This game had more ups and downs than the Tour de France and as a neutral fan it would have been one amazing game to watch.
Unfortunately, we are not neutral from this standpoint and the game that looked like a sure win after the 14-0 start quickly balanced its self back up with errors that can’t be reversed.
A game of stats this one was dominated by both offenses as the game total reached 1,021 combined yards. In the end it was a fourth quarter that was for the taking. ASU took the lead late but could not find a way to contain UCLA on their final drive and the lack of pass defense was crucial as the Bruins marched to a game winning field goal.
The outcome delivered a major blow in ASU’s Pac-12 South championship hopes, Although mathematically they are still alive. To win a championship you have to win the games you are supposed to win and this UCLA contest was definitely one of those games.
After this contest I feel that a few things rang loud and clear.
The first is that ASU needs to improve up front drastically on both sides of the ball. This has been a theme for a long time now in the program. The recruiting focus really needs to see success with recruiting offensive and defensive lineman or the Devils will continue to have seasons like this where they are really exposed on the line of scrimmage.
Another thing I have taken away from the defense this season is the lack of edge and break down that occurs in the scheme. Far too many times this season the ASU box has given up easy plays off the edge by simply playing out of position or allowing themselves to get sucked inside with by technique allowing a wide open edge.
Throughout the season drives have been extended in this manner far too many times and the results are there. Playing aggressive up front and taking shots will get you a lot of great stats in the tackle for loss column and sack department but it will also gash you if you don’t have the bodies to hold down the C and D gaps.
Some of these issues may be the simple fact that we are playing with a lot of guys up front that just don’t have the true size to play the type of defense Coach Graham is wanting and until they can recruit the size of player they need there this problem will continue.
The edge defense in the short pass game also seems to be a huge issue after this game. There are far too many times UCLA was able to throw quick swing routes and screens off play action. There were several key plays in the end for the first quarter that Chris Young and the secondary relationship was way off.
Those breakdowns allowed UCLA to escape some horrible field position early and put points on the board that should have never occurred. These issues mixed with some bad decisions concerning ball control led to the UCLA come back and momentum to take over homecoming.
Key Offensive Stats:
535 Total Yards. Usually this impressive stat equals a big win.
94 total plays, 29 First Downs. Lots of High Octane offense.
1 INT. This play just before half time leads the point difference in the end of the game.
5 sacks given up. ASU needs to keep the QB on his feet. The snap count is always predictable and the speed rush is really getting after the tackles.
Quarterback Grade: B+
Taylor Kelly found his rhythm in the second half and the utilization of the RB in the passing game really helped his efforts. Kelly was 25-35 with four touch downs and one INT. Although his one turnover was early in the game, the point swing it caused was the difference in the end of the game.
On that play Kelly really forced the throw when a huge rush in his face. On those types of plays you just have to bite the bullet and find a way to throw the ball away and not into heavy coverage. On the day Kelly was also able to add 55 yards rushing on 14 attempts. He stretched plays with his legs just as he has done all season but I really feel that he is trying to do too much at times and is struggling to see the open receiver because he is breaking down his reads to quickly and letting small pressure get to him in the pocket.
Another thing to point out from this game and this is an area I have noticed since day one in spring ball with Kelly is his long ball. It really has no touch and I think he is struggling to put it on open receivers. He missed four basic throws in the first half that were throws you expect all D-1 QBs to make. I give him the pass card on this only because he has eight starts under his belt but I truly hope moving forward and this off season he is able to work on this skill.
The deep throws have to be much more put on the receivers or closer into play if this offense is going to continue to attempt long balls. This was a performance that will be remembered by the offense because of the success they had on the day but the lesson learned hopefully for Kelly will be when pressured in your own end zone you have to get rid of the ball properly.
Running Back Grade: A
The young local product continues to meet expectations and then some. D.J. Foster let the team in both receiving and rushing and was nothing short of spectacular. His route running left a lot of space and it is really hard for defenses to lock him because he can beat the defense over the top as he showed against Colorado and yet he can really set you up catching routes off screens and hitches.
