Devils in the Details: Colorado

If there was ever a win that felt so somber, Saturday night’s victory in Boulder was that event. The Sun Devils were the clear favorite coming into the evening’s matchup and after adversity struck the Maroon and Gold, many of us left the contest with unanswered questions.

The 38-24 marks ASU’s third victory this season as they kicked off Pac-12 play and I don’t think any of us out there that see the Devils headed into the bye week with anything less.

What we did not envision was the Sun Devils possibly losing two of their stars on both sides of the football. Something that comes with the game of football and all too often can change the outcome of a season. However the name of the game in this sport is adversity and being able to roll with the punches. I can speak volumes about that as my first three years in Tempe were spent working with trainers and doctors every week to try and find a way to stay on the field.

Going forward, I believe we have a coaching staff and group of players that are going to take this opportunity to show how far they have come as a program and showcase the development that has taken place over the last three years. I am personally looking forward to watching certain guys rise to the occasion and take advantage of their opportunity. Ultimately it will define the 2014 Sun Devils and their quest to “leave no doubt”.

Talking about the Offense

What a roller coaster of a night it was. Explosive plays, dropped balls, missed opportunities and yet a productive night overall scoring 38 points in three quarters. What I took away from Saturday was the Sun Devils’ lack of execution on third down which resulted in a 4 of 13 conversion ratio.

Solid offensive line play allowed the Devils to run the football well and was the major difference when they pushed inside Colorado’s 40-yard line as the play action and field opened up. The Buffalos dared ASU to throw the football often lining up in man coverage and playing the receivers tight. Another reason the running game was as successful as it was. Zero turnovers and 28 points off our defensive efforts was the major difference in this game.

Positive Stats

23 Yards rushing (6.4 YPC)

7.1 Yards per play

Zero turnovers

4 for 4 Red-Zone chances (3 TD, 1 FG)

28 Points off of turnovers

48.1 Yards per punt (3 Inside 20, 3 - 50+ Yards)

Negative Stats 18 First downs

4 of 13 on third down (seven punts)

Position Grades

Quarterback

Grade: B+

A mixed bag of goods here. Taylor Kelly played strong for three quarters, tossing three scores and rushing for 70 yards. He had several balls dropped and overall I thought he played a solid game with good reads. Mike Bercovici came in at a point in the game where the Sun Devils still needed a push and didn’t really impress with the opportunity. He was sacked once and went 2-4 for eight yards. Headed into the bye week, you would love to hear the reports that Bercovici is taking off and the offense doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Running Backs

Grade: A

Another game of impressive running as D.J. Foster again combined for 200+ yards of offense. His skill set and ability to line up all over the field really makes it hard on the defense. He has proven for the last three years that his hands are some of the best o n the team and with that option he really opens up the field. The only critique I took away from Foster’s play was his pass blocking on several plays. He looked to lunge into defenders rather than keeping his base and working his hands into the blocks. This allowed a rush to impact the play on several occasions.

Kalen Ballage did not have any rushes, however he showed us that no one better be in his way when he heads down field, as evident in his 38-yard reception for a touchdown. No other running backs impressed this game as the rest of the stables combined for three carries for 9 yards.

Wide Receivers

Grade: C+

An above average passing grade for the receivers, yet still below what we expect this group can accomplish. Dropped balls on several big opportunities did not help the offensive efforts. What I did enjoy watching though was the efforts in the run game downfield which showed a lot of activity and “want to” when it came to engaging their defenders. The one player that needs to step up going forward is Cameron Smith. I personally believe this young man can be a game changer with his skills and we are waiting and watching for him to start making those plays.

Tight Ends/H-Back

Grade: B+

Finally we see this group get on the stat sheet somewhat as both De’Marieya Nelson and Kody Kohl both recorded a catch. What you love seeing are their efforts this game in the run department. Lots of aggressive technique. Nice squared up pads, making strong contact to clear holes. This allowed Foster to really push the ball and when you have this group working hard like that the numbers and success should speak for themselves.

