Devils in the Details: Notre Dame at ASU

Big games need big performances and Arizona State had the perfect opportunity to display such hosting Notre Dame in a battle of Top 10 teams. With so much credibility on the line, fighting media and discrediting fans, ASU needed a signature statement win. They did just that as the Sun Devils were able to start hot and finish off the Irish 55-31 for one of the program's biggest victories in years.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup the Sun Devils had to fight through lots of discrediting media as many felt they did not deserve to be placed near the top 10 rankings with several close victories in previous weeks - auguring the Devils could easily be 5-3.

Yet this team and staff believe in taking things one week and a time and putting that focus first and foremost. It was clear at halftime this last Saturday that the Sun Devils were ready to shed that skin and place themselves right where they deserve to be. A fate that is in their control and a season that is shaping up to be one of the best the Sun Devils have seen in decades. A valiant effort against Notre Dame and finally the huge statement game this 2014 team was looking for.

Talking about the Offense

Fireworks and more fireworks! The buttes were echoing and the fans were loving it.

ASU came out the gate with a game plan that was built off play action and a run game that was going to stick to what they knew would work. The offensive line was as active as we have seen them all season and it started from there. Huge performances all around as an offensive group and the stats reflected such. Very impressive to see this offense click like it did Saturday. N.D. has always had a stout defense and to put up 55 points on a team like this is no easy task. Hats off to Coach Norvell and the offense for such a dominating performance.

Positive Stats:

34 First Half Points - 21 Fourth Quarter Points. Starting fast - Finishing Strong.

10 First Downs Rushing - 22 Total

213 Yards Rushing - 188 Net

1 for 1 on Fourth Down

2 for 2 Field Goal Attempts

5 of 5 Red-Zone Scores-Chances

28 Points off Turnovers

Just one Sack Allowed

Negative Stats:

One Turnover

5 of 15 on Third Down

Position Grades

Quarterback

Grade: B+

Much has been said about Taylor Kelly over the last couple of weeks as he has battled back from a significant foot injury. Terms like “rusty, no passion, poor reads” have been common. Yet after Saturday’s performance, I personally believe Kelly put those disbelievers to bed. His long ball and intermediate throws were some of the best I have seen throughout his stellar career.

The deep pass to Cameron Smith was a thing of beauty and he placed balls all day long where only his guys were going to be able to get them. It is safe to say that he is near 100% when it comes to his health as you were able to really see him move around well on read zone plays and several scrambles. What impressed me the most was his pocket presence. Many times in the past we have seen him roll out of a well protected pocket and thus sort of create havoc. Kelly stood in there and believed in the guys around him. He had great blocking all day and was really able to see everything well.

The Devils only gave up one sack on the day and I thought this was the best the they have looked all year when it came to sitting in there and reading through the pass game. The only glaring mistake was Kelly’s interception which was definitely not his best throw. Congratulations to Taylor on a great performance and a huge day for the offense. 17-28, 224 Yards, 3 TD, 1 INT. 7 Rushes, 18 Yards, 1 TD.

Running Backs

Grade: A

D.J. Foster was looking for a breakout game after weeks of average performances on the ground. His 120 yards rushing definitely was all of that has he showed great determination carving through the Irish defense. He really looked to be running with a sense of passion this game and I think it showed. He led the team with 130 all purpose yards and was a major catalyst for the Devil offense.

Demario Richard who has come on strong here the last several weeks also had a huge performance scoring two touchdowns and racking up 101 total yards. The freshman continues to impress with great vision and just pure running skills. Great game by this group.

Wide Receivers

Grade: B+

Electric plays that were defining moments in the offenses performance. That about sums up the play of this group. Jaelen Strong showed once again why he is one of the best out there and his one handed grab in the side of the end zone was as impressive of a catch as you will see. Top 10 SportsCenter material that you can’t help but say wow to. Cameron Smith led the group here with 67 yards and pulled in a huge touchdown catch for 43 yards.

