Devils in the Details

Devils Digest's writer and former Arizona State defensive lineman Kyle Caldwell breaks down Arizona State's 42-28 loss to Stanford, discussing the performance of each of the Sun Devils' position groups as well as grading each unit.

Few doubted how good the #5 ranked Stanford Cardinal were before Saturday's game against Arizona State. Now we all have a glimpse of how strong they truly are here in 2013.

In a game that was out of reach by half time, the Cardinal proved that the last six years of recruiting classes and play book developed with those athletes, were just too much to handle for the Sun Devils. The line of scrimmage is where games are won and lost and this was ever so present in this game as Stanford just dominated up front on both sides of the ball. Rolling out sets with eight or nine offensive lineman at times, Stanford was able to show that old school power football has not completely left the college ranks.

A third and fourth quarter surge from Arizona State would be too little too late as the game concluded, yet you have to give great props in their effort to fight back in this game. Through the last couple 16 games under Coach Graham, that theme has rang loud and clear that his teams do not give up and play strong in the second half. This was every bit of that as ASU only trailed Stanford 28-39 with 6:18 left in the 4th quarter after a great effort to take this down to the wire.

In the end, it was not enough as Stanford powered their way to a 42-28 victory.

ASU should be very proud of themselves for the way they fought through this mismatch of a game. Great lessons can be learned and lots of building blocks to work on. With USC coming to town for a big Pac-12 South showdown, it will be great for ASU to take this one lightly and move on. There are too many big games right around the corner and some great opportunities to get this right back on track.

Talking about the offense

Key Stats

Positive:

367 passing yards

3 of 4 on 4th down

Negative:

10 Tackles for loss

6 of 18 on 3rd down

50 Net rushing yards

2 INTs

0-2 field goals

Grades

Quarterback

Grade: C-

It's tough to grade Taylor Kelly hard in this matchup. He was flushed, flatted and taken put in a rough spot being down so deep at half time. Coach Norvell would much rather have his playbook show a balanced ratio between run and pass at day's end and this was not the case on Saturday as Kelly threw 55 times. Mistakes with the football early took a huge chunk of momentum with them. Kelly seems to be left out of the read option so far this season which is one of his better traits as he has great vision and ability to keep drives alive with his decisions.

It would be great to see someone this take place going forward. Against the Cardinal however it was not going to happen. Their 3-4 defensive scheme is set up perfect to defend the Devils' playbook. 30-55, 367 Yards and 3 TDs reads like a good day. Yet two turnovers helped pave the way for the Cardinal victory.

Running Backs

Grade: C

A very rough outing for Marion Grice and crew. The early lead led to a change of pace in the playbook and the Stanford defense came ready to contain the rush attack of ASU. Grice netted 50 yards on 17 attempts and caught 6 catches for 32 Yards. 2 touchdowns followed that stat line which showed just how valuable Marion Grice is to this offense. Whether it's catching the ball in his flex role or using his great vision, he gets it done to the best of his ability. You would like to see more burst out of him as it seems that part of his game has really dropped from last season, yet he is working hard and you can see it every play.

The one part of his game that needs some help is the play action pass protection. Deantre Lewis only had 1 carry for 4 yards. Also a note, D.J. Foster has been moved to the wide receiver group since it is clear he has been taken out of the run game almost all together.

Wide Receivers

Grade: C+

Jaelen Strong showed once again why he has come more than advertised, racking up 168 yards on 12 catches and one score. He was the main target all day for Kelly and it was clear that Stanford could not slow him down even when the blanket was set his way. Strong showed great energy all day to work his routes and it will be a treat for Sun Devil fans to keep watching him gain traction this season in this offense. D.J. Foster followed up another strong performance catching the football collecting 80 yards on eight catches.

Several drops again in this game showed that the receivers need to really get after their skills in this area. Practice makes perfect they say... Then this needs to be one of the biggest areas of attention. Two games in a row there have been some major drops out of this group that have had huge impact in the outcome of the game. If you want to beat elite teams, you have to catch the football!

Tight Ends/H-Back

Grade: D+

Nearly non-existent in the passing game, which is a major change compared to last season. The emergence of Jaelen Strong as Kelly's focal point has clearly taken a big chunk of the productivity away from this group. Yet the major concern was watching the run blocking here. Chris Coyle time and time again was blown up or put on skates when it came to his run blocking. Don't get me wrong, he is not a bull you over type of blocker, yet there were a lot of examples of his defender getting in and effecting the play. Not what you expect out one of the senior leaders of this team.

Offensive Line

Grade: F

A truly failing effort for the offensive line as Stanford's front seven completely dominated the game from start to finish. Hardly any push in the run game and a quarterback pressure on nearly 80% of Kelly's drop backs, it was clear who won the line of scrimmage. Stanford called it a party in the back field and that statement could not have been truer. Some of the things that stick out in my opinion are pad level and the energy of the feet. Watching ASU try and get anything going in the run game/play-action pass, it was very clear; the pad level was being won by the defensive front. Because of this, counter moves were working and the ASU offensive lineman where literally getting tossed around. If you want to beat a team that is bigger and stronger than you, you better get your pads down and as old fashioned as that sounds, it's how you play football.

Another note would be the hand strength. When you watch Stanford's O-Line, you see a group of players that is nasty with their hands. They lock you up and you really don't stand a good chance of getting off unless you are as equally nasty with the energy of your escape move. The bigs up front for ASU seem to be missing this type of play. Too often you see guys only getting the log roll effect and no real sink of the hand placement. No individual players to high light in this group as everyone played pretty equal. Dominated in the pass and run categories, this group has some growing to do.

