Will Sutton, Brandon Magee, Chris Young, Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice, Rashad Ross, Chris Coyle and D.J. Foster are names that just about every Sun Devil fans knows by heart and every opponent is starting to have to think about. This team is playing as a whole and with the improvement this season on the defensive side of the ball ringing loud and clear it is really a breath of fresh air to watch the product Head Coach Todd Graham and staff are putting on the gridiron.
We all know that in order to beat the Oregon Ducks this week ASU will have to play better than they did against Colorado, but there are really so many things to be proud of from the big win at Boulder.
Talking about the offense:
It was a rough start and the offensive line was showing the troubling signs they showed in a loss to Missouri. One on one blocks being missed in the pass protecting led to some early pressure on quarterback Taylor Kelly, and the ground attack in the beginning of the game was struggling to get going.
Road jitters are something in college football that is hard to get over but great teams find ways to push aside that adversity and win those games.
The offense eventually settled and did just that. Kelly threw a season-high five touchdowns and led the Devils to a very strong offensive output. The play of the running backs and their ability to increase the pass game is something special and is the key in how Arizona State came away with so much success. Eight different players caught balls and eight different rushed as well. With that much balance it is very hard for any defense to key and lock in on a balanced offense.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is showing how much faith he has in Kelly and it is very clear that the first-year starting quarterback's decisions in the last three weeks are really getting sharper as he adds more game experience.
Key offensive stats:
31 First downs. Ball control.
261 Rushing yards
5 Touchdown passes
7.7 Yards per play
593 Total yards
Quarterback Grade: A+
The night belonged to Taylor Kelly. He was simply amazing and his statistical numbers in several categories both in the Pac-12 and nationally speak for themselves.
His performance against Colorado was not only impressive in terms of passing yards (308) and rushing yards (67) but his ability to make decisions that he could not make just a couple weeks ago is what is really remarkable.
The maturity and game experience is increasing week by week and that is why he is getting the reps he is and there will be no replacing him when the offense gets close to the goal line. Kelly on several third down plays was able to extend the drive with his legs and do some special things on the way to the first down.
His "spin dance" play on third down where he barley inched across the line showed how athletic he really is. Pure creativity and you have the outcome there. His deep ball was off early on several long balls and this is the one area he needs to improve the most on.
Michael Eubank looked strong when he came in the game and had a couple nice rushes gaining 23 yards and throwing for 24 yards. If the quarterback play stays this strong there will not be many teams that can stop this offense. This upcoming game against Oregon will really show if this position group can take charge.
Taylor Kelly: 20-28. 308 yards - 5TD. 14 Rushes- 67 yards.
Michael Eubank: 3-5. 24 yards. 3 Rushes- 23 yards.
Running Back Grade: A
Cameron Marshall finally led the group in rushing yards but that was mostly picked up at the very end of the game with the game essentially over. Marshall looked very strong and although he had a critical fumble where he tried to extend the play he needs to learn to hold the ball with two hands in those situations. Graham preaches ball security at the highest degree and the senior so far this season has let those fumbles get the best of him at times. It was however great to see Marshall finally break off some nice rushes and get in the end zone for a score.
D.J. Foster was second in this group with 61 yards rushing but did most of his damage through the air catching six passes for 71 yards and showing a tremendous effort on a 34-yard touchdown play where he extended out to pull the ball in perfectly for a score. The true freshman's pass catching skills are what make him so special and it is clear his speed and explosiveness are so hard to defend. Every time he has the ball it seems that if he can just avoid one more block he is well on his way to the end zone, and Thursday night it did just that on his touchdown catch.
Marion Grice had quite the night receiving as well as he collected 101 yards on five receptions, three of them going for scores. The junior college transfer is so fast once he gets the ball and there were some really nice blocks from his teammates on those plays that sprang him for those big plays. Ironically, Grice recorded no rushing yards but when you have the type of night he had receiving that you can forget that rushing futility very quickly. Great job by everyone in this group and an awesome overall effort by all.
