Quarterback grade – B plus
The year started with redshirt freshman Chad Christensen behind center. That only lasted four games, however. Christensen, while showing very good poise and composure, played like a redshirt freshman. The Sun Devils needed back-up Andrew Walter to direct come-from-behind victories against Central Florida and San Diego State. Walter started the Stanford game and his performance in that contest solidified his position as the starter and simultaneously changed the outlook on the 2002 season for the Sun Devils. His emergence was the key factor in ASU's third place conference finish.
The numbers tell the whole story. In the four games started by Christensen, the Sun Devils averaged 185 yards per contest through the air (and many of the yards in the Central Florida and San Diego State games can be attributed to Walter). In the ten games started by Walter, ASU averaged 350 yards per game. Additionally, Walter's arm-strength stretched the field, allowing the Sun Devils to utilize the skills of talented junior WR Shaun MacDonald. For the year, Arizona State averaged just over 300 yards passing per contest.
The main factors keeping the QB grade as a "B" are the number of interceptions thrown and the number of sacks taken. On the interception front, Christensen did a better job of protecting the ball than Walter – Christensen did not throw an interception during his time at the helm, but Walter gave up 15 interceptions during his ten starts (with UW being the only interception-free game in that stretch). Walter is also less mobile than Christensen, requiring better protection to avoid sacks (although Walter did show decent mobility at times). Fewer picks and fewer sacks would make this grade an "A."
Running Back grade – C minus
If grades were based on potential, the grade would be higher. Unfortunately, the grades are based on performance, and the Sun Devil ground game was anemic for most of the season. The backs and the offensive line share the blame in that area.
Redshirt freshman Cornell Canidate led the team in rushing with 493 total yards, despite missing three games. Junior Mike Williams and redshirt freshman Hakim Hill also made contributions to the running game, gaining 482 and 318 yards rushing, respectively. As a team, ASU averaged only 89 yards per contest on the ground (2.5 yards per attempt). If Walter's negative yardage is added back, the running game still only accounts for just under 105 yards per game. A telling stat is that the season's longest run was only 34 yards, gained by Mike Williams in the first game of the year against Nebraska.
If ASU's offense only asked for the RBs to participate extensively in the running game, their grade would be in the "D/F" range, but the backs did well in other facets of the offense. Each RB proved to be a threat in the passing game. ASU utilized passes to running backs to compliment (replace?) their ground attack. Hill led the RBs in receiving yards with 239 (11.4 yards per catch), followed by junior FB Mike Karney with 121, Candidate with 80, and Williams with 67.
Another area the RBs did well in was blocking. ASU's running woes required them to pass the ball extensively. Consequently, opponents' defenses were able to pin their ears back and go after Walter without worrying about the run. The backs, especially Williams and Karney, did a good job of picking up blitzes and protecting their QB. Candidate and Hill improved as the season went on, but still have a way to go.
Wide Receiver grade – A minus
Junior Shaun MacDonald was a Belitnikof Award finalist - ASU's first - and led the Sun Devils with 1405 yards receiving, boasting a 100.4 yards per game average. He was a deep threat that other teams had to account for on every play. After MacDonald, no single receiver really distinguished himself, but many different players made significant contributions. Sophomore Daryl Lightfoot was second on the team in receiving yards, posting 552 yards for the season. Other notable contributions were true freshman Derek Hagan's 405 yards, junior Skyler Fulton's 369 yards, and senior Justin Taplin's 299 yards. Matt Miller also contributed with some timely catches.
The WR grade would be a solid "A" if a second receiver would have really come on to compliment "Mac," however, that did not happen often enough this season. The corps, as a whole, were very solid and a strength of the offense.
Tight End grade – A minus
Senior Mike Pinkard finally capitalized on his talent and ability. He posted 536 yards receiving, including five touchdowns and numerous first down catches to sustain drives. "Pink" also did a good job blocking when "max protect" schemes were needed. He will be in the NFL next season. Reserves Frank Maddox and Lee Burghgraef saw limited action, but were not able to make significant contributions in the passing game.
If not for a few dropped balls in key situations early in the season, Pinkard's efforts alone would have earned an "A" grade. The play of the TEs was definitely a positive for the Devil offense.
Offensive Line grade – C minus
It is hard to be too hard on a group that only returned one starter, with that starter moving to a new position; however, the numbers require a low grade. The Devils only managed 89 yards per game on the ground and gave up 49 sacks on the season. Neither of those stats puts this unit in a positive light. The only positive stat is the zero in the column under the heading, "number of starters lost to graduation." In fact, all 14 OLs on the depth chart return.
The grade here would be lower except for the group's ability to perform without two starters (Aguilar and Ayala) for most of the season and just the sheer youth of the line as a whole. Otherwise, a "D" or "F" would be in order.
Overall Offense grade – B
Despite the lack of a running threat, lots of sacks, poor "red zone" production, and losing a bunch of fumbles, the offense put up solid numbers. ASU averaged 32.3 points per game, while putting up 393 yards per contest.
If not for the gaudy numbers put up by Walter, this grade would undoubtedly be lower. ASU could not afford for Walter to have an off day or the offense would really struggle to put up points. However, the grade could also have been higher if turnovers had not put the defense into bad situations against WSU, Cal, and USC. Additionally, better production in the red zone would have helped. The Sun Devils scored on 77.8% of their trips inside their opponent's 20-yard line, but a third of those scores were field goals. The trips without scoring need to be greatly reduced and a higher percentage of opportunities need to result in seven points instead of three.
ASU Football 2002 Report Card - Offense
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