Mid-Season Report

The bye week has allowed the Sun Devils some much needed rest for injuries. With a 3-3 record, hopefully the down time can help fix any nagging emotional needs, as well. Let's take a look at how the first half of the season unfolded, position by position.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The "Hell Hogs" started the season out with a bang and gave quarterback Sam Keller quite a bit of time in pass protection. The proverbial turn in the road came when starting right guard Zach Krula was lost for the year after the Northwestern game. Since then, and especially when right tackle Andrew Carnahan was out in last week's game, the line has taken a step back. ASU has allowed 12 sacks, most of those coming in the last few games. Run blocking was seemingly off to a better start than in years past but once the Sun Devils hit the conference slate, the ground game was not nearly as productive.

The offensive line appears to be the biggest key to notching a successful second-half of the season. Both run blocking and pass blocking need to improve in order for this offense to sustain drives so that the defense is not continually on the field for long periods of time. A healthy Andrew Carnahan back in at right tackle is the first order of business. Mike Pollack, who can play several different positions, would also add a boost to the depth when he comes back after a bout with the flu.

RUNNING BACK

True freshman Keegan Herring has been the star newcomer on the ground. His style of hitting the holes fast and hard have been fun to watch. Herring has scored 5 touchdowns. Counterpart Rudy Burgess has hit pay dirt 5 times, as well. Two of those on the ground and 3 coming from passes. However, the talent of both backs can only go so far without better run blocking. One concern about both players heading into Camp T was whether or not they could withstand the pounding of the position for an entire season. So far, they've held up okay. It appears that the offense could use a bigger back to move the piles in short yardage situations.

QUARTERBACK

Sam Keller's success seems to pretty much mirror that of the offensive line. When he's given time to make reads, he can move the chains. With injuries up front and defenses stifling any type of ground game ASU attempts to establish, Keller isn't getting much help lately. Every quarterback will have an "off" game and Sam's came October 1st against the top-ranked Trojans. Despite throwing for 5 interceptions and injuring a shoulder that afternoon, it's still pretty clear to most that Keller has shown that he can lead this offense.

The signal-caller has averaged 344 yards in the air per game and thrown for a total of 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. With the shoulder injury, Keller's health may possibly prompt a call to Rudy Carpenter in the future, should it persist. Carpenter has seen some mop-up duty this season and has completed 14 of his 17 attempts and tossed 2 scores.

WIDE RECEIVER / TIGHT END

Derek Hagan has been his usual self, providing Keller a reliable target in the air. His 40 catches and 6 touchdowns lead the team, and his average of 106 yards per game is almost double that of the second leading receiver. That would be the breakout player of the group, Jamaal Lewis. The tight end has caught 5 touchdowns and has been relatively successful lining up as a receiver. Lewis' emergence came at a great time. Star sophomore tight end Zach Miller is just now at full-health.

Terry Richardson's contributions haven't really shown up in a big way on the stat sheet, in fact he has yet to score a touchdown. However, he's made quite a few drive-sustaining grabs this season, most notably against LSU. Senior Moey Mutz has been a consistent route runner and is usually rewarded with two or three passes his way. Mutz has 1 touchdown on 15 catches. Matt Miller is typically the deep threat, either on the sideline or on the post route. The senior has caught 11 passes and 2 scores.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Arguably the most maligned of the positions on defense this year. It's been tough for the Devils to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without the help of the linebackers. Defensive coordinator Bill Miller hasn't had a lot of horses to work with up front. Most of the linemen are a little smaller in size for their position. The defense is also allowing an average of just under 200 yards a game on the ground.

Tackle Jordan Hill has been the most consistent guy up front with 16 tackles and a sack. Because of the depth issues, Hill has been in on quite a few snaps and, to his credit, his motor keeps on going. Quency Darley can line up at either end or tackle and has recorded 12 stops. DeWayne Hollyfield's addition after an academic issue was helpful. Hollyfield has 9 tackles and 3 sacks.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the line's inability to get a good pass rush is defensive end Kyle Caldwell's bout with injuries. Caldwell suffered a rotator cuff in the Oregon game so his status is unknown. Converted fullback Mike Talbot has shouldered some of the load in his absence and has done an admirable job in spite being very undersized. JC transfer Will Kofe seems to be going through the normal transitional phase but has logged a decent amount of minutes.

LINEBACKER

Not surprisingly, Dale Robinson is the team's leading tackler with 61 stops and 2.5 sacks. It makes you wonder where this defense would be at without Robinson lining up in the middle or on the edge to assist in gaining some pressure up front. Jamar Williams recorded perhaps the best game of his career three weeks ago at Oregon State. Williams has 32 tackles and 2 interceptions so far this season. Robert James, 22 tackles, has been in the shadows of the two seniors but seems to be gaining more confidence as he gets more experience.

Miller has utilized four other linebackers in the rotation. Senior Nick Clapp has made a start in the absence of Williams and has looked decent. Clapp has recorded 14 tackles. Redshirt freshman Adam Vincent has shown some flashes and looks to be one of the linebackers of the future for the defense. Newcomers Chad Lindsey and Beau Manutai have combined for 16 tackles.

SECONDARY

The frontrunner for Newcomer of the Year on defense has to be safety Zach Catanese. He's only 3 shy of Dale Robinson's 61 tackles and has shown the propensity to deliver the wood when making tackles. Catanese is also a good open field tackler. Senior Maurice London has really taken advantage of his final year of eligibility. He's elevated his stock on the depth chart by getting some of Josh Barrett's snaps. The two have combined for 52 stops. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Payton has also made his mark this year and vaulted up to a starting role. Payton has 22 tackles on the year and added another physical presence in the secondary.

Another senior that has made strides this season is cornerback Mike Davis. Usually an after-thought, Davis has also made his way into a starting role and been assigned to shadow talented receivers like DeWayne Jarrett. Davis has 22 tackles, 3 pass break-ups, and 1 interception. JC transfer Keno Walter-White appears to have decent cover skills in his first year here in Tempe but has been bothered by a knee injury in the last two games, limiting his participation. The junior has 18 stops and 2 pass break-ups. Josh Golden has manned the side opposite the two taller corners and has held up decently. Sixth year senior RJ Oliver has seen limited action in his attempt to come back from nagging injuries.

Overall, the secondary hasn't been a huge problem considering the anemic pass rush up front. There are a lot of positives from this group, like Catanese and Davis.

SPECIAL TEAMS

It's been the best of times and worst of times for Tom Osborne's group. A breakthrough has been made in the return game with Terry Richardson. The wide receiver returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown against USC and has become a consistent threat returning both punts and kicks. The Devils also blocked a field goal in the Oregon game, another rare occurrence here in Tempe. However, the punt protection team is still a major issue that needs to be resolved. ASU has allowed two blocked punts in six games. That's unacceptable, especially considering one of those blocks may have cost ASU's chance at upsetting LSU last month.

Both specialists have done well so far. Kicker Jessie Ainsworth is 3 of 4 on field goals. The miss came on a block in the LSU game. Ainsworth's leg has also been an asset in keeping the ball out of returners' hands, accruing 30 touchbacks on kickoffs. Punter Chris MacDonald is averaging 43 yards per kick and has recorded a 67 yard punt.

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