Mid-season progress report

The Todd Graham era in Tempe is off to an impressive 4-1 start, and the 2012 season have so far been nothing but exciting for Sun Devil fans. Each week has presented a different set of talking points, but this team's early season success has overall been very pleasing.

The bye week presents the perfect point to talk about the progress of the team and thoroughly analyze the factors that have contributed to ASU's performance in all three team aspects.

Talking about the Offense:

There really are some eye-popping numbers when talking about the progress of the offense after five games. Here are some stats that have helped and hurt their progress to this point of the season:

Positive Stats:

-192 points scored. 38.4 a game. That ranks 26th Nationally. Big Time!

-1,041 Rushing Yards. 173.2 Yards a game. With this group you expect those numbers and actually would like to see them keep increasing. The last couple of games do not reflect this number so much and a chunk of this stat comes from the first two games.

-122 First Downs. ASU's opponents only have 78.

-13 Rushing TDs. Win the ground game!

-1,415 Passing Yards. Getting it done! This area has dramatically improved in the Utah and Cal games.

-456.2 Yards a game. Huge stat and very much improved from years past!

Negative Stats:

-29.24: Time of Possession a game. The opponents have a number that is slightly higher than this and with this offense and the system being ran I would expect ASU to have a significantly higher possession time.

-9 Fumbles. This number is far too high. Several have occurred on special teams and I know Graham would like this figure stay dormant for the rest of the season.

-22/68 on Third Down. 41% Which is not horrible but it could and should increase. Some of the nation's best teams have this percent solidly above 50%.

-62% Red-Zone Touchdowns. This stat needs to increase! Punch it in when you are inside the 20!

Position Grades:

Quarterback: Grade: A

Taylor Kelly has proven he can lead both on and off the field. He is a playmaker and does everything this coaching staff is asking him to. The Jake Plummer comparisons he has received are not far off and being that he is only a redshirt sophomore his performance after five games has to have this fan base excited for the long term.

Michael Eubank the last couple weeks has struggled to find rhythm and the opposing defenses are really keying him when the packages designed for him come onto the field. I would look for Kelly to keep getting better each and every week and so long as that takes place this team and offense will continue to have great success!

Taylor Kelly: 92/136- 1,192 Yards. 9TD/2INT. 258.4 YPG. 43 Rushing Att - 143 Yards.

Michael Eubank: 13/17- 123 Yards. 2TD. 24.6 YPG. 41 Rushing Att- 73 Yards- 2 TD.

Running Back: Grade: B+

D.J. Foster, the true freshman is leading the way. Did you think that would be the case when the season started?

He has 208 Yards which leads the group. His has scored twice on the ground and also has one receiving touchdown. Foster is the playmaker of this group and is the type of athlete that you could line up anywhere on the field and he would make a significant contribution.

Marion Grice has shown why he was the nation's top junior college running backs in 2011. He's already posted a handful of touchdowns on the season leading his teammates in that department.

Grice has really turned it on in the last couple weeks and in my personal opinion has earned the right to be the starter. He has the moves, the vision and is a huge threat in the passing game as well. Look for changes on this front in the next couple of weeks.

Cameron Marshall has 176 yards after five games. He had over 1,000 last season. I am pretty sure those numbers leave a lot of Sun Devil fans scratching their heads, wondering where is the Cam that they know? He does have four touchdowns though and has done a good job in limited playing time. Overall he looks off physically and you wonder what the cause is here since it seems like he has gotten plenty of rest over the last couple of weeks of fall camp, and again isn't seeing that field nearly as much as he did in 2011.

D.J. Foster: 36 Att- 208 Yards- 41.6 YPG. 2TD. 14 Rec- 226 Yards- 45.2 YPG. 1TD.

Marion Grice: 36 Att-208 Yards- 41.2 YPG. 5TD. 8 Rec- 88 Yards- 17.6 YPG. 1TD.

Cam Marshall: 49 Att-176 Yards- 32.8 YPG. 4TD. 7 Rec- 74 Yards- 14.8 YPG. 1TD.