Offensive Line

Grade: A

We have been waiting to watch this group gel and I think this game was finally the starting point. Great efforts all around from the tackles through the interior line. What is most exciting about this group is their effort in space. When a group is this athletic where they can really get out and run you are going to have all types of play calling open up in the book. Nick Kelly, Christian Westerman and Vi Teofilo really did a tremendous job inside with their push and zone blocking schemes.

I think they have it pretty well figured out when it comes to working in pairs and finishing up to the second level. Solid hand placement, good hip explosion and really great feet out of those three inside. I really want to give some credit to Tyler Sulka as well as I think he has shown he has some very concrete technique. Good pass sets, strong hands and can work the island by himself. Very strong guy that needs some more credit over there at the right tackle position.

Talking about the Defense

The Sun Devils may be young on defense in terms of playing experience and youth out there, yet that is no reason to come up with any reason why this group can’t succeed. A bend but don’t break mentality seemed to be the scenario Saturday night and that will only take you so far in this conference with some of the elite offenses you will encounter. At times, Colorado seemed to move the ball at will, out rushing the Sun Devils with 232 yards as well as out throwing them by 110 yards (313 passing yards - 545 Total Yards). This more often than not will lose you games by a wide margin yet it was the efforts to turn the ball over that won this game for the Sun Devils. Two interceptions and a great forced/recovered fumble ultimately was the difference in a 28 point swing.

Position Grades

Defensive Line

Grade: D+

This looks like a harsh grade and mostly it is because of the efforts given on a lot of plays. As the game wore on, there were a lot of “loafs” that look place. Overall guys just not giving 100 percent up front and I think it was where this game got away from the Sun Devils. I am most certainly not here to call anyone out, yet you would really hope that with a bye week in place the coaches will press this group to work on giving maximum effort on every play because it can go a long way at day’s end.

It looks like Antonio Longino has taken over the Devil Backer position (Weak-side End). His night collected 10 total tackles which were all solo, a sack and pass break up. He really looked good off the edge and caused some nice pressures. Both he and Marcus Hardison still looked like they were penetrating a bit too deep in the backfield on certain run plays which opened up some lanes. That starts with really reading the offensive tackles first step and working to heel depth if you are uncertain of the play read. Taking yourself upfield too far is really going to stretch the B Gap and make it hard on the inside backers and interior lineman.

Marcus Hardison looks like he has come a very long way since last season and showed that he can use his hands well. He counters off using those hands with strong moves. He tends to bulrush a bit too much and you would love to see him get on the edge and work half the man a bit more. A player who took advantage of his reps was Demetrius Cherry. I thought he looked very nice inside and showed some very good technique escaping off blocks and working his gap. Such a large frame he has and you would love to see that production continue.

Tashon Smallwood did not contribute on the stat sheet and it really looked that way throughout the game. Too many times it looks like the youngster gives up on his rush and sort of allows himself to be swallowed up. He needs to play with longer arms and get his pads away from the blocker. We know he is very explosive yet none of that matters if you don’t give the effort to work off blocks and finish plays. Same can be said for Jaxon Hood as there were a lot of plays that showed example of Hood not working all the way through his technique. Giving up his pads and allowing the blocker to win his matchup. Going into the bye week this position group needs to work on their effort from play start to finish. Stay in it and always believe your effort is going to make the difference. Don’t be a guy who is going to wait for someone else to make the play.

Linebackers

Grade: C+

This was a tough night when leader Laiu Moeakiola went down with a shoulder injury. Moeakiola has been the leader on defense through three games and really sets the tone with his effort impacting play after play. When he came out, it looked like the Colorado offense started to get things going.

Salamo Fiso played one of his worst games I’ve seen in recent memory and really looks like he is playing much slower than last year’s effort. His pursuit and ability to work in space is very unsuccessful at times. He needs to work his strengths and to a great job attacking the assigned gap. Really explode and make great contact with his engaged blocker. It looked like at times he was playing very tired and with that said, there was no major impact inside when he would press his blocker and try and impact the ball.