The use of Foster in the slot and out of the back field on screens gave UCLA fits all day. His touchdown catch at the end of the game showed that when he plays receiver he can extend a play by finding the open space and snagging any ball out of the air. Without a doubt to this point in the season he is leading the offense in explosive plays.
Marion Grice had another day to remember rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown but also hauling in two receiving touchdowns and posting 69 yards of receiving. Grice has such great balance and can really keep a play alive with his yards after catch in the flat. It would be hard for any defender in the country to make a tackle one on one with Grice. The #1 JC ranking he came into the program with is well deserved and he has earned his stripes in his first season in Tempe.
Cameron Marshall rushed for 57 yards on 18 carries. The senior looked like he was hitting the holes very hard and with more force than I have seen all season but was just always one block away on all his runs from escaping for a decent gain. This has been the theme with Marshall all season. I do have to say though going forward that he looked fiercer in his running than he had leading up to this game and that will help quite a bit if Marshall is clicking down this next stretch.
Wide Receivers Grade: B-
Jamal Miles led the group in receptions while Kevin Ozier scored the lone touchdown in the group. Ozier would have had tallied one more score had Brice Schwab not been called for a critical holding call.
This is another performance that you still feel the receivers did not produce like they should have on the stat sheet. When comparing this group to the rest of the teams the Sun Devils play I truly don’t feel like we are outmatched at this position. I have seen this group practice, I’ve watched them all develop in this offense and yet I just don’t understand how they are not accomplishing a bit more with how much Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell is trying to push the ball down field in the pass game.
Positives on the day came from their blocking. The WRs did a great job keeping screen plays alive downfield and setting up the flat by running solid routes downfield.
The negatives that stand out about this group’s performance is their ability to get open and especially on scramble plays. When you watch Kelly move in the pocket and head to the sideline like he does, it is up to the WRs to break down their routes and pursue the play with him finding space and moving back towards the line of scrimmage. Each coordinator has a way they like this type of play to function but it looks far too often that the receivers don’t give great effort on this play break downs.
Not sure what the case is there but with a mobile quarterback the receivers have to be able to find the relationship there on scramble plays.
Tight End/H-Back Grade: B
Not the typical stat sheet we are used to seeing from this group but the work gloves were all on day for Chris Coyle, who had three catches for 31 yards. He did a fantastic job setting up the UCLA Defense on the edge with his blocking skills and sealed off defenders all afternoon.
Coyle is not a body that is going to maul you over by any means but he is great at getting his hips between the defender and hole. With great effort like that out of your Tight End there is no wonder why the Devils rushed for over 220 yards.
Offensive Line Grade: B-
Based on stats and production out of the offense alone you would expect this group to have a higher grade but from a technique standpoint I still feel there is a lot to improve on.
Tackles Evan Finkenberg and Brice Schwab both had decent performances. Schwab seemed very slow footed at times in his pass blocking going against OLB Anthony Barr. He was getting his feet stuck in the ground at times and the outside hand of the defenders rush was really getting the most of him. Kelly was forced to rush a lot of throws and plays simply because the one defender who was beating their man was coming from the right tackle position.
Finkenberg played well and his quick feet are what keep his skills going. Early in the game both tackles were getting beat fairly often but settled and were strong in the late second half offense.
Vi Teofilo started the game at right guard and did a very solid job. He is a wide body in there and has a big push in the run game. I enjoyed watching his style of play and think he did a very nice job in the run game. His pass protection struggled at times and there were several key 3rd downs that the rush came off his break down. A big slap move out of the rusher through him off his balance and allowed Kelly to be sacked.
Moving forward I would urge him to keep his head up and not shoot so hard on his lock up in pass protection. Keep your weight on the heel of your foot and lock in those hands legally and don’t let go!