Wide Receivers: Grade: B-

Two weeks ago this grade would have been a "D" but the recent emergence of several players in this group and an array of solid effort bumps the position's mark to a solid passing grade.

Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier and Jamal Miles have come a long way since week three and over the past two wins they played major roles both in the passing and ground attacks.

Ross is the speedster we all knew he was and as soon as he holds onto the ball consistently he will be a dread for defenses to contain. Ozier provides the consistent, big target that every quarterback yearns for and his production and effort this season has been very solid!

Alonzo Agwuenu and J.J. Holiday are two players that going into fall camp had very high expectations among the fan base and the tandem has somewhat disappointed thus far. Neither has made a major contribution and is another reason this group has gotten such a slow start to the season. If Holiday can find a way to get on the field and help contribute it will help in a lot of ways. He is an excellent route runner and although not a very physically big threat, he can really move after the catch. True freshman Richard Smith faded after a solid season opener.

Rashad Ross: 14 Rec- 237 Yards- 47.4 YPG. 1TD.

Kevin Ozier: 13 Rec- 188 Yards- 37.6 YPG. 3 TD.

Jamal Miles: 14 Rec- 179 Yards- 44.8 YPG.

Richard Smith: 5 Rec- 45 Yards- 9 YPG. 1TD.

J.J. Holiday: 1 Rec-14 Yards.

Alonzo Agwuenu: 1 Rec-19 Yards.

Tight Ends/H Back: Grade: A

I wasn't surprised by what I saw this season from Chris Coyle because I knew how he was going to be dominant in this offense. Coyle has led ASU's receiving categories all season long but it is his overall ability to help this offense move up and down the field that makes him so special. He gets it done in the blocking category and earns a solid B on that front but he really causes some great mismatches out in the flat and curl/hook zones that have left defenses struggling to stop him.

Darwin Rodgers finally emerged in the red zone this last week as he scored on his first reception of the season. As long as the offense gets this type of production from the tight ends it will continue to succeed. The group was MIA the last two years and as a fan it is a breath of fresh air to see this unit be an integral part of the offense again.

Chris Coyle: 26 Rec- 338 Yards- 67.6 YPG. 2TD.

Darwin Rodgers: 1 Rec- 1 Yards. 1 TD.

Offensive Line: Grade: B

Sitting here at this point in the season this group is still by far the most improved on the team but there still are some efforts that will make you raise an eyebrow.

The ground game the last couple of weeks has gone down in production as the Sun Devils faced stiffer defenses. The pass blocking has matured very much since the Missouri contest and it is clear that the quicker passing game that has evolved since then is helping the boys up front. With the defenses only getting stronger in the weeks to come you want to see improvement each game and we have seen that through this short season so far.

My standout guys from this group would be center Kody Koebensky and right tackle Brice Schwab. Both these linemen are leading the way up front and their play is a big reason the chains keep moving when they take to the field. Right guard Andrew Sampson is my most improved player since last season and his overall effort level is night and day from 2011.

Talking about the Defense:

Positive Stats:

-68 total points allowed. 13.6 Per Game. This ranks 14th nationally. I don't care who ASU has played. This stat after five games is remarkable!

-78 first downs. Another significant which equates to many three and outs by the opposition.

-685 yards passing. Four receiving touchdowns. Less than half of what the Sun Devils collected on offense.

-Eight interceptions and three recovered fumbles. Nothing like an aggressive and opportunistic defense.

-Only 7 points given up in the 4th quarter. Something that will either give the offense much needed breathing room or provide a chance for a comeback.

-35% 3rd down defense. Opponents converting just 29 of 82 opportunities.

-21 Sacks!!! Enough said.

Negative Stats:

-I'm having a hard time finding too many negative numbers that pop out at me. I think the only area the defense needs to improve on is to eliminate the big play. Too many long runs and several passes we made by opponents that could have been prevented. ASU has been outscored in the 3rd quarter 23 to 20 and this is a stat that reflects the entire team's performance during that period. Nonetheless, in my opinion the defense has been nothing but the strength of this team after five games.