It was a quiet day for the rest of the receivers as only Frederick Gammage pulled in a catch for 17 yards. The plays that needed to be made were made and overall just a fun day for us watching. The run blocking still needs to be improved as we saw lots of missed blocks here from this group. Several of the run plays were just one missed block from breaking off for huge gains and unfortunately some of those blocks came from this group's efforts. Things to improve on going forward.

Tight End - H-Back

Grade: C+

Up and down has been the performance here with this group on the year and much was the same Saturday. Dropped balls, touchdowns, once again plagued the group as Brendan Landman dropped a big pass. Kody Kohl also had a big drop as well that resulted in a third down stop. The area this group really needs to dial in on is the run game as it once again showed lots of missed blocks. Kohl needs to find a way to play much more aggressive with his technique. Often lunging on contact and doing a poor job fitting his hands in with great strength seems to show him getting beat too often. Not to discredit his good plays but you see the misses as much as you see the made blocks in the run game here.

Still curious as to why the offense has not seen more of De’Marieya Nelson this season, unless his injury is more seriously than originally thought. I personally thought coming into the year that he was going to have five catches a game. Such an explosive player that I feel is a missing link.

Offensive Line

Grade: A

One of the best performances all year from this group. Christian Westerman was able to make the start and he looked very solid. Showed no signs of a knee injury that had been sustained against Washington and I thought he looked very aggressive in the run game on his pulls. Great hands and good feet to seal off blockers you can tell he is very gifted at what he does. Jamil Douglas joined him with a huge performance and also took care of the left side with dominating fashion. Overall as a group I felt this was one of the best performances we have seen this season. Zero sacks allowed from the O-Line and a run game that pushed Notre Dame for 213 yards. No easy task.

Congratulations to the offensive line for coming together in such a big game and getting after it.

Talking about the Defense

What good things can you not say about this group that has really turned the whole season around for the Sun Devils. I know I was one who felt like the Devils were doomed after the big loss to UCLA. The group had underperformed and all looked like it was going to be hard to put together this season on this side of the ball. Yet when you replace nine starters, it is going to take time to come together and such has been seen this season.

That loss to UCLA transformed this group into something special. Perhaps it was a beat down they needed to realize there was a long way to go. Whatever it was, it has shown for tremendous growth and development all around at every position group on the defensive side of the ball.

Playing extremely aggressive and taking shot after shot was clearly the game plan as Saturday’s game unfolded. Coach Graham and staff dialed up several different blitz schemes that put Everett Golson and the Notre Dame offense in a frenzied hustle to try and put plays together. Five turnovers speak loudly for the efforts on this side of the ball and ASU was able to score 28 points off turnovers, two scores from the defense. A huge performance from the defense and without this great effort the game would have surly played out much differently.

Positive Stats:

41 Rushing Yards Against - 114 Gained - 73 Yards Lost.

Four Interceptions, 1 Recovered Fumble, 2 Caused Fumbles

10 TFLs, 7 Sacks

1 of 3 on Third Down

28 Points Off of Turnovers

Negative Stats:

24 First Downs Allowed

446 Yards Passing Allowed

6.2 Yards per Play Allowed

Position Grades:

Defensive Line

Grade: A

Probably the most active we have seen this group all year in terms of tenacity to get to the ball and overall disruption of plays. When you dial it up on defense and start bring five and six guys, you have to know the defensive line is going to benefit a ton from the occupied offensive line. Such was the case as we saw three different linemen record sacks.

Marcus Hardison continued to show his development this season and is probably my most improved player so far on this side of the ball. He was very strong on the run game showing great desire to get to the football. He has continued to show improvement with his hands and ability to get off blocks and I love how he has found his power rush. Too much at the beginning of the season he was trying to run around guys rather than work his skills.

Not being the fastest guy in the world yet having big long arms and a 300lb frame you have to work what you are good at. He has now turned those pass rush moves into nice powerful attacks on the edge that show him working well on half the man. Just overall great development this season from him and it has showed here over the last couple of weeks. Tipped balls, interceptions all show how much he is trying every play to disrupt the offense.

