Devils in the Details: ASU-USC

Another opportunity for the 2012 Sun Devil Football team to show how far they have turned the corner and yet another squander of that opportunity let down by costly mistakes. This may have not been a game on paper that ASU should have tailed as a win, but after watching the film there was no doubt a contest that should have ended much closer than a 38-17 loss.

Coming into the affair with USC the Sun Devils were on a three-game losing streak. Their ability to overcome adversity had been tested in nearly all these games and in the end the Devils have fallen and failed in situations I personally believe they can very much overturn.

USC had a lot to prove in this game and it would be tested early by the Sun Devils. The ASU defense came out very opportunistic and made great and picking apart the USC offense which as times is very generic.

Recording five turnovers from the Sun Devil defense you would expect some serious scoring from ASU. Not the case and after a 3-24 score difference in the second half USC easily pulled away and ended their own two-game losing streak.

The ASU offense was routed in the turnover category as well with three interceptions thrown and a fumble lost on a kickoff return. In the end it was the failure on third down and fourth down (7-19 total on those downs) that ended the Devils hopes of staying in the game. That and the pass rush from USC that tailed seven sacks for -56 yards crushed the progress on some solid drives. This was the only game on the season in which ASU had more penalties than its opponent (7 to 4) and another reason the effort sputtered so often.

Key Offensive Stats:

15 First Downs. Too many drives that failed to get close to points.

71 Net Rushing Yards. 35 attempts with a 2.0 avg. Seven sacks from USC and that is how you arrive at this number.

20-33-3 INTs. Taylor Kelly forced several of his throws and the offense did not capitalize on defensive efforts.

D.J. Foster: 10 totals yards. Marion Grice: 45 total yards. The offense's two biggest weapons have to be given the football.

250 Total Yards of offense. The USC Defense has shown weakness all year long, and allowed over 1,300 in the last two games before the ASU one. ASU failed to reach 300 yards against them even with five turnovers from the defense.

Position Grades:

Quarterback Grade: D-

Taylor Kelly was 19/30-1TD-3INTs for 174 yards while Michael Eubank went 1/3 for 5 yards.

Like the last half of the season Kelly was under duress on many passing plays and thus the offense and his throws suffered because of it. Watching the pocket develop in this offensive scheme is something confusing at times. The schemes and sets the bigs up front are setting often don't allow them to succeed and the pocket to form correctly.

Guards setting and looping outside tackles. Getting into a three point on clear passing downs. In the end it is allowing a lot of pressure to effect the quarterback position. Because of this, Taylor Kelly is getting anxious feet and more often than not wants to leave the pocket.

Think of it is, if he can stay put and just step up on a lot of this throws he would have had a perfect pocket. The relationship between him and his offensive line is absent on a lot of plays and you have to wonder about the trust there after the last several weeks of immense pressure on pass plays.

That being said, maybe it's not that Kelly doesn't want to step up and throw but perhaps he just can't see well. Watching him and his eyes at times it looks like he scrambles not because of the pressure but because he can't see downfield. Because of these plays, the film showed Kelly missing a lot of open receivers.

In the run game there were several read plays where it was clear Kelly should have given the ball rather than keeping. This happens on a key third down in the second quarter which negates gaining a first down. Foster leads the way on the play instead of having the ball in his hands. The play gets stoned and drive stopped.

The three interceptions in the game come from pressing plays too much. Missing an open Chris Coyle one on one shows that Kelly was just not ready for this game and couldn't find a way to get settled in his progressions. Michael Eubank came in on several drives but was not used enough to really show anything he could do.

A key stat that stands out is the number of rushes by Kelly. 16 attempts compared to the next closest being six rushing attempts by Cameron Marshall. Of course several of these are scrambles but it needs to find a way to be reversed. The rushing game was having too much success very early in the game to ever get away from it.

Running Backs Grade: C/Incomplete

Cameron Marshall started the game running like he has the last several weeks but was taken out of the game plan as the game progressed only totaling six carries for 37 yards. Marshall did a great job pass blocking through the game and really showed how strong he is at that part of his game.

Marion Grice had five carries for 16 yards yet totaled and led the team in catches with seven for 30 yards. A choppy day for Grice but it was clear when he was in the game the defense really keyed on him at times. The surprise of the day was the use of D.J. Foster. The first series of the game utilized him and really was the only time he saw the ball. It was clear something was said at halftime because the same thing went with starting the second half and then nothing again.

Foster is no doubt one of the greatest weapons this offense has. Freshman or not having only five touches on the day is not nearly enough.

Road games this season have really shown D.J. is not getting utilized nearly enough in comparison to the home games. Whether is just in the moment, players getting shuffled around too much or not. Foster needs to have the ball in his hands in every quarter of the game several times.

On the day the running backs only totaled 14 rushing attempts all together. The game was not out of hand until late in the game and the backs needed to find a way to help the offense on the ground earlier in this game.