Jamil Douglas had a very nice game at left guard and stood out up front. He was able to do a really nice job on screen plays down field and with guys like himself and center Kody Koebensky it is easy to run those types of plays because of their athletic ability. Douglas just like Koebensky is the type of blocker that uses there quick hips to get between defenders and really do it all with great footwork.
On the screen plays you see Douglas, Koebensky and Finkenberg really doing an awesome job down field running and getting after smaller defenders. I would continue to call these types of plays with guys like this up front.
On the day the Offense can be very proud of their work. They were hardly stopped and at times pushed the ball at will. Lots of those efforts are over shadowed by the loss in this game and other than one key turnover this group as a whole performed at a high level.
Key Defensive Stats:
486 yards allowed. The defense could not contain UCLA and as much as the ASU offense rolled on UCLA the same was done to the Sun Devil Defense.
2 turnovers- one INT, two caused Fumbles with one recovered. Positive on the day in this stat column.
7 of 13 on 3rd Down. More than 50 percent and not good enough to keep UCLA off the field.
6-6 in red zone defense. Not good to say the least.
9 tackles for loss and five sacks. Another solid day getting in the back field even without Will Sutton.
Defensive Line Grade: D+
The stat sheet shows some good production from the group but overall the game was lost up front on defense.
UCLA’s run game was dominate against ASU as Johnathan Franklin was able to rush for 164 yards and Brett Hundley seemed to have hours of pass protection more often than not. After watching the game as a whole I was really disappointed in the effort of the defensive line late in the game.
UCLA ran 78 plays and perhaps it was the black jerseys in the heat, but the defensive line wore down and it showed dramatically in the fourth quarter. Call it lack of depth, call it not having your leader in Sutton. The end result is nothing fun and unfortunately I don’t feel wrong saying the boys up front got whipped in this matchup.
There were of course a lot of great plays by this group but breaking down the scheme of things I find more fault than actual technique on the defensive line.
Carl Bradford who plays end and Devil backer, found himself trying to do too much in the run game rather than just doing his job. Bad eyes are taking him over and over into the B Gap with no outside overhand player outside of him, and that led to a lot of what happened Saturday in the run defense. Bradford made two very nice sacks with a high motor but it was his lack of containing the line of scrimmage that ended up sticking out to me.
When you look at the scheme and being gap sound up front it is not making sense when I watch a lot of plays. There will be Spur backer in Chris Young up on the edge playing the C Gap and Bradford will also stay out and contain basically putting two defenders in the same gap while no one is inside on those three-man fronts. This allowed several inside zone plays to really burst for long yardage.
The flip side of that will be with Young plays deeper and Bradford then seemingly does his two way go on the tackle taking the inside more often than not and allows for zero contain on the QB and run game there.
I have felt all season long that they are giving the Devil backer a green light and not worried about contain. If that is the case it is very unsound defense and thus a serious amount of yards have come off of it this season. Moving forward as a defense it is a must to have the edge solid and disciplined. With as many spread teams there are out there now, playing this unbalanced on the edge will gash you more than it will help you.
The rest of the group up front played solid but nothing that left us saying wow during the game. Davon Coleman with his increased reps only had five tackles and Gannon Conway added four stops.
The thing that stuck out watching Conway was his effort in pursuit. For a guy who has a chance to show his skills a bit more right now with the absence of Sutton you would expect him to be flying around but that was far from what happened. I watched him time and time again let the ball go by and his pursuit would basically shut down. Playing great defense is about going as hard as you can until you can’t go anymore and then getting the next guy in until you can go again. Pursing as great as you can every play and making sure you are playing with the mentality that you are going to make the tackle every play and you are going to be the one to come in and make the big hit to jar the ball lose because you accomplished it with great energy and hard pursuit.
Jaxon Hood only tailed two tackles but he was very strong inside all day. There were several times he shed two blockers and got in on the run pressure. Hood also came up late in the game with some big efforts. He is playing so strong this season for a true freshman and watching Hood continue to succeed is very refreshing on a thin defensive front.
