If you were a neutral fan, this game had everything you would want to see in a game. One team jumping out early, the other fighting their way back, big hits and lots of fireworks.
Both ASU and UCLA had everything to play for and this would be each team's biggest moment of the season fighting for the Pac-12 South Championship. It took four solid quarters and lots of huge individual efforts, yet the Sun Devils prevailed. Coach Graham and staff in just their second year showed how far they have brought this program. Huge steps forward in such a short amount of time because of all the daily hard work. This game was a defining moment in 2013 proving that this Sun Devil team is for real.
223 Yards Rushing
35 First Half Points
5 of 5 - Red Zone Chances
1 for 1 Field Goal Attempts
1 Fumble Lost - Botched Punt Snap
3 Second Half Points
4 of 12 on Third Down
The Sun Devils came out on fire in the first half and set the tone early on their starting drive. Consistent play up front from the offensive line was a major driving force in the Sun Devils 38 points scored. Big plays from Jaelen Strong, Marion Grice and Taylor Kelly really spurred the Bruins early in this game and allowed the Devils to pace themselves into a second half that had some let downs, yet enough for a hold on the game to not let it go. The third down let downs in the second half were worrisome and nearly let UCLA take over the lead late in the game, yet the whole team stepped up when it mattered most and helped put this game away late.
Taylor Kelly had a lot to prove in this game. His road performances during big games have often ended with critics questioning whether he has the whole package in terms of being an elite quarterback. Saturday's matchup against UCLA was a big time stage and Kelly did not disappoint. He accounted for 324 of Arizona State's 448 offensive yards and two scores both on the ground and through the air. Kelly seemed to find so much running room on his read zone option plays and this was mainly because of the defense UCLA was playing. The Bruins sat back in a two high look for most of the game and allowed the read zone to play itself out with no quarterback player on far too many snaps. This allowed some easy reads for Kelly and he was able to put up a career night on the ground. Congratulations to him and a huge step forward as this teams signal caller.
Marion Grice was his usual productive self collecting167 yards both receiving and rushing. He was so effective as the game pressed on coming up with several amazing runs and a sideline grab that helped spring the offense on a big third down and keep the clock ticking away. D.J. Foster also had a rushing touchdown and was targeted several times through the game. Deantre Lewis once again given few opportunities only collecting two touches. Being that Grice went out at the end of the game with what looks like a serious injury, it will be a big challenge to see these other two backs in Foster and Lewis pick up the rope with so much still to focus on this season. Both are explosive players who can burn a defense, yet are they the every down consistent producer that Grice has proven to be.
One of the more clutch performances we have seen out of this group through the season. Jaelen Strong has been somewhat quiet in recent weeks battling some lower leg issues and yet he turned it up big time this game. His ball skills and ability to work in close quarters was once again on display. Strong's 91 yards and awesome touchdown grab was one of the driving forces behind the Sun Devil's victory. Cameron Smith also came up with a nice 20 yard grab. Disappointing that the rest of the group did not show up on the stat sheet, yet overall the offense seemed to move well down field together and Kelly was 20 of 27 on the night.
This was a very busy night for this position group as both Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson were active in the rushing game. Their multiple looks and ability to keep a defense honest really showed why these two dynamic players are a key rock in this offense. Nelson is so athletic when he gets out in space and his draw on linebackers shows in both the run and pass game. The two only collected three catches between them yet their strong performance in the run blocking and stretch on the defense in the pass game really helped spring plays.
A very solid night up front for the bigs after a shaky last couple performances. Center Kody Koebensky had one of his best games of the year and really helped the inside line work. The consistent mesh of all three of the inside lineman really have proven to be a strength on this offense. Great footwork, good communication can go a long way and has proven such inside with these three offensive lineman. Tackles Evan Finkenberg and Tyler Sulka also played a good game considering UCLA's edge rushers are pretty solid competition. Three sacks allowed in this competition yet the offensive lines play was very deserving of a strong grade.
61 Yards Lost Rushing - 10 TFLs - 9 Sacks
1 INT - 1 Defensive TD
3 of 12 on Third Down Defense
2 of 4 on Field Goal Defense
243 Return Yards Allowed
2 for 3 on 4th Down Defense
This was a game that was looking like a runaway going into half time. ASU had played tremendous on both sides of the ball and the defensive box had clearly come to play once again. The huge momentum play from Carl Bradford on the pick six was a game changer. Aggressive disguising from the secondary and a lot of man coverage with safety help allowed ASU to play aggressive in up front and pin their ears back on attacking Brett Hundley. Chris Young was clearly a staple in the blitz package and his skills brought down Hundley on three different occasions. A huge overall performance from the defense as a whole.
The one major concern and yes, it is a defensive play, is that of the coverage teams. 194 yards returned on six kickoff attempts is just atrocious. Guys were flying out of their lanes on several of these returns and never really put the squeeze on the ball with proper vice. It's one thing to give great effort to get down field, yet it is another thing to completely allow yourself to forget the basics once you approach the ball carrier. Players need to do a better job motoring their feet down and playing square the oncoming target. Just looks like this is a missing detail which is really special teams 101 type technique. Too many guys avoiding blocks and poor feet will allow returns like this. Hopefully this can get fixed ASAP because UofA will most certainly look to exploit this part of the game.
Can you say BIG TIME? That was the impression I left the game with when thinking about the performance of the boys up front. Carl Bradford was an animal once again and showed why he is so dynamic up front. Dropping on certain plays, ball skills, and ability to use counters and climb to the ball in pursuit. The guy is just a special player and his play in this game really helped the Sun Devils win. Davon Coleman also had another elite performance collecting 2.5 sacks and 3.5 TFLs. Coleman's performance on the year to date has surprised me some and I am so proud of how this guy has taken the challenges and ran with them. Congratulations to him and what he has done this season.
The work of Will Sutton and Coleman on their inside and edge stunts really help to open up the rush lanes on the offensive line. Sutton gets so much attention from the opposing offensive guards that his counterparts and fellow lineman reap the benefits when they come free on these stunts.
Overall, this performance up front for the Sun Devils was one of the seasons best and most productive. With play like that, it is hard to lose a game and no doubt their play in the coming game is a major key to victory. Look for violent hands, feet and aggressive pursuit in the coming match up against one of the nation's best rushers. Playing gap sound and doing your job first is going to be the key.
What an amazing performance from senior leader Chris Young. His team leading 13 tackles and three sacks was one of the most impressive games I've recently watched. Young has sort of quietly dominated this season. He goes unsung on a lot of plays and when you break him down and watch his play on every down you realize this guy does his job and wins nearly every rep he takes. He takes on blockers and sheds with violence, hands and hips. He always keeps his head up and sees the field well and he does it all with 100% effort.
Fellow linebacker Salamo Fiso also played a solid game in the run stopping and although he missed several tackles that he should have maid. I've wrote about this before and yet the problems seem to continue and that is the overall play of Anthony Jones. Far too many miscues, missed tackles, poor reads and overall week efforts. I will without a doubt give this guy credit for being a great athlete out that and don't want to take away from his ability to get on the field. Yet, the problem is his output and what he clearly seems to do wrong on a consistent basis. Jones struggles to get off blocks and gives up far too much blocking surface. When he is locked up, he has shown all season that he just rides that block out and never uses his hands to get off, usually letting the ball just ride past him on plays he could give effort to make.
This was the same case on Saturday and he looked out of position on a lot of pass routes as well. It's clear that Jones has been shuffled around the depths a few times because of these issues and play. This is why we have seen so much in the shuffle of positions throughout the season. Jones is a very athletic and capable player which is why the critique needs to be strong when breaking down his play.