Wide Receivers Grade: D-

Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles were the only receivers to catch balls from this position group. Ross totaled two catches for 31 yards and Miles had two for 15. This group has once again failed to show up, especially when it has mattered most and the lack of their production is still a mystery to myself.

From a skill level there are a lot of play makers in this group. Kevin Ozier shows up on the stat sheet but it's every other game. Alonzo Agwuenu and J.J. Holliday have never made an impact the entire season. If this remains the case there is no reason that a player like Foster should not be lining up at wide receiver on every play. He can do it and has shown his ability this season to make great plays at this position.

Watching Miles at times through this game he shied away from a lot of opportunities to make contact and block in the run/screen game and some goes for Ross. Watching Ozier on the day I thought he did a great job putting out the effort to help the blocking but if this group can't get after it as a whole the offense will continue to see performances that total sub 300 yard days.

Tight End/H-Back Grade: A

The guy who continues to be a solid performer week after week and does it both in blocking and receiving is Chris Coyle. He was a stud on the day and really showed what a threat he can be on the deep balls down field.

His touchdown came out of some luck with USC's safety falling down on the play but his ability to separate from the linebacker at that time shows his speed and vision to haul in the pass. Coyle was solid in his blocking as usual. Without Coyle's production you wonder how much this offense could potentially be failing. The junior totaled 85 of ASU's 250 total yards of offense.

Offensive Line Grade: D-

Once again, a day that this group will want to forget.

The O-Line gave up seven sacks on the day and USC practically stoned most of Arizona State rushing attempts at the line of scrimmage. Tackle Brice Schwab is still struggling to get right in his pass sets. Schwab has a tall, long build that struggles with ankle bend. When he is forced to get into a three-point stance on pass downs it is very clear it is hard for him to get any kind of initial kick back because of his flexibility. There were many plays where he picked up his right foot on pass only to set it down in the same spot which doesn't allow him to kick for any gain on the pass rusher and usually he is forced to turn and run with them because they have the first step on him. This and playing with extended arms rather than waiting for the punch allowed some big pressure off the right side of the offensive line.

Left tackle Evan Finkenberg was also beat several times in his pass sets. The relationship and play with left guard Jamil Douglas is interesting. I'm not sure if it's a schematic deal or not but the lack of being able to pick up the edge blitzers, even when they are showing early, is lacking big time. There should be some clear "fan" calls being made up front based on how SC was lining up and they did not get executed. Several times this allowed some big pressure to occur and the stunts being fan on the edge were easy for the Trojans.

Kody Koebensky I thought played one of his worse games of the season. He was beat one on one several times and did not work well with either one of his guards. Koebensky has been one of the most consistent up front this whole season but the interior line of SC proved dominate against our three inside. Freshman defensive lineman Leonard Williams was all over the Sun Devil offense and showed the ability to beat every one of the inside lineman one on one.

On the day the offense was beat fairly thoroughly. 250 total yards of offense and only 10 points scored from this side of the ball revealed a match up that was not close at game's end. The lack of an ASU rushing game and the scramble drill nearly every pass play was enough to allow USC to slowly build confidence throughout the game and in the end they pulled away because of the slow day by the offense.

Washington State and ASU's final home game should allow the offense to get back on track.

Talking about the Defense:

Key Stats:

225 Rushing Yards Allowed.

447 Total Yards Allowed. Even with five turnovers, the USC Offense was able to move the ball both through the air and on the ground.

2/2 on 4th down defense. ASU needed stops and didn't get them.

Five Turnovers. Team highlight of the day.

Position Grades:

Defensive Line Grade: B+

Will Sutton was back and near 100 percent. His play showed all of that as he recorded eight tackles, a sack and two TFLs. Will was able to win a lot of plays with that great get off which was not at full speed until Saturday. The first half showed Sutton getting in the backfield play after play and he really did a solid job on the day.

Carl Bradford also joined the stat party with his best game as a Sun Devil. Bradford had ten tackles, a forced fumble and recovery, an interception that will be played on highlight reels for years to come and a sack. His production was off the charts on the stat sheet and this will be a game he remembers for a long time.

Davon Coleman also recorded ten tackles on the day. Jaxon Hood played a lot of snaps but failed to record anything on the stat sheet and after a day of getting double teamed play after play inside, Hood seemed to really tired out and some big runs were sprung inside as the game progressed.

The one thing I am still very confused about overall though is the way the line is being allowed to play. I've said this for several weeks now but the gap assignments and attention to detail in this group still seems far too lose at times up front.

Don't get me wrong: making lots of TFLs and pressure up front is awesome. It is exciting for the fans and we love watching a defense that can attack like this one can.

But the play on the edge and lack of sound gap presence really seems to be hurting the Devils at times more than its helping. The ends don't squeeze tight on down blocks. Cutback lanes are often there for the taking and on outside reach plays, guys are getting sometimes two to three gaps behind where they lined up at.

