We have been waiting a decade for a game like this and it happened with all the dramatics college football so often presents us with. The Sun Devils have been looking for a signature game under Coach Todd Graham and this may just be the first of many or until this upcoming week. As a fan in the stands, it was epic. Ups, downs and momentum swings that had us all cringing in ASU's seats.
This was a game that felt dominated by the Sun Devil offense, yet time and time again, Wisconsin was allowed to stay within reach because of a special team break down and some home run plays. A lack of execution by the ASU offense allowed a half time score that could have easily been very different.
In the end, crazy controversial or not, ASU won the game and fought through against a very tough opponent. We should all be very proud of this team and how they battled it out for four quarters. A true example of how this team has come into a new level of confidence and execution.
Let's talk some football...
Key Offensive Stats
32 First Downs
352 Yards Passing
468 Total Yards 6 - 7 in Red-Zone
Scores - Chances
31:58 Time of Possession
2.8 Yards rushing per carry
0-2 2pt Conversions
Taylor Kelly was 29-51 for 352 yards and an interception. Not the 5 touchdown performance from week one yet Kelly was really able to see the field and did a fantastic job on his play action reads. Kelly should have about 6 more completions to add to the total if it were not for some key drops. Smart, decisive and the signal caller that turns this offense. Several scramble drills turned into first downs because of Kelly's ability to get up field and do what he does best. Solid night for the QB and a solid grade that reflects.
This was a very successful evening for the bigs up front. With 51 pass attempts and only one sack given up, it is clear that Taylor Kelly was given plenty of time to work through his pass progressions. The rushing attack was not overly impressive in terms of numbers, yet ASU was able to really control the ball because of efficient work of the offensive line.
Wisconsin was often dialing up blitz packages, trying to gain pressure and the O-Line did a terrific job staying composed and working their duties. With a QB like Kelly, that will often turn to his feet if the defense is locked, you would hope the O-Line feels this relationship and worked up field with more effort. There were several plays that showed the line taking a play off when Kelly was trying to gain yards.
A couple of players that really stood out up front were Vi Teofilo and Evan Finkenberg. I thought that Wisconsin presented a stout front seven that would really test the offensive line and these two guys played great all night. This was a great starting point and test for the bigs since the next several opponents really play great defense at the line of scrimmage. Looking forward to watching this position group take on a very strong Stanford line.
128 yards rushing and 142 yards receiving for this position group on the day with 4 rushing touch downs out of Marion Grice. A very productive night as we saw both D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis lining up in the slot to expose match ups in the passing game. This dynamic group of backs is truly the reason ASU is so unique in how it operates its playbook.
You'd like to see some extra carries for both Lewis and Foster, because they both have the explosive style that screams home run yet Grice did a strong job keeping the ball secure and scoring in the red-zone. For some reason it seems like Grice is just a step slower in his burst to the second level from last year. His kickoff returns seemed to be sluggish as well. Early in the season it's tough to get in true game shape, so let's see how he continues to build as ASU moves forward on the schedule. Really looking forward to watching this stable play on the road against a very good defense this next week!
Tight Ends - H-Back
One of the strong points of game 1, this group seemed to be missing from the game plan somewhat in terms of production on the stat sheet. However, Chris Coyle did a fantastic job with helping in play action and blocking in the run game. He really brings a lot to this offense when he can fit into the play action game which allows him open zones all over the field. De'Marieya Nelson was also a no show on the stat sheet yet he seemed to be out there giving such great effort. There were several plays that showed him wide open because of his effort to work through the coverage. A very talented athlete that needs to keep finding the fit in Coach Norvell's offense.
Drops, drops, drops. A common theme from Saturday's win that needs to find a way to get fixed quick. If you leave those missed opportunities on the field they are going to come back and bite you hard. Early in the game, if ASU completed those receptions, we could have been talking about an early lead that took Wisconsin's confidence away from the start. If the Sun Devils want to be an elite team, they need to focus on this area and not let it continue to be an issue.
Richard Smith is a stud athlete, yet you can tell by his body language that he doesn't fully trust himself to make the play. If he can trip that switch, he is a lights out, explosive threat for this offense. Jaelen Strong came on big time during the 4th quarter and really showed why this guy has been so hyped up. Great skills to go get the ball around the defender all over the field. Wisconsin challenged ASU with playing some man coverage late in the game and Strong helped Coach Norvell expose it.
