In what everyone considered a ‘trap’ game for the nationally ranked Sun Devils, turned out to be true as they lost to the struggling Oregon State Beavers 35-27 Saturday/Sunday. With game time temperatures hovering around freezing at game time and eventually dropping into the low 20′s, the Arizona State Sun Devils were shut down in the second half as they watched their National Championship possibilities slip away.
While enjoying a five game win streak, the Sun Devils just never got into gear on this cold November evening. With leadership on both sides of the ball that were use to this cold weather (Taylor Kelly & Jordan Simone) one would believe the Sun Devils would be able to take care of business in Corvallis. Unfortunately, the early injury (possible concussion) to Simone and several misplays on defense, put the Sun Devils into positions they couldn’t recover.
The night quickly got ‘real’ when Beaver running back Storm Woods broke a 78 run to put Oregon State up 7-0. While the defense tried to get over the long run, they picked off OSU QB Sean Mannion as he tried to escape the pressure. Red zone issues continued as the Sun Devils settled for a FG. Unfortunately the defense lapsed again as on the next Beaver drive they scored on a 66 yard Teron Ward run to go up 14-3.
“They came out with more energy than us tonight”, stated defensive back Demarious Randall. That was obvious from the start, and it didn’t get any better as the night progressed. A late first quarter drive by ASU ended with a Kelly to DJ Foster score of 17 yards. 14-10 Beavers.
The offensive outburst in the second quarter would lead many of the Sun Devil faithful to believe they had taken control of the game and weren’t looking back. A 46 yard Kelly to TE Kody Kohl score as well as a 36 yard fumble return for a score by Antonio Longino sent the Devils into the half up 24-14. Although they had a lead, the Sun Devils couldn’t put a semi closing nail into OSU as Zane Gonzalez missed a 30 yarder with a little over a minute left.
The start of the second half featured just a portion of the original spartan crowd, but they were energized and ready to help their Beavers. From the looks of most of the tailgates, Fireball whiskey didn’t hurt the cause. The only score in the 3rd quarter was a Mannion to Victor Bolden touchdown throw that made the game 24-21 ASU.
When you have the ball only six times in the second half and you only come away with a field goal, you have to know the night won’t end well. With star wide out Jaelen Strong being dinged up several times and eventually finishing the game of the bench didn’t help ASU’s either. While ASU’s offensive struggles continued, the Beavers scored on their 3rd 66 yard or more play of the night with a Mannion to Jordan Villamin TD pass of 67 yards. that put the Beavers up one, 28-27.
Forced into a passing situation with 1:38 left in the game and only needing a FG to win, ASU faced an Oregon State defense that pressured and harassed Kelly into a 35 yard pick-6 by Michael Doctor. “We didn’t match their intensity tonight”, commented QB Taylor Kelly. If the wind wasn’t taken out of their sails before the pick-6, then that returned pick surely was the knockout blow. The ensuing Sun Devil drive resulted in a turnover on downs to seal the loss.
Coach Todd Graham echoed both Randall and Kelly in his post game presser. “We weren’t prepared to play. We didn’t respect them the way we needed to”. To hear that from the coach as well as players was really disappointing. Here’s a team that has found a way to win and continue to grow each and every week post UCLA debacle, and then come into a place where they’ve (ASU) not had much success in the last 10 years and openly say they didn’t want it or weren’t prepared enough. Maybe the talk of winning out to make their way into the playoff was premature, but to not be prepared for a struggling team that just recently lost to Washington State has to be on the coaching staff. It’s obvious the Beavers did their homework on the ASU pressure with the three big plays. Although the ASU defense contributed to a couple of scores, the offense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. And its also obvious that Taylor Kelly isn’t 100% as the offense really hasn’t done much on their own the last three games, as they’ve benefitted from the defensive efforts.
Now before I can even imagine the next game against Washington State, I’ll be driving back to Eugene all the while listening to a triumphant Beaver post game show. My numbness from the cold is only equal to the fact that ASU didn’t show up tonight. The biggest test of the year comes next weekend as the Cougars come into town for an 11:00am start in Tempe. Will the players rebound? Will the coaches keep the players attention? Will Taylor Kelly be the pre-injury Taylor? All questions that will be answered in where this team will go the rest of the year.
