon Johnson to join the party. These guys are all doing solid jobs but some of the energy to defend run plays looks weak at times. When I say that it is more based on an effort subject rather than an energy problem and guys just don't look like they are giving 100% on a lot of plays. Getting blocked is inevitable but staying blocked is a "want to" thing. You either give that extra bit of effort or you will hurt more than help. I really hope that they can get some of this fixed really fast up in the box because if they don't we will continue to see teams running the ball with lots of success.

ASU has had its share of great linebackers throughout the years but one guy I will always reference because of his ability to get "unblocked" was out of this world and that is Dale Robinson. Dale was never ok with getting blocked or even having an O-Lineman's hands on him and that was all between the ears rather than a physical thing. You have to have the "want to". Get it done this week!

Secondary: Grade: A-

This group sure showed how far they have come since last season. 22/42 passes completed from any QB, back up for not, shows very strong effort from this group. The group as a whole had six pass breakups and timed a lot of throws very well.

Keelan Johnson is playing at a very high level and made some great tackles from side line to sideline. He gives awesome effort in pursuit and you always have to give props to that when playing in the secondary!

Osahon Irabor had a very nice game and had some great defenses against throws in the end zone. His experience sure has shown he is the player we all knew he could be and this defense is allowing him to show his skills. Deveron Carr falls in that same line as well. A guy who has fought all sorts of adversity throughout his career in Tempe and is now coming out on top. A great thing to see and very proud of those two guys for all the improvement they have shown to this point.

Kevin Ayers saw a lot of playing time on Saturday yet he played himself out of key missed tackles. On several plays he over pursued and didn't break down on the ball carrier which extended several drives. The missed tackles must go away.

Deantre Lewis may have found his spot on this team on the other side of the ball. He looked very solid in his technique at the nickel corner. His teammates are calling him a "natural defensive player".

Chris Young was again a beast coming up with eight tackles. It is very clear this guy understands what they are asking him to do on defense.

One of my biggest concerns with this position group that came away from Saturday was the defense of the slant route. Time and time again Missouri was able to hit its receivers in perfect stride on the game's most basic route concept. T.J Moe found all kinds of space in our zone defense and I am still a bit confused on how that was able to happen when you are playing pre snap in perfect position to defend the slant route. It looked like guys were just opening up their hips too far down field rather than really trying to re-route the receiver early in the route and play physical on the inside shoulder. Not a hard fix but something none the less that needs to happen ASAP!

Special Team Grades:

Kicking: C: Alex Garoutte had no field goal attempts, and had four kickoffs with only one leading to a touchback. Gotta give the guy some credit on The Opening kickoff making a nice stick on the returner. Garoutte is not the biggest guy on the team and throwing yourself in there always deserves a pat on the back.

The biggest game changing play came on a botched snap from holder Ryan Woods. This ultimately forced ASU call plays at the end of the game that required a touchdown rather than the field goals for ties or wins. Not acceptable in any way. Had that kick been made this category would be a B+. In reality that one play is obviously an F and the rest is what it is.

Punting: B: Josh Hubner had a very solid night kicking the ball. He had six punts for an avg. of 48.7 yards, three inside the 20, the longest being a career-best 62 yards. Unfortunately for him this game is going to be remembered by his bobbled snap that led to a short field for the Missouri offense. Had that play not happened his grade would be a very high A. Gotta stay focused! Just like Garoutte, Hubner made a nice tackle on a return as well.

Return Teams: B: I have to put this out there because it is driving me nuts and I am sure we are all seeing it the same, but does Jamal Miles not have his legs under him this season or what?

His burst and long stride that gained all his success over the years seems to be missing in a big way right now. I heard a quote from someone on this topic that came straight from Miles himself and he was quoted as saying his legs are always tired and that the off season and weight room have really put a strain on his speed and energy.

Maybe practices are too intense? Too long? Not sure but you can see how different Miles is running the ball this season. I really feel like it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The big offensive play where he takes the ball down to the two and gets hit out of bounds would have been a touchdown last year. The cutback was there on that play and if he had used a bit more energy to motor down and chop the feet to cut inside the score was there on that play.

His big fumble early in the game did no good for the scoreboard. That play early in the game caused a lot of momentum shift.

Coverage Teams: D: Not good all game long. I did not count the amount of missed tackles on these units but the number is way too high! This falls again into the category of effort and energy. Running and squeezing the ball property. Buzzing your feet as you near the ball carrier. All those small things that put someone on the ground. The Devils did not get it done on this front. Average starting field position was on the 38-yard line. Some of that was because of turnovers of course.

Overall Grades:

Offense: C-

Defense: B

Special Teams: D

What a crazy night it was. Let's move on quickly and leave the mistakes on all sides of the ball in Columbia. This team will show how much character it has this upcoming week.

The new season has started and Pac-12 play is here! How the Devils bounce back and so what they are made of in Sun Devil Stadium will be a fun thing to watch for. Let's all do our part and continue to buy into this program! We have all the reason to be proud of this team and staff this season. Even though this loss was a tough one because the Devils beat themselves, it is a loss that can be a great teaching tool.

Time to learn and move on. The Utes are coming to town!!! GO DEVILS!

-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 is also a member of the Sabercats' coaching staff who won the 2010 Class 4A Division I state championship


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