Two big catches for Kevin Ozier, the one being the catalyst for the big end of the 3rd quarter touchdown drive. The group would have a solid B grade if the drops did not over shadow the success.
Overall, it was a great night for the offense that showed they can control the ball against a big time opponent. There are several key moments in this game that showed the potential and personally I think it has no ceiling. Coach Norvell has an excellent plan with his play calling that really focuses its self around the play action and run-pass option plays. It would be a very tough task to draw up a game plan to defend this group and play book.
Talking about the Defense
15 First Downs Allowed
16-31 Passing - 50%
Six Batted Passes
7.2 Avg. Yards Per Rush
7.0 Yards Per Play Allowed
231 Yards Rushing Given Up
Not the best night for the D, but when the Sun Devils needed the stops late in the game, ASU's 11 on the field managed to find a way to succeed. I thought there were some really impressive individual efforts as you watch the tape and it was clear that ASU never showed body language that represented defeat. Even after some big plays given up, the defense held its composure and fought through. This group had us feeling confident that it was going to get the stops on third down and that is all you can ask for as a fan. Wisconsin punted seven times which shows just how well ASU's 3rd down defense really was.
After watching the film, I am actually very impressed with how ASU's front five played all night. Fitting the scheme in place, it was clear the goal was to play very gap sound and line up much more traditional than last season showed. Carl Bradford, Will Sutton and Jaxon Hood dominated in a lot of situations. I thought all three of those guys really played their hearts out against an offensive line that would impose their will on nearly everyone in college football.
Jaxon had an explosive get off all night and really made it hard for the double teams to hold up. He went un-noticed on the stat sheet but really turned it on with effort and I think he was a major key up front. A guy his size should not win a lot of match ups when it comes to splitting double teams from guys 6'4-6'6 320lbs. Yet it does it because you can tell he cares and wants to do his job as hard as he can. I'd say he needs to get longer with his arms and try to diminish some of the blocking surface and that would be one of my only critiques there for him. Bradford was a menace all night. His get off is something vicious and I love how he turns a lot of his rush moves into a power bull-rush from what starts as a speed-rush. Usually the best way to get the bigs on the other side to flip their hips and have to anchor down allowing counter moves to really work well.
Several times, Bradford made a one on one blocker look silly as he worked his skills to get off the attempted block and get in on the tackle. We might not have all the stats somewhere hoping for with this group, yet they are winning up front and that is all that matters. Wisconsin only had several decent rushes between the tackles as most of their rushing yardage came off several fly-sweep plays and perimeter run game. Will Sutton performed strong inside and it was clear he required some serious attention as Wisconsin doubled him often. Fighting through some cut blocks, he helped the defense a ton with the attention he received. One of my only knocks from this group came from some plays where ASU's ends came too far up field on clear run sets and allowed some very wide B-Gaps. Against a team that likes to run the ball, you need to always play that run first and react to the pass second.
This was a big performance up front and I am excited to see ASU move on to play Stanford.
A solid night when you consider the opponent ASU was playing, yet for some reason this group seemed to not be ready for the blockers they were going to face. Too much blocking surface given up and some missed opportunities with tackling in the hold that allowed big plays to break.
Fitting up as a backer on an O-lineman is always a tricky technique. You are obviously responsible for your gap, yet there comes a time every play when have to chose how you are going to fit that gap. Do you use a finesse move, do you power it up in there with your chest and hands potentially allowing your pads to get swallowed up. It's a tough call, yet one of the things you really need to focus on is keeping your eyes cleared in your gap so that you can win the first target (the man you are engaged with) and then find the ball (second target).
It seemed like several times both Steffon Martin and Anthony Jones didn't have a pre-snap read and allowed themselves to get caught up for just a split too long and the runner to burst by. Another thing I noticed several times was Anthony Jones and his blitzes on the QB. Several times he made great effort to get to the target and yet when he got there he didn't deliver or punish with some contact.
You will notice this happens on a two plays in the first half where he gets all the way to Joel Stave and had a clear chance to make great contact and runs right by like he was afraid to draw a flag. Just being a judge here, it seemed like he was really hesitant to bring it and follow through with his blitz. There wouldn't have been a flag thrown because of the perfect timing unless he went head to head.