Mike Pennel did not show on the stat sheet and it was clear with the number of reps he received the staff is still very much sending a message. I thought we were going to see some more of him this game and perhaps that should have been the case in terms of what we physically needed up front. But truth be told on the matter, this program is heading a direction that will not and should not tolerate anything but excellence on and off the field.
It was very unfortunate to see Junior Onyeali go down again with a shoulder injury. It looked to be the same shoulder that caused him problems the week before and at this point you wonder what his status will be moving forward. Shoulder injuries are so complex because of the joint and all its moving parts. Onyeali, who already had this shoulder worked on in the past, may be headed down a road that plagues a lot of us up front in the trenches. He was playing very strong and recorded a nice sack before he had to exit the game. The pass rush from Onyeali was needed late in the game and without him and Sutton the defensive line struggled in a major way.
Linebacker Grade: C-
Brandon Magee and crew had a solid game in terms of stats but struggled all game to get off blocks in the run game. Magee led the team in tackles tied with nine and was all over the field as he has been all season.
There were several key missed tackles out of him though that led to conversions on the series and both of those happened on 3rd down. Those drives both turned into points. As one of the leaders of this defense he can’t put himself in position to make huge impact plays and then miss the tackle he should have made.
The read zone offense of UCLA was successful in setting up the backers and the over pursuit into others gaps really let the defense down. This goes back to the point I made above about doing your job and not trying to do others. A solid defense has to mold its self on the concept of doing your job and having faith that others are doing theirs. Not playing out of position and making sure your job each play is accomplished. The backers perhaps were feeling and playing this way because of the absence of key players up front. Either way it showed Saturday with huge holes for the UCLA ball carriers.
I thought on the day that Anthony Jones had one of his better games this season. He came on some plays and made some really nice sticks. He has played a bit tentative at times this season but showed he is maturing and gaining confidence. Steffon Martin had 2 two tackles for loss and looked to be playing a bit faster than I have seen in previous games.
Chris Young in the first half had about his worst game all season I have watched. He was playing slow and with very low energy for him. The pursuit wasn’t there and there really is no excuse for it, especially from a guy we have really enjoyed watching this season. Young at times plays with so much energy that it can also be his down fall though. This game he over pursued on several plays and lost contain by running at the wrong shoulder on the ball carrier.
The one note that I continuously see from this group on a technique standpoint is their blocking service being given up far too easily. Way too many times the LBs want to run down the middle of a guy with short arms which really allows the blocker to get a hold of their blocking surface (pads). One Linebacker I like to refer to on the subject that really stood out at ASU was Dale Robinson. Dale was so good at avoiding large blockers and did so by dipping and violently ripping through the arms of the blocker. Often times he could get this done and would get low enough to completely make the blocker miss. He used very quick, violent moves to always set up his attack and thus we all know his results. I think this group needs to put on some of that tape and learn from guys who really got after it at the position.
Secondary Grade: D+
Osahon Irabor played a great game on the stat sheet recording nine tackles which was tied for the team lead. On the other hand, this is usually an indicative sign when of how your defense played when a corner has this many tackles.
As much as he was involved though he has several busts in the run fits that led to points on the board. On two big momentum plays Irabor broke down on the edge defense and allowed UCLA to bounce the ball of huge gains. On UCLA’s second drive of the game Irabor is playing the trap corner in the boundary and has a perfect angle on the ball carrier only to whiff and allow the ball to bounce down the sideline for 20+ yards. UCLA went on to score on this drive and this play was a huge cause of it.
This also happened later in the game when he gets caught with his eyes in the backfield and allows Franklin on 3rd down to get outside and press the sideline for a huge first down which also led to a touchdown.
Deveron Carr recorded a nice athletic INT in the game but probably played his worst performance of the season. Carr allowed some late errors on his part in the defense to really impact the final outcome. His eyes were caught in the backfield on the Fauria touchdown which was caught on the tight end delay in his zone and the wheel route ran late for the touchdown happened in his 1/3 of the defense. That play was not helped by Chris Young allowing the back easily out of the back field but Irabor ran too far inside with the one receiver to help put a cap on the top of that play.