Cam Marshall: 13 Rushes- 98 yards. 1TD. 1 Rec- -5 yards.
D.J. Foster: 9 Rushes- 61 yards. 6 Rec- 71 yards. 1TD.
Marion Grice: 1 Rush- 0 yards. 5 Rec- 101 yards. 3TD.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line had a lot of trouble in the first half of the game and reflected the overall struggles on this side of the ball during the period.
The speed rush was beating Schwab out of his stance and there were a lot of plays where he was struggling to get his hands in place. Same for Finkenberg and a couple of times it seemed like a pre-snap misread may have led to the defensive end having too much space to work off the edge.
Once the game settled so did their play and in the end and second half both players were working well on the edge. Jamil Douglas is quietly becoming a very good left guard and his athletic frame is winning him a lot of match ups inside. Douglas and center Kody Koebensky are a great pair together and with right guard Andrew Sampson playing as good as he has this season, the offensive line is becoming one of the better units on the team which has certainly not been the case in seasons past.
There were a couple of screen plays that Koebensky was able to show off his speed and get downfield. I never knew he was that quick and with bigs that can run like this you will have a lot of success!
This group as well as the defensive line will be key in the upcoming game and if they play as good as they did against Colorado some great things are in stored for Tempe!
Wide Receivers Grade: B
Overall a very quiet night for this group in terms of production on the stat sheet but a lot of that was because ASU dominated the game for the second half which led to less passing downfield. Kevin Ozier had a tremendous night blocking and on some of the routes to the backs out of the backfield, Ozier sealed the edge to boost those plays. Rashad Ross made his mark on special teams igniting the second half and Richard Smith came out of his shell and had his best game since game one as he caught four passes for 51 yards and a score.
Richard Smith: 4 Rec- 51 yards. 1TD. 1 Rush- 6 yards.
Rashad Ross: 2 Rec- 23 yards.
Kevin Ozier: 2 Red- 23 yards.
Tight End/H Back Grade: A-
Darwin Rodgers and Chris Coyle were great in the run game. Both these guys are athletic enough to reach most lineman and linebackers while each of them has a set of great hands in the receiving game. Coyle made his presence known with two catches and was very stout in his run blocking. This position group will have to play a huge role this upcoming week, and I expect lots of looks here early in the game.
Chris Coyle: 2 Rec- 48 yards.
Darin Rogers: 1 Rec- 20 yards.
Great night of production for the offense. It was the performance we all expected to see and following the slow it finally arrived. Great things to work off of heading into the big game in Tempe.
Talking about the defense:
Say what you want about this group and who they have played so far this season. Bottom line is this: they rank 9th overall in the country in points against at 14.2 per game.
They are getting after people, they are attacking, and running people down in the backfield, disguising coverages and fronts and doing it all with multiple looks. I love this defensive domination and as a fan we have not had a defense to be this proud of in a long time and the discipline and attention to detail displayed from this group is amazing.
Not too many people know this but the first half of Thursday's game against Colorado the defense was in mostly nickel and dime packages which they have hardly done at all this season and they were doing so against a pro-style Colorado offense. The reason for this is pretty clear and has a lot to do with the team coming to Tempe this week. So this might be why the Devils came out the gate so out of sync. Once they settled it was on and the Devils shut out the Buffaloes in the second half. A great night for the Sun Devil Defense as a whole!
16 First downs.
255 Total Yards. Very solid.
75 Net rushing Yards. -47 Yards for loss.
Defensive Line Grade: A
Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Davon Coleman and Jaxon Hood all did their part to get after the Buffaloes up front. I have talked about him all season long along with the rest of the country but Will Sutton once again showed why he is one of the nation's best. The junior had his motor going all night long and collected two sacks and another tackles for loss. He also had a batted ball and is proving that he is a complete defensive lineman when it comes to his technique up front.
Sutton knows how to anchor down and take on the run game which at 280 pounds inside is not always easy. He can get off the ball with a huge burst and put most offensive linemen on skates and his hands are superman like strong. Sutton is making most of his plays on just pure great effort most of the time and when you can bring it play after play like that you are going to make a strong impact.