With a rare mid day game and a national audience glued to their televisions, the Arizona State Sun Devils broke through nationally as they throttled the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 55-31. Although the final score doesn’t indicate how close the game was as the Irish got within three points with just a little over six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The game started relatively mildly as the both teams traded field goals, but then it just got crazy as ASU’s defense put on a show for the 65,870 in attendance. After receiving the kickoff post ASU field goal, Notre Dame QB Everett Golson fumbled on a sack. Next play featured a 13 yard Taylor Kelly to Jaelen Strong TD pass. Notre Dame’s next possession lasted only one play as Golson was picked off by Marcus Hardison. Two plays later ASU back Demario Richard punched it in for an ASU 17-3 lead.
“The defense had our back the entire game, we needed to show up at the end”. Commented QB Taylor Kelly about his defense this afternoon. That statement couldn’t be any more true as the Devils defense struck again mid way through the second quarter as an errant Golson pass found Demarious Randall who returned it 59 yards to put ASU up 24-3. A late Irish touchdown was the only real mar on the first half as the Devils were up 34-10 at the half.
The ASU defense was so dominant any real offensive numbers were overlooked. Running back DJ Foster went 21-128 and Demario Richard had 13-54 on the ground. Seven different Devils caught the ball with the three scores being distributed among them. Jaelen Strong led the wide out group with a 5-58 game.
Most everyone in the press box was thinking that this couldn’t last into the second half, but one of my colleagues mentioned the inevitable, this game looked a lot like last years UCLA game where the Devils had to hang on for the victory. Never tempt fate as the Sun Devils went scoreless in the 3rd quarter while the Irish gained momentum by putting up a score to make it a 34-17 game. The 4th quarter started with 4th down failed attempt by the Irish, but the following ASU drive was stopped by an interception by Matthias Farley which then led to an Irish score making the game 34-24. A quick four and out by ASU led to a quick two play Notre Dame scoring drive, 34-31 with 6:37 to play.
“I don’t pay attention to anything (except the game) during the game, but when they (ND) made it a three point game, I heard our crowd and said ‘wow’”. Coach Graham in the post game presser. “I think I was a little panicked.”
The Sun Devils showed their champions heart and then proceeded to march downfield on the backs of Foster and Richard as they completed a 75 yard drive to put the game back to 41-31. Coach Graham had this to say about that drive, “Championship teams take the ball and stuff it down their throats and score”.
Notre Dame’s next drive was ended with a Lloyd Carrington pick-6 from 58 yards out. The defense wasn’t done yet as the next Irish drive ended on a sack of Golson to set up a two yard Taylor Kelly scramble to put the Devils up 55-31.
The victory on national television was big, but how they got there was a bit of a struggle in the second half. But it truly showed the heart of this 2014 ASU team. Every game since the UCLA disaster has shown the how resilient the Devils have become this fall. As the Devils look ahead to the Oregon State game, fans will be looking at the playoff committee announcement on where their Devils will be Tuesday night. A broader view of this season is simple, win out and they’re in the playoff.
Photos courtesy of Vincent Marotta
Any observer of the PAC 12 conference is use to high flying offenses and big scores, so the 19-16 Sun Devil victory over the Utah Utes in overtime was an anomaly of rare form. With over 53,000 in attendance, ASU rode the back of their kicker Zane Gonzales and his four field goals to take control of the PAC 12 south division. None more important than the one 36 yarder in overtime.
The continuing problems in the red zone continued tonight for the Sun Devils. Another two first and goals were wasted and ASU had to settle for field goals. Something thats happened more and more over the last few weeks. Another issue that especially drives Coach Graham crazy is the number of penalties with six more tonight. “We’re hurting ourselves with penalties and sacks,” stated Taylor Kelly. In addition to penalties, Coach Graham consistently preaches the importance of ball security. Luckily, this hasn’t been as much a problem as the penalties.
The biggest take away from tonights victory is the continuing emergence of the Sun Devil defense. Ever since their crushing defeat to UCLA, ASU’s defense has grown stronger and continued to have great strides in helping this team go 7-1. Even though Utah’s offense isn’t considered of the PAC 12′s elite, to keep them under 100 yards for the first half is a great effort. Total given up for the game was only 241.
