Devils in the Details: Stanford

The 2014 season needed a signature victory and this last Saturday provided exactly that as Stanford was out done in all three aspects of the game. Four consecutive losses to the Cardinal had haunted ASU especially this last season’s Pac-12 championship loss. Well, the Maroon Monsoon came and it washed away the past for now and all sorts of questions surrounding this Arizona State football team.

Talking about the Offense

From the beginning of the game you could tell ASU was going to come out and work their play book to the best of their ability. Lots of tight end wing sets and formations in place that gave the Devils the best chance to succeed against a good sized #1 ranked Stanford defense.

Coach Norvell stuck to his play calling and we witnessed lots of run-pass reads that worked great setting up play action and open passing lanes. ASU knew it would have its work cut out of them on the ground as Stanford always plays stout at the line of scrimmage yet drives stayed alive on short yardage situations and the offensive line played very well as 356 yards of offense were put up. The 34:57 time of possession was one of the major factors in this win and the offense did a great job helping keep the defense off the field, controlling the clock. This season has shown a trouble converting third downs and ASU was able to go 9 of 19 on third and 1 of 1 on fourth down - huge improvement.

Had the drives not stalled down near field goal range, the Sun Devils could have easily put up another 21 points yet Zane Gonzalez came through with a huge performance that lifted the team when Stanford stood strong. Great overall performance from the offense that put up 26 points.

Positive Stats:

80 Offensive Plays

Zero Turnovers

8 First Downs Rushing - 14 Passing

9 of 19 on Third Down - 1 of 1 on Fourth Down

Red-Zone Scores-Chances 6 of 6

34:57 Time of Possession

Negative Stats:

36 Yards Lost Rushing - 12 TFLs, 4 Sacks

Position Grades

Quarterback

Grade: A

Mike Bercovici was out there throwing darts again. His 23 of 33 passing with one score was a major catalyst to the victory. I thought he looked even more confident in his pocket presence and showed some amazing feet keeping plays alive. The best example of this was early in the second quarter when he avoided the rush and put it on Ellis Jefferson for the first down on what was a huge play at the time. He also had three scrambles that lead to first downs and had a great burst to get up field on those. Just an overall great performance from the gun slinger.

The one thing I took away that is both good and bad was some of his throws that were very low on his targets and made it hard for the receivers to scoop the ball and make the play. You know he is probably trying to place the ball there were only his guy can go down and get it but you can push those throws just another foot or two higher and still have the same outcome. Another topic I charted was the read zone and how it is affecting the run game since it has been a topic of concern.

I saw 21 plays that looked like they had a true run or pass read built into them. Of these 21, Berco only kept two of them - one of which was a TFL and the other a pass option he took. From the 19 other plays, there were 6 clear opportunities where he could have pulled the ball and gained positive yards. Just wanted to pass along this information here because I know it is a hot topic. It is very clear the coaches are asking him to give the ball on these plays to keep him healthy and work with the talent in place.

Yet it all goes back to if you are going to run those plays, and ask for the quarterback to give the ball, you have to account for the backside end a bit more or that player will often hunt the play down and wreck havoc on the ball carrier - the example of D.J. getting blown up on the goal line. The last couple of performances from Berco have showed him getting better and playing with more confidence. Not to add the pot of controversy, yet it’s going to be hard for the offense to quit something that is working so good. Running Backs

Grade: A

37 carries from the stables that helped promote a balanced attack moving the ASU offense. D.J. Foster netted 59 yards while Deantre Lewis had it going early with 47. The freshman, Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard collected only three carries and it is clear that the offense is starting to settle with Lewis and Foster in the backfield. Foster led the team in receiving yards with 92 and his 151 all purpose was another individual performance that demonstrated his dominance in 2014.

Love watching the two -back sets with him and Lewis coming out of the backfield. Too quick to match up with linebackers in the second level and if you bring help down to try and cover the flats, and curl zones you are just opening up the seams in the deeper pass concept. My major critique would come from watching Lewis and his pass blocking technique. He was blown up on several plays when he stayed in, one of which he allowed a third down sack. He tends to set his feet to flat on these plays and doesn’t really give himself a chance. You would like to see him come into those blocks with more hip explosion and deliver the contact. This would help him greatly.

