The Sun Devils needed to prove they were not the team that came in the first half of the Stanford game the previous week while the Trojans needed to show any signs of life in this 2013 season.
The final outcome left the Sun Devils victorious, beating the Trojans 62-41 in devastating fashion and what would be the last game for Head Coach Lane Kiffin.
Overall, it was an exciting game as a fan in the stands. I mean really, what more could you have asked for from the home team? A close battle of who wants in more in the first half that exploded into a stat match in the second with ASU taking advantage of the Trojans and their ability to sustain any consistency.
Taylor Kelly was on fire and showed how quickly he and Jaelen Strong have developed their chemistry. Marion Grice was the star he has been all season and after another four touchdown performance he sits atop the nation with 72 points scored (second place is sitting at 54 points). D.J. Foster finally found pay dirt. Will Sutton, Alden Darby and the defense as a whole showed they are as aggressive as last season when it comes to making the big plays.
Yet, the most impressive group to watch all night was how improved the offensive line played. The boys up front looked night and day when comparing their play to the previous week's performance. Evan Finkenberg and Kody Koebensky showed their leadership as they both played with great passion and showed that you can make great improvements from one week to another if you put in the work.
This was the type of win that is a catalyst. A win that will help continue to push ASU into the national spotlight it so deserves. A win that was in order with all the hard work this team and staff has put in. I for one, could not be more proud of how this team has performed so far this season. There is great evidence of how much fight they have and how when adversity hits, they are not going to back down from it. Truly impressive and something we can sometimes take for granted when appreciating the game of football is how hard adversity will hit a team. That word is not always understood by many of the fans out there, yet adversity is something that defines how good a team really is at season's end and it is not always just on the grass when adversity strikes. This team has the leaders in place and the core values to fight anything that comes their way and Saturday was another perfect example of being witness to that fight in between the white lines.
Talking about the Offense
261 Rushing Yards
351 Passing Yards
7.5 Yards Per Rush
7 for 7 in the Red-Zone
Allowed 3 TFLs
Taylor Kelly was once again very productive as he led the offense with this arm and his legs. This was the player we all learned to love in 2012. The guy that can fly around the field with his legs and make the "Plummer-esque" type plays when it mattered most. He was all of that from the first play of the game to the last. Kelly currently sits 8th in the country for passing yards at 1,370. Another big performance in this next matchup and he will be in the national talk where he rightly deserves to be. Mark May should gave Kelly a helmet sticker this last week yet failed to mention that he also led the team in rushing. Those run plays were some of the biggest moments in Saturday's game. Looking for more of this against Notre Dame.
Marion Grice had four scores and again proved why he is one of the most dynamic players in the country. His ability to un wrap a defense with his pass catching abilities is a rare find and is another reason why he is going to shine at the next level. Grice totaled 177 yards in all purpose and although he looks average at best in the kickoff return game, he is electric everywhere else.
Mr. Deantre Lewis: Can we please all tell you how darn great it is to have you back out there looking like the player we all have waited and wanted you to be? Lewis had several very nice runs and the great gesture by Coach Graham to get him in the end zone was the epitome of what Sun Devil football is all about. That fighting adversity thing... this is the perfect example of it and a true positive storyline. When Lewis goes in motion on the fly sweep plays, you can see how much it pulls both the second and third level edge defenders. This is huge for setting up these types of plays. I'd look for more of that to come if it can be executed as well as it was in Saturday's game.
D.J. Foster finally saw some carries in this game and looks explosive running north and south. Foster doesn't slow play the blocks quite as much as Grice does which usually leaves defenders scrambling to make ankle tackles. Is it just me.. or has Foster seemed to be one ankle tackle away from having about four or five scores this season. Happy to see him finally get in the end zone leaving the USC secondary in the dust.
Chris Coyle found his grove and was open all over the field. Watching the film, he could have easily had a 150+ night as he was finding open seams in the defense on many of his routes. His five catches for 87 yards were impressive and the opening play on offense set the tone for the whole night. De'Marieya Nelson also played well in both the route running and blocking assignments. He is such a freak athlete to watch out there because when you really know how big his frame is (6'3 230lb) you gain great appreciation for how well he moves. Not quite enough touches out of him since game one, yet he helps this offense move down the field when he is in there. Darwin Rogers also came in and had some nice blocking on the edge of the defense working with in pair with Coyle on the Y-H sets. Great to see the offense really using these bodies well.