I just find it hard as a defensive minded coach and player to understand how players are allowed to freelance so much. It puts far too much strain on the linebackers and eventually it is going to cost you home run type plays out of the offense you are playing against.

From a technique standpoint I think the guys are playing great. Lots of violent hands and counter moves in both the pass and run game. Staying active and pursing all over the field. Yet, the gap assignments and being accountable for where you align has to be a priority moving forward.

Linebackers Grade: B-

Brandon Magee played his heart out. He was all over the field collecting 13 tackles and showing great determination in his pursuit to the ball. Magee has been a corner stone for this team and what Coach Graham is trying to do in terms of culture change in Tempe. He is everything you would want in a leader on your team.

All that aside I thought Magee played a solid game against the Trojans. As I just stated though above with the defensive line, it is hard to play and read an offense when guys are playing out of position on a lot of plays. There were several times that both Magee and Anthony Jones read the offensive line blocking poorly and thus the backs of SC were able to hit holes with ease and this allowed for two touchdowns in the red zone.

Reading the blocking out of USC there were some clear reads at times that should allow the backers to fill their gaps making clean tackles but hesitation and lack of taking action swiftly allowed big gains. The box in general of ASU's Defense seems to be off page a lot of times with each other.

It seems as if the backers are having to really play slow reads on a lot of plays because perhaps the lack of gap holds by the D-Line. USC does not run a lot of misdirection up front and if the reads were made with more urgency I think a lot of plays would have been stopped. Chris Young showed his ball skills down near the goal line pulling in a poor thrown ball out of Matt Barkley. Steffon Martin also had a decent day recording 4 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Secondary Grade: D+

The secondary has gone on a streak the last couple games that has followed trends from 2011. Costly penalties, bad angles and lack of confidence seem to be ailing this much improved group.

Keelan Johnson has played out of position on a lot of plays lately and his angles in some of the pass routes have allowed teams to get the deep ball working. The play in which Marqise Lee scored on the long ball the Devils were playing a trap corner technique where the corner takes an outside release forcing the WR back inside to the Safety. Johnson hesitated for just a bit too long on his backfield read and Lee did nothing but run full sprint for the grab the ball for the score. The angles overall on the day out of the safeties to pursue I thought were average at times and thus the success in both run and pass games for SC.

On Alden Darby's pick-six I think USC made a big mistake. The play before that there was a penalty but USC actually semi runs that play showing ASU the potential look. The very next play they go back to it and Alden Darby leaves his man to jump the route seeing it was going to be a screen into the boundary the play before.

Had Barkley read that and thrown the ball downfield, Darby had completely let his guy go and that could have been a 50 yard TD. Instead the gamble paid off and Darby took it in for the score.

Osahon Irabor had a nice caused fumble and was solid at corner. It was clear USC chose to pick on Deveron Carr all game long and on several series they threw multiple passes his way. The game plan by the Trojans was to exploit him and I think they succeed on accomplishing that.

The day was bitter sweet for the defense. Lots of great plays and a chance to swing the momentum with big plays all game long but it would not be enough. The soundness of a lot of plays I have to question as a Coach but you get what you put in. The depth is lacking and you have to take your chances when you can. This defense does that and has all season. Live and die by that mentality and you have the results of the season.

Special Team Grades:

Kickoff Team: C

I don't personally like kicking the ball short to negate a big return but when you are playing SC with the returners they have you might be wise to attempt this. The bottom line. ASU needs to find a kicker that can put the ball in the end zone. I am sure Coach Graham is going to bring in several kickers this next off season and give them the opportunity to prove themselves.

Kickoff Return Team: D

Six returns for 114 yards. Not much effort by the return team to spark anything with the longest return being 25 yards. The big hurt to this group was the fumble by Ross.

Punt Team: B

Josh Hubner had his leg going yet it was too much on 2 of his kicks as they went for touchbacks. Hubner averaged 47.2 yards on the day with his longest 55 yards.

Punt return team: D

Four punts for zero yards returned and a running into the kicker penalty that allowed the USC drive to continue. Since the returns have not worked it was clear ASU wanted to attempt some block looks. Didn't work.

Field Goal Team: A

Jon Mora was 1/1 from 28 Yards. Team Grades:

Offense: D+

Defense: B-

Special Teams: C

A chance to bounce back against Washington State in the Sun Devils last home game is going to be a make or break game. The Devils currently sit at 5-5 and with two games left there is still a chance to finish this season strong and above many pre-season predictions.

It is clear that Head Coach Todd Graham is leading this team in a positive direction. As a former player, fan and someone who cares deeply about this program I see everything going on behind the scenes correctly.

I believe this team can win these last two games and I think the Sun Devils can finish this season 8-5. The fan base needs to continue to support the efforts in Tempe and in the final home game I urge people to get to Sun Devil Stadium and show your support for this staff and group of seniors.

Great things are going to Tempe.

All In!


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.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories