Devils in the Details

Welcome back to the 2014 edition of “Devils in the Details”. All of us are excited that football is underway and ready for the Sun Devil Football team to show us their progress coming into Coach Todd Graham’s third year. So much buzz has surrounded the program this off season and the Top 20 pre-season ranking speaks about how far this team has come in just three short seasons.

Much to prove this year and the title “Unfinished Business” sums up the teams mentality after a two game skid ended the 2013 football season.

As you many of you know, this breakdown will analyze each position group in detail and place a grade on the group as a whole based on their individual performances, efforts and stats. So here we go.

Talking about the Offense

What seemed like a very slow start to the game after three opening drives that sputtered, we saw the Devils spark a fire that led to 31 points heading into halftime. A very balanced attack which was reflected by 339 total yards of offense (101 rushing, 3 Touchdowns - 238 passing, 1 touchdown). The second half showed lots of second and third team players which were able to come into the game and really get some solid reps finishing out the game with 570 total yards (303 passing, 267 rushing). A very strong showing to open the season which stemmed from a fairly basic game plan and play calling format.

Team Stats

32 first downs

9-17 on 3rd down, 1-1 on 4th down

0 turnovers

5.9 yards per rush

7.8 yards per pass

Position Grades

Quarterback

Grade: B

Getting the bugs out in a live setting can often take a game and that seemed to be the case for both Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici. In the first half, we saw Kelly miss some very easy throws, especially when he tried to stretch the field. Credit to Weber State for trying to play as much man coverage as they could yet it seemed like the passing game was just a bit off at times when it came to anything further than 12 yards downfield. Kelly showed some toughness on several plays early sitting in the pocket and taking some hits as he was delivering the ball. In comparison to some of the late games in the season last year, I thought he did a great job sitting in the hole, setting his feet and throwing through his targets. This was a solid start to the season for this group yet I am looking forward to watching the pass game vs. New Mexico.

Running Backs

Grade: A

D.J. Foster had his coming out party as a mainstay in the backfield as he put on a video game like performance dashing through traffic and spinning off tacklers. This performance reminds me of some of his junior and senior year highlights at Saguaro High School where you could just tell that the speed of the game has truly slowed down for him and he is able to really scan the field and find space to work. A three-touchdown performance from him was surely was a great way to start the season off.

Kalen Ballage was also able to find the end zone in his first game and showed he is going to be a nice counterpart to Foster. Ballage only averaged 3 yards per carry; however I would assume that will increase as we move forward. I thought Demario Richard looked nice on his play calls and really seemed to keep his feet moving strong on contact.

The three of these young backs are going to add so much to this offense because they all complement one another so much. As the playbook opens up, I’d imagine you really start to see these three on the field in a nice rotation and working together in the same sets. The running backs also accounted for six catches for 54 yards.

Wide Receivers

Grade: A

This was another group that performed very solid in their opening game. Led by Jaelen Strong (10 catches for 146 yards and nearly two scores) the receivers all showed great effort working their routes and run blocking assignments. Gary Chambers pulled in the first touchdown of the season on a nice rub route with Jaelen Strong down near the goal line. I have a feeling that both Chambers and Cameron Smith really have a special year in the offense this year.

Ellis Jefferson also showed some production grabbing a touchdown pass from Bercovici in the second half. Watching their efforts in the run blocking game I was definitely impressed as this was an area last year I thought they were weak at times.

Tight Ends - H-Backs

Grade: B+

Not involved in the passing game yet very much so in the run blocking schemes, both Kody Kohl and De’Marieya Nelson did their part to work with the offensive line and push the ball downfield. Nelson has looked very explosive in camp coming into the season and I love the way he engages defenders. You love to see the hip explosion and aggressive hands on contact and he definitely knows how to get that done. Always driving his feet forward and does it all with a mean sense about him. Kohl also looked solid on most of his blocking yet there were several plays early in the game where he fell off blocks and his man affected the play. He needs to just get his base up under him a bit more and work to keep those feet strong in the ground. Another tight end you got some late reps was Grant Martinez. At this point in the game, ASU was mainly running the football yet Martinez looked to give good effort on all his assignments.

Offensive Line

Grade: B

I thought this was the only offensive group that may have performed less than they are capable of. Early in the game, the offensive line just seemed like they were out of cohesion and thus the results. There were several plays early in the game that showed defenders coming off double teams too easy, affecting plays as well as some breakdowns in the pass blocking. The defensive front of Weber State were able to counter inside at times and that is typically rule number one for any offensive lineman, especially tackles, to not give up.

After the first quarter, the first group looked to have figured it out and the gains started coming. I really loved the efforts of Jamil Douglas and Christian Westerman when they were working out in space. Lots of examples of them leaving their feet to blow up defenders and executing their assignments at a top level. Seeing that New Mexico gave up so many yards on the group in their first game, I really look forward to watching this group step it up a notch and get after it from the first series.

Overall, the offense performed very well against an inferior opponent and had the starters stayed in to compete the whole game, you would probably be looking at a 60- point margin of victory. Very pleased with how ASU finished the game on this side of the ball and it will be fun to see them compete against New Mexico this coming Saturday.

Talking about the Defense

If there was any doubt about how aggressive ASU likes to play up near the line of scrimmage, this game showed they were set out to continue that trend. Stacking the box, overloading the offensive line of Weber State, ASU played with their hair on fire and it was very fun to watch. With that type of play you know you will give up a play or two which happened against the Wildcats last Thursday, yet that is something you are going to live and die in the Devils defense. Two scores given up and both of these came off aggressive play calls.

Defensive Stats

14 points allowed

5-15 on 3rd down defense

0-1 on 4th down defense

308 total yards allowed

14-29 pass attempts against (156 Yards)

0 Turnovers

2 Sacks

Position Grades

Defensive Line

Grade: A

With all of the talent the talent that left the front line of ASU’s defense, there has been lots of questions coming into the 2014 season surrounding this group. Watching pre-season camp there were several players that really stuck out and sure enough their performances against Weber State continue to build on that.

Edmond Boateng played a strong game and really showed some bright flashes in defending the run. I thought his hand placement, long arms and extension up front on the blockers was really impressive to watch. He seemed to have a good nose for getting in and effected plays. A very long frame on him even though he is only listed at 6’3.

Tashon Smallwood also looked to have completed a strong first start in his freshman campaign. Go figure the true freshman jumps offsides on his first snap as a starter, I guess getting those jitters out early. He has one heck of a get off and although I think he needs to work on his press, he has all the tools to succeed and play well this season for the Devils. As the game wore on, he looked to get a bit lazy with his counter moves but this is all part of continuing to develop as a freshman and getting yourself in great game shape. It will truly be fun to watch Smallwood develop this season.

For missing the first couple of weeks of camp, I thought Jaxon Hood came in and played very stout against the Weber State offensive line. I love when Hood stakes his inside slant steps and works around blockers. He has a good knack at getting skinny and working his shoulders down and into the gap. So disruptive and it works well for him because of his height when he is allowed to cross face like this.

One of the things I was disappointed in was the penetration on several clear run downs where the line, especially the ends, came shooting up field allowing some huge holes to from inside. This was one of the reasons Weber State was able to spring their big first quarter run and their second half touchdown (against the second team). Had the line held their own up front and just squeezed the blocks on the line of scrimmage, these two runs would not have happened. This has been the case over the last two years as well which has come back to gash the ASU defense.

Linebackers

Grade: A

All around a great performance from this group. Playing aggressive with the scheme, overloading sides of the ball and playing downhill, Salamo Fiso, Viliami Moeakiola and crew were really able to wreck some havoc. I was especially pleased to see how active Moeakiola was up and around the line of scrimmage. He was in on so many plays and his half sack with Nelson was great to see. Fiso also collected a nice sack as he ran free off the edge early in the game.

The freshman we have all been talking about, D.J. Calhoun, sure did impress in his first start. Breaking up passes, effecting play after play, he just seems to play with crazy fast speed and will sure be a stud on this defense for quite some time.

Secondary

Grade: B+

Probably one of the most athletic groups ASU has seen on the back end in quite a while. Solomon Means, Lloyd Carrington, Damarious Randall, James Johnson and Jordan Simone can flat out cover and will be a part of some great plays this season. At times, there were some zone breakdowns and over aggressive play which led to some plays for Weber State which is why the grade is not an A. This is one group I am looking forward to watching as the season progresses and I think Colorado will be the first big test for this group since New Mexico does not throw the ball all that much.

Great start to for the defense this last Thursday and a group of players that are really only going to get better as the game reps continue. Goal line stops and lots of guys effecting plays all over with great effort is what you expect to see against a team line Weber State and I was very pleased with the overall product.

Special Team Grades

Field Goal Team: A

Zane Gonzalez was 1 for 1 from 33 yards away and 6-6 on PATs.

Punt Team: A

Matt Haack averaged 40.8 yards on five punts with a long of 48 yards. Solid effort from him after a shaky 2013 campaign. Taylor Kelly was also able to pin the ball inside the 5-yard line as he has done so many times with his 46 yard boot.

Punt Block/Return Team: B

This group would have a C- grade if it were not for the blocked punt. The ability to stay on their blocks off the line of scrimmage and not allow their assignments to work downfield showed an area where they need much improvement.

Kick Off Team: A

This was a great showing from the kickoff team. Lots of players working hard to get downfield and thus some big hits and bad starting field position for Weber State.

Kick-Off Return Team: Incomplete

Team Grades

Offense: A

Defense: A

Special Teams: A

Offensive MVP: D.J. Foster

Defensive MVP: D.J. Calhoun

Great way to start the season with a 45-14 point victory. Now it’s time to take on New Mexico. Let’s keep watching the 2014 Sun Devils improve game by 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 2008, 2011 and 2013 Class 4A Division I state championship.


Sun Devil Source Top Stories