Keelan Johnson was solid as he has been all season and played another very good game. He was in on a lot of run fits and played downhill all game. I did not see Johnson playing too far out of position at all this game which can’t be said for the rest of this group.
Alden Darby allowed several big plays as well. An easy post route not defended early in the game and the first wheel route for a score runs right by his zone with no contact which he only catches at the very end when it’s too late.
The secondary as a whole played very out of sync and it was clear that after the second series of the game it was going to be a long day for this side of the ball. The zone gaps were too easily found by the Bruin receivers and time and time again receivers were able to separate on scramble plays. The pass rush up front allowed a lot of these break downs but after watching this group grow this season I really felt they took a step backwards this game.
As a whole the defense really let the day down. There were so many long down and distances that converted and far too many 3rd down plays ended with up with the chains moving. This was a must win game and the defense really needed to step up and play lights out for ASU to win this game. Giving up close to 500 yards will not sit well with any coach or fan and I am sure Head Coach Todd Graham is having fits after watching the film himself. The November stretch of the season is really going to test this group and if they play anything like they did on Saturday it is going to be a long couple of games ahead of them.
Special Teams Grades:
Kickoff Team: C+
Eight Kickoffs from Alex Garoutte and 4 of them were touch backs. 1 went out of bounds and that is never acceptable for any kicker. UCLA had 3 returned kicks for 78 yards and the longest was 41 yards.
Kickoff Return Team: B
Not much you can do when seven of eight kicks are touchbacks. Rashad Ross did have one return for 21 yards.
Punt Team: A+
Josh Hubner had five punts for an average of 52.6 yards. His longest kick was 73 yards and two went inside the 10-yard line. Not much more you could ask for and one awesome day punting from Hubner.
Punt Return Team: D
Two returns form Jamal Miles for 25 yards, the longest being 23 yards. After watching this group for weeks now it’s clear they are not executing like they can.
Against UCLA’s gated spread punt formation the edge rushers were basically not existent in the blocks or rushes which allowed UCLA to run freely down the field. I am lost on how this group is being allowed to give this kind of effort and in the end it is really hurting the field position game. No solid rush and not even hands on guys up front to at least slow them down on more than half the front line I counted on each play. I really don’t know how the attention to detail is missing from this group.
Field Goal Team: A
Jon Mora was a perfect three of three. His longest kick was 36 yards. Looks like the kicking situation may be finally figuring itself out.
Overall Team Grades:
Special Teams: B
This game was a must win game and one that could have built a lot of momentum moving forward into the final stretch of the season. In the end the game would not fall the Sun Devils’ way and the team took a huge blow in the Pac-12 South championship race.
The efforts were great but the techniques were not and some key breakdowns led the loss. The next game, on the road at Oregon State playing a squad who just suffered its first loss of the season, presents a stiff test for ASU. The mistakes that occurred in the UCLA loss must be quickly implemented. Everything that broke down in this game is fixable and it’s going to take a lot of guys looking themselves in the mirror realizing what it takes to get it done. The fan base wants to be behind this team and although there was booing that took place on Saturday it was only because everyone is tired of reliving the past and watching the team squander a game that it shouldn’t of.
Moving forward it’s do or die time for this season. The recruiting front could be affected by the results of November, and anxious fan base is yearning for the team to break a two-game losing streak. I still very much believe ASU can accomplish many of their goals and if they take care of their game against the Beavers who knows what the rest of the season will hold for them.
The number one thing to hold onto right now is believing in all the effort this staff is putting in. They have this program headed in the right direction both on and off the football field. More so than anything that has been in place ever since they got here and we all need to stay ALL IN with them! Keep Speaking Victory and the end of your days will be great.
Bring home a huge victory Sun Devils!
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 2010 Class 4A Division I state championship.