Position Grades:

Defensive Line: Grade: A

Before the season started this group of players had so many question marks following them into the 2012 season. I think it's safe to say many of those doubts have been solidly answered.

The leader of the group is who else but Will Sutton. Opposing coaches have gone out of their way to praise the junior, who every week is making a stronger case to forgo his last season in Tempe and enter the NFL draft.

His numbers this season are nothing short than jaw dropping.

Sutton leads the team in sacks with 6.5 and 10 tackles for loss, to along with his 34 tackles (second best on the team) and one forced fumble. Those are HUGE accomplishments and something an ASU defensive lineman has not done here in quite a while. Let's all hope Sutton keeps getting after it all season long and if he does the defense will surely continue to dominate as it has.

Carl Bradford has found his spot up front on the edge and does a great job playing the Devil Backer which is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. Bradford has 4.5 Sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Although Bradford has played out of position at times on the edge which has sprung some long runs he has done a very solid job and is still very much learning the position.

Junior Onyeali has come around in the last two games and has already collected four sacks. His recent pass rushing efforts evoked memories of his Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year feat, and make his comeback after serving a long disciplinary suspension that much more rewarding.

Davon Coleman's stats are not all that impressive but he has done a solid job when he does take the field. My points on Coleman's game would be to improve the ability to get off blocks. Far too often he is stuck on guys and he just needs to accomplish this by getting much more active with his hands. He has some great counter moves and I hope he can find more of them to get himself going here.

With the recent disciplinary issues with Mike Pennel, Coleman really needs to step to the plate and pick up some slack inside. He is used at both the 1 and 3 technique positions and these are still new to him as he was playing on the outside last season. I see Devon getting better as we get deeper into the season.

Jaxon Hood, the local overachiever is doing such a good job handling all the learning curves and adapting to the speed of the game. I can tell you as a freshman this is usually the hardest thing to do, get used to the speed and contact at the college level, but Hood has done a great job and has a sack and 11 tackles to show for it.

This group is thin, very thin, but if Pennel can somehow make a dramatic turnaround in his attitude and reserves such as Jake Sheffield, Toa Tuitea and Gannon Conway keep stepping up this group will see lots of success!

Linebackers: Grade: B+

This group is doing a very good job in this defensive playbook and it is clear that Brandon Magee is helping everyone around him succeed.

Magee is the leader we all knew he was this past offseason and his efforts and energy out there keep the defense on pace. He has two interceptions, two tackles for loss and 32 total tackles this season.

Anthony Jones is another linebacker that so far this season has stepped in and contributed in a big way. He has 12 tackles on the year.

Chris Young who plays the Spur linebacker position (which is a hybrid safety) has been one of the biggest surprises on the year and he leads the defense in most statistical categories. Young has showed that he was ready for D-I competition and the junior college experienced a very modest learning curve. On the year Young has collected a team-high 36 tackles, 9.5 for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble. He is the dominate physical player off the edge that every defense needs to have in order to be successful. The continuation of his dominance will play a great factor in the next coming weeks.

His JC teammate Steffon Martin is another guy that has played well in every game so far. He still seems to be learning and I would have expected him to be a bigger playmaker after watching his recruiting film but it is a long season and I think he still has a lot of growing to accomplish.

All in all, lots of great things are taking place in this group and still so much improvement is likely to take place in the future.

Secondary: Grade: A-

What a surprise huh? Wouldn't think that after five games we would be grading out the Secondary with such a high mark but that shows how far this unit has come since the end of last season.

Osahon Irabor, Deveron Carr, Robert Nelson and Kevin Anderson have all done a tremendous job this season at the corner position. Irabor and Carr, last season's starters, have both improved tremendously and do so with great fundamentals. Their footwork, hips, hands and vision have increased and I think a lot of praise should be directed at Coach Griswold, Coach Ball and Coach Lorig.

Keelan Johnson has come into a role of his own and is all over the field. His speed is where he makes a lot of plays and I love how he has come up on the run so far this season. He may have underachieved his first three seasons in Tempe, but his play this year has been unrecognizable. His is third on the team with 33 tackles.