Jaelen Strong has been good for an A+ all year long thus far, yet it seems his supporting group with the receivers has been M.I.A. Kevin Ozier was the only other true receiver to haul in a catch other than Foster when he is lined up as a WR. Strong pulled in 103 yards on seven catches with about every member of the USC secondary draped all over him. Honestly, some of the catches he has made this season are just jaw dropping. Corners and safeties in perfect position to make the play and he just knows how to use his long arms to work around their bodies and snag his target. When you watch his eyes, they really know how to work back to the quarterback at just the right timing to draw off the defender he is matched up with. Pretty rare to see with such limited time in this offense. 31 receptions in four games.. enter hash tag legit here.
To think that just a week ago this group played one of their worst games in recent years. The offensive line came out strong and confident and it showed. Just watching their body language alone, you could see vast improvement.
This was something I have believed for a long time when it comes to offensive line play and that is just ones overall output of energy from start to finish. If the offensive line can collectively play fired up and inspired for a whole game and not let that energy go when something bad happens (i.e.; first couple series of the Stanford game) great things are going to happen for them.
Kody Koebensky looked very strong inside compared to the prior match up and he really played well in there at center getting on the edge and opening up some nice run lanes. It was also great to watch both Tyler Sulka and Evan Finkenberg work with Darwin Rodgers and Chris Coyle in their down blocks off the edge. This was not the case in previous weeks and again goes back to effort, mindset and energy. Loved watching this group do work and I hope they realize they are the difference makers.
611 total yards and a huge display of fireworks took to Sun Devil Stadium this last Saturday. It was great to watch how much a team can improve from one week to another and this win is a perfect example of that. The run game was opened up because of how much Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster were able to stretch the defense. When you get this whole play book rolling, it is a work of art. Looking forward to seeing this carried over into a big match up against another good defense.
Talking about the Defense
4 of 14 on 3rd Down
1 of 3 on 4th Down
4 Sacks, 9 TFLs
247 Rushing Yards Allowed
A much better performance all around from the defensive line group. Active hands and feet helped create four sacks and seven tackles for loss from this group.
Will Sutton fed himself on the first play of defense and helped start the momentum we have been waiting for. I personally feel that this team rides the wave of momentum he creates and when he goes off, so does everyone else. I hope he realizes this and takes great pride in how much his peers look up to him on this roster. His double team break down was much more aggressive this game as you could tell he was doing a better job holding the point of contact rather than skating out of the gap with a counter move.
This allowed some of his teammates to take advantage. Sutton looked a step faster than the last three weeks and seems to be in much better game shape now as we he has four games under his belt this year.
Davon Coleman came up with one of the biggest plays of the game on defense with his huge third down sack that really took the wind of out of the USC offense. His eyes on that play helped him to step up and work back to the quarterback who avoided the pressure. Great eyes in the pass game up front take you to your targets. If you can see through your points of contact and find the ball, the QB drop and his counter off the rush, you end up with nice sacks like this. Great job by Coleman to step up and make some great plays all over the field with his energy and pursuit as well.
Carl Bradford was active as can be again with five tackles, two TFLs and a great sack. His is a handful for any offensive lineman and has a great aggressive burst off blocks that really allows him to close gaps quickly. I still think that he tends to free lance some from what his original assignment is and sometimes that can allow the big run plays to hit, yet this has been the theme of the defense for the last two years and you can tell they will live or die with this type of play.
Gannon Conway showed up on the stat sheet with a nice sack and two tackles, yet he was a major cause on some of the big run plays that hit. With the need for him inside more because of the loss of Hood, the pressure was on for him to hold his own. It was a clear read that USC tried to expose this and it looked often like Gannon was the favorite to run at. On the double teams, his pads where far too high and he was out of position to clear his eyes because of this.
One of the reasons Hood plays off blocks so well, especially the double teams is because of his height and low pad level. In the end, you hope that Gannon was able to watch himself and learn from some of the mistakes he made.
The disappointment of the night was not seeing Mo Latu but we found out later that he was battling a knee problem all week in practice. Hopefully he will be healed up for this week's matchup because we know he will be needed against a talented Notre Dame offensive line.
Overall this group played very well and showed great cause to get to the football and make plays. Chris Young was a stud all night and easily graded out at with an A for the evening, leading the team in tackles and disrupting play after play. His eye for finding the football and climbing the ladder in pursuit is so great to watch. It is very clear that he understands how plays develop and makes so many plays because of his great angles he takes to get to the ball. If every backer played at the skill level Young has, there would not have been 247 yards given up on the ground.
The one thing I have really noticed this season in his starting role is the play of Anthony Jones. Writing this up previously, it seems that he just does not put forth the aggressive effort you need to really get off blocks and work to holding your assigned gap. More often than not, he really seems like he doesn't have a good lock on where the play is going and because of this he is fighting to read his blocker rather than working to his reads and feeling confident in those reads. It's not easy playing line backer in the Pac-12 as you see all kinds of offenses from week to week and some elite level of lineman playing against you.
