Mid-Season Snapshot: ASU Offense
Quarterback Their methods may differ, but both starter Taylor Kelly and backup Mike Bercovici have each made sure that the well oiled machine that is the Arizona State offense will exceed even its own eye-popping statistics from 2013 (457.3 yards and 39.7 points per game). The zone read scheme has worked effectively with Kelly at the helm, but it did appear that his passing skills in the nearly three games played haven’t improved from last season and albeit with a small sample size his passing yards per game and accuracy declined. On the other hand, he certainly displayed enhanced abilities running the ball and orchestrated a rushing attack that averaged over 300 yards per game after the first three contests. Kelly has been sidelined since late in the third quarter of the season’s third game versus Colorado, back on September 13th. Mike Bercovici didn’t play all that well in the last quarter of that game, but his improvement there on after has been quite evident. A 42-68 passing night (both school records) for 488 yards and three touchdowns was somewhat negated but his three turnovers, one of them an interception retuned for a touchdown in a loss to UCLA. Against USC, dramatic win or not, the signal caller was 27-45 for 510 yards and five touchdowns in one of the most impressive performances in school history. However, during those two games while passing numbers skyrocketed, the ground attack did suffer. As we write this article, it’s unclear whether Kelly will be healthy enough to start versus Stanford on October 18th or will Bercovici see his third ever start for the Sun Devils. Head coach Todd Graham said on many occasions that his has the best starting and backup quarterbacks in the country and this tandem has certainly done enough to backup that statement. Running Back As mentioned, when it comes to the running game you can clearly divide the season to the Kelly and Bercovici time periods, if you will. Kelly who’s more of a run threat was part of a rushing attack that was among the best in the nation. UCLA and USC took notice of that and geared their defenses to curtail ASUs running game, which in turn just averaged 84.5 yards game the last two weeks. D.J. Foster probably felt that trend more than anyone. The junior who had 510 rushing yards in just the first three games, posted just 43 yards in the last two contests. But his roommate Bercovici made sure that Foster stayed involved in the offense and in turn the running back averaged 70.5 yards receiving per contest. All in all, his 833 all-purpose yards, a figure that much more impressive since he doesn’t play on special teams, illustrate why Foster could still be regarded the team’s MVP to date due to his all-around impact on offense and a player that figures to continue and be one of the most instrumental to the offense’s success. Senior Deantre Lewis has started to pick up a little steam as of late. True freshmen Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard found more success in the non-conference portion of the schedule as they continue to find their way as newcomers. Offensive Line This group came into the season as possibly the most stout unit on the team and judging by their performance they have lived up to those lofty expectations. 1st in the Pac-12 in sacks surrendered, and despite the struggles of the rushing offense in the last two weeks ASU still ranks second among league teams in that category. All this group needs to do is essentially just stay the course and continue to be a solid foundation for this offense. Wide receivers This group has been the Achilles’ heel of this offense the last two seasons. Nonetheless, it has effectively gotten over the hump in the first five games, and was equally as impressive in their run blocking in the first three games. Surely, their fine play receiving wise is spearheaded by Jaelen Strong who leads the conference in receiving yards per game with 122.8 and has shown marked improvement from an already impressive 2013 season. We talked about Foster’s contributions in the passing game, but a player who perhaps has even been more important in this area is wide receiver Cameron Smith who has shown throughout fall camp that he can be that ever so important complement to Strong in the no. 2 wide receiver role and his play especially in the last two weeks has been quite encouraging. Other receivers such as Gary Chambers and Ellis Jefferson have stepped up as of late and round out a group that packs a lot of promise as we enter the later stages of the 2014 season. Tight Ends This group definitely did its part in adding a very potent running game, but lately is getting more noticed in the passing game, namely Kody Kohl who at least with Bercovici behind center is becoming one the more favorable targets for the quarterback. De’Mariyea Nelson is probably the tight end we expected to see really shine in the passing game, but shifting back and forth to defense has naturally affected that proposition to some extent. Despite overall gaudy statistics, ASU is only ranked 3rd in the Pac-12 in total offense and scoring offense. This is a testament to the overall caliber of offense in the league and with an inexperienced Sun Devil defense that is still experiencing growing pains, you feel as if the ASU offense may even have to ramp up their production that much more and put the team in the best position to win.
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