Tight Ends

Grade: B

This is a position group that has had a roller coaster of a season in terms of production and overall play. Yet I think this week we saw offensive sets that worked to the best of their strengths. The tight end - wing looks that ASU put together worked well to overload the box on certain plays and was successful setting up pass routes as well. Either flexed out or playing attached, I still watch Kody Kohl and feel he is capable of more when it comes down to winning blocks and finding ways to pull in the ball (he has had several drops over the last couple of weeks). He is not a guy, based on size, that is going to bull you over up front yet I see him too often with his arms playing too far out in front of him which allows defenders to throw him off balance with ease. If he can lower his pads a bit and play with a base under him I think he would see some better success in the run blocking department. Just got to make sure you give 110% effort out there on that edge or the zone blocking plays are going to get beat up at the point of attack.

De’Marieya Nelson had a great game both on offense and special teams showing he is a great utility guy. Three catches for 39 yards and a couple of big first downs showed him with some production as well. Still hoping to see him get more involved in the offense going forward because he is so explosive and can really cause some major mismatches, especially down near the goal line. Solid game from this group.

Wide Receivers

Grade: B+

Another game that showed this group working very hard and impacting the game to the best of their abilities. Jaelen Strong put on another dominating performance with 75 yards and a score. You can truly see that when the ball is coming his way, he knows he is going to catch it. He high points everything so well and really does a great job bringing the fight to the defender rather than giving up opportunities to get beat. Really enjoyed watching some of his moves off the line of scrimmage which showed him working double moves and great effort with his hands.

Cameron Smith had 24 yards on three catches and Ellis Jefferson also had a big 20 yard grab on third down. Finding ways to keep these two involved is key. If Kelly is going to be the starter this next game against Washington, this group needs to work even harder to get him going and keep this passing game rolling like it has been.

Offensive Line

Grade: B

Good and bad out of this group as the film is looked over. I thought that both Christian Westerman and Jamil Douglas had their best games. Each of them was dominating in their own fashion up front doing a great job working the first and second levels. Westerman looked to be playing with a ton of energy and I loved watching him engage his defensive lineman and how he would work that block to a win and move off with violence to the linebacker coming down hill. Saw several great examples of this.

Right Tackle Tyler Sulka also had a solid game holding it down on his island. I think he is probably the best true pass blocker out there when it comes to technique. The disappointing performances inside were watching both Vi Teofilo and Nick Kelly work together. Teofilo had probably his worst game of the year in terms of missed blocks and getting beat in his assignments. There were some big TFLs that Stanford was able to produce because his gap in the zone read was won by the defense. Kelly and him seem to struggle some when it comes to working together on those zone blocking plays and Stanford was able to work the interior line fairly well.

A solid performance as a whole yet things to work on going forward no doubt.

Talking about the Defense

Can you say breakout game for a group that has struggled here in 2014?! If the defense ever needed a boost of confidence and a production chart that showed their success, this was the game. Lots of scheme dialed up that really gave Stanford some tough fits up front. ASU came out in multiple looks, especially on the perimeter defense that had to have made it hard for Stanford to know what look was coming. Great blitz calls led to two sacks out of the secondary and a run defense that shut down a team that is known for running all over their opponents. Great night for the Sun Devil defense. Holding any Pac-12 team to 10 points is a huge win.

Positive Stats:

14 First Downs Allowed - 6 of 16 on Third Down - 1 of 2 on Fourth

288 Yards Allowed - 76 yards Rushing

1 of 2 on Red-Zone Scores-Chances

Negative Stats:

None

Position Grades

Defensive Line

Grade: B

The defensive line as a whole only accounted for four tackles yet the defensive team production stemmed from the contribution up front. ASU rolled out some new bodies for this game and gave Stanford a bigger front to compete with. Demetrius Cherry and Mo Latu came in and gave the front a big boost when it came to size.

Rolling in and out of a pass rush/run fit front, the Sun Devils showed they could hang with Stanford’s bigger offensive line. With that being said, and Stanford passing more than usual, ASU did lack a pass rush once again from the front line group. Cherry showed he really has no true rush moves when he is out on the edge. He just does not have the speed or hips to really press the pocket and run the hoop out there. Love to see him stay on the field on pass downs yet keep him inside to work the bull rush on the offensive guards.