Running in and out of packages up front we were able to see Tashon Smallwood and Villami Latu get in on some great pass rush as well. These two are built for rushing the passer and I am so impressed with the freshman, Smallwood when he gets it going. Great get off out of his stance and a set of hands that are always working.

Demetrius Cherry and Mo Latu were also able to help the defense against the run this week and also both didn’t show on the stat sheet much their impact was big as they really did a good job freeing up the second level and creating stout gap presence. Cherry still needs to work on his pass rush quite a bit and more often than not you see him failing to do much when they throw the ball. Effort more than anything there. A great day for this position group and a grade that reflects such. Solid job by the defensive line.

Linebackers

Grade: B+

Once again this position group seems to mature and evolve as a unit. It helps when the defensive front starts to win like they have and overall the front two levels are really starting to click. Salamo Fiso showed up again all over the box recording three tackles for loss. He had some huge stops and worked well in the run blitz scheme to break up blocks. I really think his energy in recent weeks has improved a ton and you can see it with all the effort plays he is making.

Antonio Longino also had another productive game at the Will position and you got to love that the coaches found his best fit in the defense. On Saturday he had five tackles and a sack to show for. Laiu Moeakiola did a great job helping stop the run with six tackles and a sack. I thought he had some trouble in his pass defense though as he seemed to let offensive players win the zone far too often. He was a bit outsized on several of these matchups yet you want to see him work his hands better and keep the receiver closer once they enter his key. Very good overall performance by the linebackers.

Secondary

Grade: B+

Lloyd Carrington was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and nearly every member of position group could have been selected for award.

Damarious Randall, Kweishi Brown and Carrington all picked off Golson one time and two for scores. Huge momentum plays that changed the whole landscape of the game. Jordan Simone led the team with nine tackles and a sack. He was all over the field and plays with such tremendous energy it’s no wonder he usually leads the team in tackles. The only topics of concern come from this group being put on an island and what the results were because of it.

If you are going to dial up the blitz scheme the way ASU does, you have to know the passes are going to come and at times they did in big chunks this game as N.D. marched their way back into the second half. Far too often though we were witness to the corners and safeties giving up the inside post and slant routes when the blitz was on. You have to protect that middle of the field when the rush is coming like that and not give up those easy throws. Make the offense work hard for those passes and keep the receiver from crossing your face. Several gains for N.D. including a big touchdown seemingly came from mental busts when players in the secondary had poor eyes and discipline to read their keys.

Overall, the pluses and minus plays add up and this group definitely came out on top.

Special Team Grades

Field Goal Team: A+

Zane Gonzalez was 2 for 2 with a long of 47 yards. 7 for 7 on PATs.

Punt Team: A

Matt Haack punted six times for an average of 39.3 yards and three punts inside the 20. One of his punts took a horrible bounce which brought down his average quite a bit. The Irish were only able to two punts for three yards. Great overall day from this group.

Punt Return Team: C

ASU never had the opportunity to return a punt and still the Devils look to make sure the punt is kicked with no major attempt to set up returns.

Kickoff Team: A

10 kickoffs, five for touchbacks. Four returns for 102 yards and a great day overall covering kicks. No major play that hurt the Sun Devils here from this group and they have played well the last couple of weeks after a poor start to the season.

Kickoff Return Team: C

Two returns for just 33 yards. Blocking was very average and thus the grade.

Overall Team Grades:

Offense: A

Defense: A-

Special Teams: B+

Offensive MVP: Co - Taylor Kelly & D.J. Foster

Defensive MVP: Lloyd Carrington

Special Teams: Zane Gonzalez

Just a great day for the Sun Devils as the grades reflect the performance we were all witness to. One of the biggest wins the program has had in some time and the Devils are now officially on the map. Now more than ever, ASU needs to focus on their goals and realize that every play of every game matters. The target on them just grew a whole lot bigger and now you are going to see everyone playing that much harder to try and knock them off. One game at a time and the goals will all continue to fall into place.

Traveling up to play Oregon State in Corvallis is no easy task and although they Beavers are having a down season by their standards they are a very tough team to beat at home. Looking forward to seeing this team compete after such a huge win!

#UnfinishedBusiness

-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