You have to take those opportunities as a defender and get the QB hits when you can. Legally of course. You can really see how tentative he was on Wisconsin's 3rd quarter touchdown drive. Two plays before they score, Jones has a clear chance to just level Stave and whiffs on contact. No wrap and no boom. Gotta take those plays and follow through with them!
Chris Young played well and was around the ball on a lot of key plays. He is the leader of that second level and you can tell he has a great feel for what they are asking of him. Only play I saw where he let someone get by him was on Wisconsin's first touchdown in the corner of the end zone with the tight end that escaped by him into his zone. You have to take your eyes off the QB at that point, especially when you have defenders in front of you for that, and find your zone work.
ASU looked lost at times in deep coverage yet when you are facing a run game that keeps you on your toes; it's often a tough task to be completely solid in the pass defense. Laiu Moeakiola showed he is a great athlete at the safety spot along side Alden Darby yet is still suffering from lots of playing experience. He bit on some reads in play action and allowed the seam to get gashed several times.
In my opinion, Stanford has a much better passing game than Wisconsin, so hopefully this gets shored up quickly. Osahon Irabor led the team in tackles with seven total and a beautiful 1st quarter sack. It was great to see him getting involved at the line of scrimmage. If a defense can get that type of effort and productivity from the corner position, it really opens up what you can get away with in terms of creativity.
Robert Nelson needs to learn to wrap up. He comes in far too often and does the good ol' dive tackle that ASU was famous for two seasons ago. The opportunity he had to tackle Melvin Gordon in the backfield shows this example fairly well. Lots of energy from this group though and all kinds of big plays that helped the Sun Devils pull out the victory.
Bend and don't break. The Sun Devil defense dominated the game at times and when they were challenged, they rose up and won. Saturday's win should be a building block for this side of the ball. They were tested on the ground and if you take away two of their big plays, it is a much different game.
Field Goal Team: A+
Zane Gonzalez went 2 for 2. ASU won by two points and every one of them counted.
Punt Team: D
Up and down grade here. The muffed punt for the score obviously nearly took away a potential win. Yet other than that play, the punt group placed 3 inside the 20 yard line and helped ASU win the field position battle.
Punt Return-Block Team: D-
Two returns for Robert Nelson for 12 yards. Yet this unit allowed one of the biggest mistakes of the game when Wisconsin was able to covert a fake punt that provided some huge momentum in their favor. Rule number 1 for any punt return team: MAKE SURE IT IS NOT A FAKE. Each player is always responsible for an opposing eligible target or zone and clearly this was broken down> Kickoff Team: A
Alex Garoutte kicked off seven times and four of them went for the touch back. The kickoff coverage was very effective and Wisconsin didn't have much here.
Kickoff Return Team: A
Four returns for 90 yards and a long of 26. Never felt overly explosive with this group, but nothing hurt them either.
Overall Team Grades:
Special Teams: A
Offensive MVP: Marion Grice
Defensive MPV: Jaxon Hood
The night belonged to the Sun Devils. This was a game that could have easily been 21-7 at half time if not for some key drops and a special teams flop. Yet that is football and the reason why so many use the term "Game of inches". All the small things add up to the sum at the end and the Devils did a lot of the small things very well. Was it a controversial ending...? Of course.
But if you are like myself, and have endured the last ten years of calls that have not always gone the Sun Devils way, you will take a win no matter how it is delivered. In the end, it was poor clock management on Wisconsin's part to not get their field goal team out there to attempt an opportunity with 17 seconds left on the clock. Yet that would perhaps never been the case if the long pass play were called correctly. Again, a game of inches right? The wild reasons we love sports. The debate could go on forever, yet when the clock ran out, ASU won the game and that is the way it is going to go down in the record books.
So very proud of how this team competed all game long. They never backed down and showed how much the Sun Devils can still get better from top to bottom. The potential for this team is limitless if they keep working on getting better at the small things and put it together for all four quarters.
The first true home test of the year has come and gone. Sun Devil Stadium was absolutely rocking and reminded us all while we take such pride in ASU's home stadium. The Blackout looked great and the energy was high. If every game were to have that type of energy, SDS would be a scary place for the best of them.
Now... It's time to go see if the Sun Devils can do it all on the road.
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.