Johnson's safety teammate, Alden Darby, is also enjoying a solid year and his ball hawking skills are already evident in his two interceptions and three passes defended.

Kevin Ayers in a reserve role is making impact and I think he is another guy that really brings a lot to the defense. Ezekiel Bishop and converted running back Deantre Lewis have shown some flashes as well and allow this unit not to experience a steep drop-of when the starters are on the sidelines.

Congrats to this group and all their great play so far this season. They should truly be proud of themselves and I hope the confidence here plays over into the next game!

Special Team Grades:

Kicking: D: Alex Garoutte is 6/10 on field goals and a perfect 24/24 on his PATs. But his recent three missed field goals against Cal (albeit one of them blocked) really hurt this grade. Garoutte's kickoffs have been decent with good place kicking going on in the corners for the coverage team to have a good squeeze there. He has 15 touchbacks on 36 kicks. Jon Mora is 0/1 on his lone attempted field goal which puts the overall field goal percentage at 54% for the season. Not nearly good enough to win big games. This has to improve!

Punting: A-: Josh Hubner has shown off his leg so far this season, and so has…yes, Taylor Kelly! Hubner is averaging 45.3 yards a punt with 10 kicks landing inside the 20- yard line. Can't stress enough how big of a stat that is right there and what this does for the defense in terms of field position. Hubner posted six kicks over 50 yards and his longest went for 62 yards. Kelly has three punts and all of those have been downed inside the 20 as well. The only reason this grade is an A- is because of Hubner's mishandled snap in the Missouri game.

Coverage Teams: B+: The kickoff team has been excellent so far this season and there have been no glaring issues to address here. They have shown great effort to get off blocks and avoid being locked up. The ball has not out leveraged the Devils all season and another reason the defense has been helped out. The punt team has done a great job as well but there are some interior line efforts that could increase. It seems too much on punt coverage the team is on different levels and several big returns have occurred because of it this season.

Return Teams: C: I think we are spoiled over the last decade of great returns happening and that might be why we all expect more here from this group. The home run threat in Jamal Miles has been missing this whole season and the few times we have seen it, it has led to a major turnover and some big hits.

The kickoff return team needs to do a better job setting up the front line and thus it would be easier for the second level to do work. Too many guys are getting free as can be on opposing punt teams and the gunners are usually running virtually free to ASU's returners. With as much speed and experience as ASU has at this spots I would expect more at this point in the season from these groups. Let's hope it is accomplished and ball security is the main priority as that has been the true statement here.

Overall Team Grades:

Offense: A

Defense: A

Special Teams: B+

The most refreshing stat of the season has to be that of the penalty department, or lack thereof. In the past this squad has lost games due to this area of the game and this goes to show how the attention to detail has changed so much in this program.

Everything from the locker room being clean, having your helmet on at all times and be ready to go when you get off the tram at the practice field, to preparation in the classrooms and meeting rooms. It is all there and the fact that ASU after five games has only 21 penalties speaks loud and clear about the effort being put forth. Coach Graham talked a lot about increased discipline when he was first hired, and this penalty stat really speaks volumes about the team culture.

I tip my hat off to Coach Graham and what he has been able to accomplish here in Tempe in such a short period of time.

You can tell the players are all embracing the concepts he has laid down and the result is showing up on game days. He is the kind of coach that I personally would love to have played for and I really can't wait to see what he continues to do here at Arizona State.

The Sun Devils are currently first in the Pac-12 South and after five contests the sky is truly the limit for this group. The Colorado Buffalos are ASU's next opponent and I can promise that the staff will have the boys ready to go after a week off. Look for ASU to come out and play an excellent game on the road and show all the critics they can still perform well away from the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium. I have personally played in Boulder and can say it is a great game day experience. The place really embraces the aspects of college football and it will be fun to see our Devils get after this game.

Here is to the future and thank you Coach Graham for all of the hard work you and your staff have put in!

I am ALL IN!

-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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