The relationship from player to player and how they fit up with one another seems to be off so far and Stanford's front was really able to show that. Twists and stunts can be easily picked up if the line communicates both pre-snap and during the play. If the relationship is there, you don't get some of the pressure that occurred on Saturday. This is a major area of concern and hopefully some big improvement takes place from now until the next game.

Summary

Size or speed wins? How about both? I used to think the Sun Devils were one of the elite teams in the country when it came to speed, yet after watching Saturday's game, I question how much this current roster has from front to back.

Stanford looked to be both bigger and faster than ASU all over the field. The O-Line could not keep up with anything the Cardinal front seven threw at them and it was the clear factor in this football game. When Taylor Kelly is going to be forced to throw 55 times in a football game, there is a good chance the Sun Devils will not be coming out on the winning end as that goes against what this team wants to do. The run game has been atrocious which is a big reason the Devils have struggled to get it all going this season. If you want to win the big games, you have to be able to run the football.

Talking about the Defense

Key Stats

Positive:

None

Negative:

240 yards rushing allowed

Grades

Defensive Line

Grade: D

I said this last season and I am seeing the same trend continue in 2013. The edge defenders on the line of scrimmage seem to struggle when it comes to the relationship between them and the row behind them in the run game. Far too often it looks like the man on the end of the line seems to get caught up and washed down in the B gap which allows a big alley to hit outside of them if the second row is not scrapping outside to fill this force position.

Many times this can be by design, yet it looks like guys seem to take themselves in places they are not supposed to be because of how open that edge becomes. This was so evident against Stanford has they hit ASU hard off tackle on some very key plays throughout the game. The gap responsibilities need to be shored up quickly or this will be a long season when it comes to run defense. Stanford's O-Line and scheme swallowed the front line of ASU more than I have seen in a long time.

Once guys had been worn down physically, they started to get out of form and attempt quick swim moves, spins or counters in the run game, all of which the Stanford O-Line was able to expose. When you attempt these types of moves, you win and lose. ASU lost a lot more than they won up front with their fits and it was clear that Stanford has gained some huge strides when it comes to recruiting the bigs up front. Even in the pass rush, the Devils line looked slow and unable to get any kind of consistent rush against the Cardinal front line. On a positive note, it was great to see Mo Latu emerge and it will be interesting to see his progression through the next two weeks if Jaxon Hood is out for a long period of time.

Linebackers

Grade: D

The theme here is very similar to the defensive front. Poor run fits and lack of ability to get off blocks really hurt the defense all day. Instead of avoiding blockers, it was clear that the technique is to try and fit up a very large offensive lineman, which does not bode well for victory if you are a linebacker. The offensive sets were very basic, giving clear reads in the run game if the keys were followed. The vision to see the play and get yourself in a great position to avoid blockers was.

Chris Young played very hard showing great energy to track down plays. He is a true leader out there with his play and you have to always enjoy watching this as a fan. The emergence of Salamo Fiso was big and hopefully he can keep riding that momentum into the matchup with USC. He could be one of the major improvements this defense needs inside as Steffon Martin seems to be majorly under performing at his linebacker spot.

Secondary

Grade: C+

I thought the secondary played quite well based on the offensive sets Stanford played with. Usually having to match up with larger bodies both in the pass and run game, the ASU secondary played hard and never gave in. Laiu Moeakiola has continued to get better from each game and his instincts to rip the ball out on the play on Gaffney shows why he is out there playing. The group collected some nice productivity on the stat sheet and really did well throwing the bodies in the run defense.

Summary

When you face an offense that is going to bring out eight offensive linemen in their sets, get ready for a pounding. Great run fits and extreme gap discipline are the key factors when you are going to face a team that wants to run the ball like Stanford does. It is very clear that ASU needs to recruit hard up front in the box if you want to compete against these types of teams in his conference. The line of scrimmage is where the game is won and lost. On Saturday, ASU lost that battle big time.

Special Teams

Field Goal Team: F

Zane Gonzalez missed his only attempt of 45 yards.

Kickoff Team: C-

The first play of the game nearly set the tone for what was to come as Stanford ripped off a 50 yard return.

Kickoff Return Team: B

Another average day in the return department. It really looks like ASU needs to pull Marion Grice off this play and put in someone who can turn it up field with elite speed. Foster perhaps? Nelson, Richard Smith?

Punt Team: F-

Two weeks in a row with major mistakes that aided in the Stanford Victory. The spread gate punt has proven to leave too many large rush lanes and if the wall does not hold up, it's going to be an ugly outcome. Matt Haack was clearly not ready for this start. The pooch kick that was blocked showed right tackle Tyler Sulka allowed his man to just soft rush across his face and into the kick lane of Taylor Kelly. Can't take plays off!

Punt Block Team: B

3 returns for 39 yards and a long of 10 for Stanford.

Overall Grades

Offense: C-

Defense: C-

Special Teams: D-

Offensive MVP: Jaelen Strong

Defensive MVP: Carl Bradford

Coming to Tempe is a struggling USC team that has played up and down so far this season, yet this is a game that matters more than most. The Pac-12 south will be a tight race and if USC ever gets their offense moving, they could stir things up.

The Maroon Monsoon will be in full effect and fans will need to do their part to stay behind this team and keep believing in the direction the Sun Devils are heading under Coach Graham and staff.

-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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