Also was a tough go around when you play an athletic quarterback that can extend plays on the ground. Your coverage skills will need to be dialed in and the proper technique and attention to tendencies are vital to success. With the pass rush having so much success on the night, it really started to look easy for the secondary. All but the first play of the game that is when safety Damarious Randall allowed the deep post to run right by him. After that, things were settled and great overall play from the secondary allowed the defensive blitz to work its magic. One of the looks that ASU kept coming back to was a pre-snap zone coverage.
From there they would stem to a cover one/man look that really put pressure on UCLA's read zone pass option game. When you have the receivers locked up in man and can do it well, this type of offensive play calls struggle and so was the case. Several missed tackles out of this group pulled the overall grade down, yet a very solid performance from the secondary was witnessed Saturday night.
Field Goal Team: A
Zane Gonzales was once again perfect on the night and continues to show his consistency. In a game where ever point mattered, he came up big again.
Field Goal Block team: A
UCLA was 2 for 4 on attempted field goals. Defense did their part to rush the kicks and sure enough the missed opportunity on six points seemed to be enough of a point difference for ASU to win the football game.
Kickoff Team: F
Talked about this above, yet far too many players out of position, getting out of their lanes or losing their contain in their lanes. Avoiding blocks too and too much hand fighting allowed UCLA to explode past this team for 194 return yards and really the only driving force that kept the Bruins in the game. Players need to work to put the net on the ball carrier. Rip through tight past your blocker, motor your feet and squeeze the ball. This type of play is a want to play. If you want to go be perfect, you can.
Kickoff Return Team: B
Four returns for 101 yards with a long of 31 from Grice. Still, this group seems to struggle with setting up blocks both on the front and back walls. Guys seem to miss their targets far too often.
Punt Team: F-
Another game and another opportunity to keep getting better with the group proved to be a failure. UCLA was able to return one punt for 49 yards and set up a follow score off that drive. The botched snap was a game changer and also allowed UCLA to score on the following drive. Poor kicking overall with an average of 34 yards. and long of 38 from Alex Garoutte. Matt Haack kicked his lone try 32 yards and Taylor Kelly led the group with a 40 yard touchback. Seems to me that this team has the most success when Kelly punts the ball. Perhaps they should work to keep that group on the field?
Yet, I think one of the biggest concepts to think about here is the players being used on this group. Many of these guys are offensive or defensive starters. That being said, there is usually a plate full in front of them when it comes to their play books and overall output in a game. If you have a special teams group that is full of these types of players, you are often not going to get the same look of a guy that is solely a special teams work horse. Two concepts and something that can always be debated in a lot of different ways. More years of recruiting solid depth usually helps balance out special teams play. Time will tell on the progress here.
Punt Return Team: C-
Two punts from UCLA but just one return for 1 yard. This group always seems to fail up front on the line. Time and time again this season, the punt team gets a free release, and is never picked up which allows defenders to cover easily.
Special Teams: D-
Offensive MVP: Taylor Kelly
Defensive MVP: Chris Young
What an amazing game to watch. The Sun Devils went on the road into the Rose Bowl and pulled out a game that showed just how far this program has come. Coach Graham has laid the foundation since the moment he stepped on campus and in two years has brought this program full circle.
With two more huge games on the line, this season is still ripe for the Sun Devils taking.
A statement game versus rival UofA will prove to be a tougher task that previously thought after the Wildcats beat up on the Oregon Ducks this last week. Almost the perfect setting to light a fire in a great rivalry. This game is going to be one you won't want to miss and Sun Devil Stadium should be rocking. Coach Graham said it best when he was quoted saying this season is a failure if ASU doesn't beat Arizona. You gotta love that mindset and I truly believe this staff and team understand the whole concept on what this game is based on.
Time to go have a great week. Overcome adversity and strive to be great.
The Sun Devils are Pac-12 South Champions.
Now they have to beat the Wildcats and host the Conference Championship game. -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