But unfortunately, Utah’s defense has also been stellar this season. Nationally ranked in several categories, the Utes have kept themselves in games long enough for the offense to put away the victory, and thats exactly what happened tonight. Everything except the victory. “A little more man coverage in the second half then we did in the first half, we changed up the zones, a little more three-deep zone in the second half”. Stated Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “The first couple series were really our worst series defensively, but after that we settled in and played them pretty good. Except, like I said, we were a little soft on the run tonight, we are usually much more stout versus the run then we were tonight.”
In a defensive battle, the big ASU offensive highlight was from 17 year old Demario Richard and his 116 yards rushing with 14 attempts. He’s been flashing some greatness this year but tonight was his ‘official’ coming out party to casual Sun Devil fans. This kid is a beast and his has an unlimited ceiling. This will be the first of many opines about this young man in his Sun Devil career.
Zane Gonzalez’s 30 yard field goal to tie it at 16 -16 with 5:47 left in the game was up to that time his most important kick. As the two teams started overtime, ASU chose to go on defense first. With a starting point of the 25, Utah’s PK ‘Automatic’ Andy Phillips was already in range. After three plays Utah moved the ball down to the ASU 18, Phillips lined up and snapped his 35 yard kick left of the uprights. Fortunately, the Utah bench had called a timeout sending Phillips back out for another kick. If lightening hadn’t struck once with a missed chip shot, Phillips then proceeded to over compensate his next kick as he pushed it right. ASU then marched out, ran three plays and sent out game hero Zane Gonzalez for his game winning 36 yarder. “I was just ready and excited for the opportunity”. Gonzalez commented. “I told TK (Taylor Kelly) early on, give me another chance and he set me up and just did what I had to do.” And that he did.
Next up is a meaningless game in the terms of PAC 12 supremacy, but HUGE in regards to national ranking as the Sun Devils welcome Notre Dame to Tempe. With an all-time regard of 0-3 against ND, the rare mid day nationally televised game will be an opportunity for the rest of the country to watch an ASU game. The winner will have a front row seat to reaching the elusive final four playoff.
In weather that Noah would’ve had problems navigating, the Arizona State Sun Devils escaped from Seattle with a hard fought 24-10 victory over the Washington Huskies tonight. A game time temperature of 59 degrees quickly dropped as torrential rainfall and winds gusting up to 50-60 mph wrecked havoc with the UW campus. So much so, that the bridge/roadway 520 was shut down due to unsafe conditions.
QB Taylor Kelly’s return was most assuredly hampered by the weather, but also by his rustiness having not played since the Colorado game on September 13. Kelly finished the night going 14-25 and 180 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception. With such weather conditions, any kind of offense was a rare with ASU putting up 285 to Washington’s 290. Washington’s only touchdown came on an errant Kelly pass that was returned 63 yards by linebacker John Timu.
The first quarter saw many errant passes, shanked punts and many ‘three and outs’ by both teams. ASU finally broke through on the scoreboard with a 16 yard Kelly to Jaelen Strong pass with 4:58 in the second quarter. A Zane Gonzales field goal with :55 left in the half was the extent of the first half scoring as ASU went into the locker room up 10-0. ASU’s defense combined with the weather it almost looked like that would be all the scoring that would be needed to win the game.
With the Husky running back squad riddled with injuries, converted linebacker Shaq Thompson was the go to guy for the Huskies out of the backfield ending the game with 104 yards on 21 carries.
Mid-way through the 3rd quarter Taylor Kelly was leading ASU downfield when his errant pass in the left flat was snagged by linebacker John Timu and quickly returned 67 yards to make the score 10-7 Devils. What seemed as a ‘solid’ lead now was turning into a dog fight in the elements.
With 12:56 left in the game and ASU still up by three the Huskies switched to an extreme hurry up offense on a drive that started on their own 14 yard line. In a drive that went 80 yards in over five minutes, the Sun Devils defense found their footing inside their own 10 yard line by holding the Huskies to a Cameron Van Winkle 23 yard field goal. All square at 10 with a little over seven minutes on the clock.