Jones just doesn't have the want to at times. The reason I say that is because he looks like he is position to make play after play and just fails to work into the final position needed to actually get it done. I know he has the talent. He just needs to find the way to get it done.
Steffon Martin played strong and had one of his most productive games we have seen. He looked like he was playing at a higher level with the challenging Salamo Fiso inside and the play of Martin spoke of that. Solid play across the board from the group. Need to get better at tackling and working half the blocker. All things will roll from there.
A passing grade from the secondary which played lights out as can be with their turnovers and containment of the passing game. USC didn't throw too much at them through the air and looked very predictable at times, but the boys in the back played with an aggressive approach and it paid off with some exciting big plays.
My main concern with the play of the secondary is their tackling at times. Too many chances at a perfect tackle with body on body and you see guys tending to dive low and only slow down the ball carrier. This happened on several plays and I notice Robert Nelson doing it the most. It's tough when you are outweighed, but that is the reason you should want to play defense. Be aggressive and tackle with attention to detail. You can't go wrong and won't hurt your team if you consistently work for that every play.
Overall, it looked like the secondary worked great in their zone eyes and the relationship from man to man was in solid position at times.
This was a very up and down game for the defense. At times, I wanted to pull my hair out watching the run defense. Yet after watching the last two years of tape on this defense I am really feeling the alignment on snap is what is hurting the run defense more than the players on the field.
You have to love how aggressive ASU plays. TFLs, sacks and big plays all over the field. The reason we want to watch football games. Yet, when you take those risks, stack the line of scrimmage and align for a hit or miss type attack, you are asking for some big hits. The fits where there and the scheme on paper seems like it would stop everything that a defense could see. However we all know this is not how it goes and as soon as a blocker is able to get his seal in the gap, the second level is bound to get gashed if the defense is this up tight. It was a major theme in the Stanford and Wisconsin games as well being that the defense was aligned very similar in both games because of the offensive sets.
The greatest thing that came out of all the aggressive play was the four turnovers. When you have that type of productivity, you should not lose many games.
Field Goal Team: A+
Zane Gonzalez was 2 for 2. A+ job from him.
Kickoff Team: A
The kickoff team was facing one of the most explosive returners in the country in Marqise Lee. His two returns only went for 31 total yards. On the night, USC returned 4 times for a total of 55 yards. Solid effort.
Kickoff Return Team: A/D
Marion Grice is not a pure kickoff returner, yet he pulled together a nice long return of 36 yards and had 78 total yards in the return game. You would still like to see some of our more explosive guys back there, yet Grice does a great job securing the football and making smart decisions.
The reason this grade is both an A and a D is because of the miscue that happened on the onside kick. You are taught to never vacate your spot before the ball is kicked and to have great eyes up for a trick play in those types of situations. That did not happen and yet another special teams' mishap nearly put ASU in another serious bind. If USC was able to get another score in there, the end of the game could have been much more interesting.
Punt Team: A
A game with no blunders and the rugby kick finally introduced in a live situation. Alex Garoutte did a great job getting the ball out and making USC work for a return. The reason the rugby is a great weapon is because of how honest it keeps the return team. The walls and returns cannot be set because the return team must keep honest in play against the running kicker or he will turn that into a gain and keep the chains moving for the offense. You would like to see more of this in the future as I think the Devils had good success with it Saturday night.
Punt Return Team: A
One return for no yards yet no mistakes and solid field position for ASU because of that.
The kicking game seemed much improved in Saturday's game. The rugby punt worked well and allowed ASU to improve in an area that has nagged them for several weeks. Zane Gonzalez was on point making both of his kicks. The coverage teams were hustling and swarmed with pride. A great sight to see and if ASU can do the same this week, all can hopefully be put to bed in the special teams category.
Special Teams: A
Offensive MVP: Marion Grice
Defensive MVP: Chris Young
Sun Devil Stadium was rocking once again this season and the Maroon Monsoon was amazing to be a part of. If the Sun Devils can consistently put together a performance with that type of efficiency, there are not a lot of teams that it cannot compete with.
Another big test awaits them in this upcoming matchup against Notre Dame, a team who has a lot to prove here in 2013 and will be ready to go in Dallas. With the Sun Devils still seeming to struggle both on the road and in the national light, this game will be a very interesting test to say the least.
If the Devils have come full circle, this is a game they should win. If they are still struggling with the mental side of the game and let the attention to detail type plays get away from them, it will be a long afternoon. Personally, I see the Sun Devils leaving Dallas with a victory if they play like they did against USC.
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