The same could be said about Mo Latu on pass downs. The scheme up front called for several End/Tackle twists and watching Latu try and execute these was painful as he couldn’t seem to get out of first and second gear. Move the fact that he was out there though contributing and I would look to hopefully see that role further developed. Hopefully a better balance of pass rushers and run defenders find their way out there on true pass downs though so that the ASU defense can benefit from a rush.

Edmond Boateng played quite a bit on Saturday and I still think he is not playing up to his potential. You look at the guy, long, lean and has the tools to work that edge and win nearly every play, yet it doesn’t happen. Overall, a very strong showing from the defense and it started with the energy up front. Something to build on with this group.

Linebackers

Grade: A

By far this group’s best game of the season. Salamo Fiso played what I believe to be the best game of his 2014 campaign and he showed a huge improvement of energy and overall output on each play. Coach Graham had him lining up in several different looks and the defense was having some huge success when they would overload Stanford’s weak side edge, bringing Fiso crashing down to pick up the backside of the play. He had several really nice stops chasing down from the backside.

Antonio Longino also played his most productive game of the season leading the team in tackles with eight and a forced fumble. I really liked him playing back a row and thought he did a very nice job reading the offense and taking on blockers from depth. This may be his best fit when we go against some of the bigger teams left on the schedule.

Laiu Moeakiola also played a very strong game. You can see he still favors the shoulder some when he takes on blocks yet he plays so quick with his feet that it looks very hard for blockers to get a clean shot on him. Just a great overall effort from this position group and a grade that reflects that. Still some things to work on in the zone pass defense out of this group when it comes to eyes and feeling the presence in your zone and working to it. Just have to follow your keys and know the scouting report.

Secondary

Grade: A+

Huge plays all night long both on defense and special teams from this position group. The overall contribution these put out was one of the main factors in the Sun Devils victory. Damarious Randall’s huge impact play on Ty Montgomery to disrupt the punt will go down as one of the best plays this season. Big plays from DeAndre Scott causing a fumble, Jordan Simone laying some hits, Randall and Lloyd Carrington with huge momentum building sacks all showed a group that was ready for the challenge.

I thought both Armand Perry and Kweishi Brown both played their best games of the season as well and the results speak for themselves. Congratulations to the secondary - You deserve major props for this win.

Special Team Grades

Kickoff Team: A

Big plays and lots of containment on one of the best returners in the country. Montgomery was only able to return three kicks for 57 yards and a long of 23. Christian McCaffrey gave up the ball after a great play by DeAndre Scott to throw his hands in strong on the tackle. Very impressed with how this group covered downfield Saturday night. Big improvement.

Kickoff Return Team: A

Just one return from Kyle Middlebrooks yet it went for 32 yards. Deserving of a positive grade. Stanford did a solid job putting the ball in the end zone.

Punt Team: A

It will probably go down as one of the biggest plays on the season, yet Matt Haack’s booming punt that caused the Montgomery turnover was awesome! Randall did a fantastic job to make a play on the football after it was dropped and this play really changed the game.

Punt Return Team: C+

Two returns from Middlebrooks yet nothing to really work with as Stanford was able to cover with ease. Looks like this group still lets up on blocks far too easy. Guys engage their assigned defender well yet just can’t stay with that man down the field and often you will see 5+ defenders there to impact the returner. This is a special teams' area that ASU needs to focus on getting better at.

Field Goal Team: A

Zane Gonzalez was 4 for 5 and probably would have been a perfect 5 for 5 had Bercovici not forgot ASU was kicking a field goal on that first attempt and he was the holder. The set up was rushed and Zane got the kick off with just under two seconds left and pulled it slightly. A mishap from Bercovici that cost ASU three points.

Overall Team Grades

Offense: A-

Defense: A

Special Teams: A

Offensive MVP: D.J. Foster

Defensive MVP: Damarious Randall

Team MVP: Zane Gonzalez

One of the best overall games I’ve been to in the last couple of years. A disciplined Arizona State took it to a Stanford that has struggled to find themselves this season. Two penalties on the night showed just how dialed in ASU was a because of this focus, the better team won in a clear cut victory. Looking forward to watching how this success can be a major momentum builder going forward.

-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.


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