D.J. Calhoun looks like he is still learning as we go which is completely expected for the freshman. At times, he is totally locked in and really makes some awesome plays while we will also see the inexperience come out as well with his reads and over pursuit/running around blocks. He is not the biggest Will linebacker you will ever encounter which makes it hard for him to always be effective in the run defense.

Christian Sam is another player that will need to step up to the opportunity if Moeakiola is not available for the UCLA game. The freshman came in and did a very solid job. A great read on his interception and showed off his rush ability as well collecting a sack. Tremendous athlete that can really play a lot of different looks.

Secondary

Grade: C

After watching the tape I really have a lot of questions about this position group and their assignments in Saturday’s game. Let’s start with the positives. Jordan Simone came up huge. Every game I have watched him closely and you can really see the improvement from week to week so far. With that said, his stats speak for themselves this game as he led the team in tackles with 13 (12 Solo, 2 TFL), caused a key fumble and picked off a 29 yard interception/return. Great reads and clearly he is settling into his free safety position.

Damarious Randall also played a great game with his 11 solo tackles. Without those efforts from both safety positions, this game could have been much different! That being said, a major concern we’ve seen is the pass defense from the secondary all together which Colorado looked to really expose.

There were a lot of plays where ASU was in a cover-1 look, the down and distance showed 10 yards or less, and wide receivers were able to run easy come back routes, dig routes and simple slants to get wide open and thus move the chains. You have to question the technique and if players are following their coaches instructions and paying attention to the big picture in the scheme of things. Too many open lanes down the seams and what looks like aggressive coverage, were played out with receivers winning a majority of their reps. I noticed several times the corners seemed to be lost in the route concept they were seeing and committed to running the wrong break and CU had easy choices. As ASU goes forward into this schedule they have to know they are going to be seeing a pass game that is much more successful than that of Colorado and hopefully these areas get major work this bye week.

Special Team Grades

Kickoff Team: B-

Five opportunities and a 22.6 yard average for CU in their return game. The longest return came from Lindsay Phillip as he ran for 46 yards. Key position is key and one big play like that can change the outcome of a game. Guys need to do a better job avoiding blocks with aggressive hands and really squeeze the ball. Several times you can see players not breaking down their feet and thus some lanes were opened up. Two touchbacks.

Field Goal Team - PAT: A+

1 for 1 for Zane Gonzalez from 31 yards out. 5 for 5 on extra points.

Punt Team: A+

This was a career night thus far for Matt Haack. Seven punts and averaging 48.1 yards. A long of 57 yards and three inside the 20. If Haack can continue to kick the ball like this ASU will win a lot of field position battles.

Kickoff Return Team: Incomplete

Colorado kicked off five times with all five of those going into the end zone as touchbacks. ASU is the only team in the country not to record a kickoff return this season.

Punt Return Team: D

Still an area that we have seen little to no production. Three punt return opportunities with one return for five yards. The effort by the front line in this group is very below average and more often than not they are not winning their blocks. Too many defenders running down field on these plays and ASU stands no chance at a return game with that effort.

Team Grades

Offense: B+

Defense: C

Special Teams: B+

Offensive MVP: D.J. Foster

Defensive MVP: Jordan Simone

The bye week comes at a good time with injuries and questions surrounding the 2014 Sun Devils in this young season. A week off to really study the tape and reflect on what can be improved is going to be key heading into a three game stretch that has been labeled this year’s “Gauntlet”.

With what looks like an extended period of time for senior quarterback Taylor Kelly to be out, we must all do our part and step up, fully supporting Mike Bercovici! This young man has done nothing but represent Sun Devil nation with such class and all we want his for him to succeed in TK’s absence. There is no doubt that he understands this playbook just like a starter should and I would like for nothing to change going forward on that topic. Let us all do our part and keep Speaking Victory into the bye week and get geared up for a huge impact game against the Bruins.

-KC50

Defensive end Kyle Caldwell played for ASU 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.


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