Bradford seemed to be in on so many pressures and was in the backfield all night. He only collected one tackle for loss but it felt like that number was supposed to be so much higher with his constant effort.
Jaxon Hood was his stout self. He is so low to the ground with his knee bend and height that it really helps him have the advantage in holding his ground and getting leverage on the offensive line. He knows how to split the double team well and on several plays he showed this by being so aggressive with his hands. Young defensive lineman often want to lean body on body and forget how important violent hands are up front but Hood is really accomplishing this in his style of play.
A quiet night for Junior Onyeali, and he needs to be the X-Factor this upcoming week. His speed and play on the edge will be much needed facing the Ducks.
All in all, great night for the defensive line!
Linebackers Grade: B+
Brandon Magee led the team in tackles and had a huge night rushing the passer. Magee had two sacks and nine total tackles, and much like Sutton, Magee makes so many plays off of his overall energy and pursuit out there. He knows how to take great angles to get to the ball and if you put him one on one with a running back he is going to win all those battles. The senior is playing like the heart and soul of the defense he truly is.
Chris Young playing as the Spur backer indeed spurred the edge of the Buffaloes offense all night long. Might not have been his highest production night on the stat sheet but Young's presence was definitely felt.
A quiet night overall in terms of plays out of this group but the defensive line had so much production so this is the reason why. The responsibility of containing Oregon's speed and read-zone based offense will mainly fall on this position group and if they can play above their abilities this will be a determining factor in that contest.
Secondary Grade: A
Deveron Carr showed me that he finally has figured it all out. His play on the screen pass where he comes up and puts the pads on the receiver showed me how far this guy has come and all the adversity he fought threw has made him the solid player he is this year.
Osahon Irabor was just as good and has been a major reason the secondary has succeeded. Safeties Keelan Johnson, Ezekiel Bishop and Alden Darby all played great and Darby picked up a nice sack on a great effort play. Robert Nelson also joined the party with the lone interception of the game. Great to see this group having the success they are, and with so many players playing their best this year it makes you realize what a great job this staff has done in a short time!
Special Team Grades:
Kickoff Team: A Alex Garoutte had six touch backs and undoubtedly the thin air of Boulder gave his leg an extra boost. The kickoff coverage team did a great job avoiding blockers and the Buffaloes were never able to muster a long return.
Punt Team: A Josh Hubner had 2 Punts with a 44 yard average. No returns. Enough said. Well done!
Field Goal Team: A Jon Mora was one for one from 38 Yards.
Kickoff Return: A+ Jamal Miles couldn't get it done and has really looked timid all year. After his early fumble on the punt team Rashad Ross came in and turned the momentum of the game completely by running back the second half opening kickoff 100 yards for a score showing why he's a member of ASU's track and field team. Great job Ross!
Punt Return Team: F- Miles's fumble and overall bad blocking hurt the team's field position and gave momentum to Colorado, and sadly this has been the case often this season. Until the blocking gets better and some actual returns are set up this team will struggle quite a bit in this area.
They need to find ways to block the punt if they are going to give this type of effort in blocking. Honestly the players on this group look lost half the time and it seems there is more of a "play off" mindset on the punt return team than an opportunity for a big play mindset. That needs to change!
Special Teams: B
It was a dominating win on the road against a team that they should have beaten. It took a half though to get there but the Sun Devils took control and notched another conference win coming back to Tempe where they have played so great! The Colorado game is a great building block and a lot of players earned their stripes this game. If the Sun Devils play with the type of attitude they had in the second half and execute with that type of precision, there are not a lot of teams that can beat them.
The matchup against Oregon is set and another ESPN Thursday night game is on the way! This could possibly be one of the greatest nights in Sun Devil history if things go right and while we will be "Blacking Out the Duck" I can promise there will be some fireworks to be remembered Thursday night.
SDS will be rocking and if the Sun Devils can get some momentum going early the outcome will be awesome to see. Here is to a great week of practice. Can't wait to see this unfold!
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.