Season Summary: Granted, Arizona State had a goal of being the Pac-12 champions and winning the Rose Bowl, but its staff, players and fans won't fret over a thus far 10-3 season. There is naturally some disappointment of being put in the position of hosting the conference championship game and ending up losing to the same team (Stanford) that also beat you in September. All this means is that the Sun Devils aren't ready to be placed with the elite group of college football programs but they are certainly knocking on the door.
Its offense was even more explosive than it was in 2012 and an aggressive defense was the biggest factor in the team's seven-game winning streak prior to the conference championship game loss. Special teams however were the Achilles heel all season long and sans an outstanding true freshman kicker, Zane Gonzalez, this group has been a huge disappointment and when not contributing directly to each of the team's three losses, they surely made games much closer than they should have been.
All in all, second-year Head Coach Todd Graham has engineered quite the turnaround in his short Tempe tenure both performance wise and team culture wise and he has reinvigorated a program that was largely toiling in mediocrity since the turn of the century.
Offense in a nut shell: ASU is No. 9 in scoring offense at 41.0 points per game and is ranked 13th in red zone offense, and lived up the "high Octane" moniker Graham has given this unit. Quarterback Taylor Kelly isn't being asked to sit in the pocket and sling the ball, and his 685 yards rushing (net 473 yards) are evidence of his true dual-threat capability. Nonetheless, after 13 games the junior ranks 13th both in passing TDs (28) and passing yards (3,510), and 12th in points responsible for (216).
ASU's offense is very much predicated on the running game where they averaged 184 yards per contest. They are led by Marion Grice, who sat out the last two games with an injury and is highly questionable for the bowl game. The senior has 996 net yards averaging 5.2 yards a carry. Grice scored 14 touchdowns, as well as six scoring receptions, and is no. 3 in all purpose yards (176.45) and fifth in scoring (10.9).
In Grice's absence sophomore D.J. Foster has picked up the slack quite nicely and on the season he has nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns. ASU's running game shouldn't miss a beat if Foster will get the start again. Foster is currently at 70 percent health wise so his availability is also a concern. Even third-stringer Deantre Lewis, isn't fully practicing yet.
Jaelen Strong is by far the team's prolific receiver with 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns. The physical junior college transfer has been one of the best newcomers in the Pac-12 this year. Tight end Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson have four touchdowns each and the later has also seen some time at running back out of necessity.
True freshman Zane Gonzalez, was named Pac-12 first team field goal kicker after converting 22-26 attempts and at one time making 18 consecutive field goals.
Defense in a nut shell: An aggressive and opportunistic Sun Devil defense was one the best overall in the Pac-12 in the 2013 season. It ranked among the national leaders in defensive three and outs, placed third in interceptions and seventh in sacks. It overall helped the team to have the seventh best turnover margin in the nation as it posted 31 turnovers on the year.
The defense is led by defensive lineman and two-time Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton. As a junior he was a consensus All-American and during his senior year his numbers were down in comparison but he still compiled four sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. His line mate, junior Carl Bradford (technically a hybrid linebacker) led the team with 18.5 tackles for loss and tied for team lead in sacks with 8.5 with fellow lineman senior Davon Coleman.
As strong as ASU's front four is, its linebacker crops may have been the weakest link on the defense. Yet, one of its members, Chris Young, had an outstanding senior season leading the team with 103 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
Even though the secondary lost two starters from last year and had questionable depth going into 2013, this group proved its worth throughout the whole season. Cornerback Robert Nelson collected six interceptions and 11 passes defended, while fellow senior and safety Alden Darby was second on the team in both tackles (66) and interceptions (4) and paced the Sun Devils with 12 passes defended.
The ASU defense at times has been vulnerable to the run and physical offensive lines, and often was a "bend but not break" group, yet overall its attacking mode would frequently disrupt opposing offenses.
To-do list for bowl game: The biggest concern ASU had on offense, if not the entire squad, is the health if its running backs. It is conceivable that none of the running backs suiting up on December 30th will be at full strength. As mentioned, ASU's explosive offense is very much contingent on a potent ground attack and could be hampered quite a bit if its ball carriers are not as productive as they usually are.
On defense, it goes without saying that the Sun Devils secondary will have its hands full but overall the defense needs to make sure that the Red Raiders run game doesn't present a challenge and ultimately a balanced offense that cause major headaches on the night.
All special teams aspects, aside from field goal kicking, have been a major sore spot for ASU and another typical performance by this group could give a very powerful Texas Tech offense all night a shorter field to operate with and better scoring opportunities.
Arizona State Scouting Report
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