Taylor Kelly then reached back and drove the Devils downfield in the nasty weather on a nine play 75 yard drive that was capped off by a unusual 7 yard touchdown pass to Gary Chambers. While getting hurried and eventually taking a blow to the head, Kelly tossed up a ‘anyone’s’ ball in the end zone only to find Chambers come back and dive for the reception. When Chambers was asked about another road win, he replied, “With our preparation we expect to win, on the road or at home”. Coming back to Settle was a homecoming for safety Jordan Simone. Having grown up in the area and attending Washington State prior to ASU, Simone loved the weather. “This is what most of my high school games were like, so this is my normal. The warm weather in Tempe is the stuff I’m not use to. For us and all our brothers on the field, once the kick off happens we’re really to into the game for us to pay attention to the weather”.
ASU’s final score came late in the 4th quarter with less than minute remaining when a scrambling Troy Williams errant throw found ASU DB Armand Perry who returned the favor of a pick six with a 61 yard return. The final score of 24-10 was not indicative of the flow of the game, but then again neither was the ASU USC game and ASU won that one to.
I believe the key moment to the game came early in the fourth quarter. While part time Husky RB and linebacker Shaq Williams had a big game, he couldn’t get it into the end zone with a first and goal from the eight yard line. After three straight rushes, the Huskies settled for only a field goal.
During the post game presser Coach Todd Graham was once again very complimentary of his team and how they support and fight for each other, He also made note of how it was the Gary Chambers catch that set up the USC game ‘Jaelen Mary’ game winner. So it came as no surprise he made the big TD catch to put ASU back in the lead.
With another huge road win under their belt and Taylor Kelly back in the starting line up the Sun Devils can now focus on getting back to Tempe to face another one loss team in Utah next weekend. The Utes also had a big win tonight as they beat the USC Trojans with a last minute touchdown. Focus obviously is on the Ute game, but everyone now realizes the road back to the PAC 12 Championship game is in the Sun Devils control.
Still without starting QB Taylor Kelly, the Arizona State Sun Devils put together a complete game plan and cleared away the the ghosts of last years beat downs and defeated the Stanford Cardinal in Sun Devil Stadium 26-10. With the return of kicker of Zane Gonzales who went 4/5 in field goals, ASU victory was never in doubt.
With the temperature in Tempe finally returning to a comfortable 82 degrees, ASU jumped out to a 14-0 lead with scores by DJ Foster and Jaelen Strong. In addition to his one touchdown, Foster also had over 160 total yards while Strong continued with his stellar season with 8 catches for 75 yards. The ASU offense only put up a pedestrian 356 yards but their defense was the star of the show.
Stanford and QB Kevin hogan were only able to scrap together 288 total yards. With wide out Devon Cajuste still on the shelf for the Cardinal, ASU was able to control ‘Mr Everything’ Ty Montgomery to 125 total yards. Just a nugget of his usual performance. If the Notre Dame game for the Cardinal wasn’t a sign to things to come, today was example number two, this offense isn’t very good. The biggest glaring hole was a main back to run the ball. In previous years, backs like Stephon Taylor or Tyler Gaffney were work horses and made this Stanford team run, literally. Without a feature back the Cardinal can’t take advantage of their numerous TE’s and wide outs.
ASU’s total control of this game wasn’t shown by the score as they settled for four second half field goals instead of touchdowns. Stanford’s 4th quarter score by running back Patrick Skov made the score 20-10, but there really wasn’t much concern as ASU’s defense had things under control. The unusual trend of PAC-12 teams doing well on the road wasn’t going to happen tonight as the Sun Devils stood up and made a huge statement in their quest for back to back PAC-12 South titles.
What I found most interesting was the calm sedate demeanor of Coach Graham during the post game presser. Win or lose Coach is usually pretty animated in his post game comments, but tonight was a different animal. He was very slow and deliberate with little emotion in his words. He seemed at peace with the win. One would think he would be ecstatic with the victory but he was reserved and deliberate. After the presser I asked one of the ASU SID staff about coach’s demeanor tonight. I was told that Coach Graham has a great respect for Stanford coach David Shaw. Combine that with the two crushing defeats last year its what created the solemn mood of Coach Graham. The ability to beat Coach Shaw and Stanford handily was a pretty emotional thing and it really showed during the presser. Almost like Coach Graham didn’t want to show him up.
Next up on the schedule are the Huskies of Washington up in Seattle. The weather forecast is for rain and there’s rumors of the return of QB Taylor Kelly. In what was almost impossible to get a road win in the PAC 12 for ASU, the Sun Devils are now poised to continue their road victory streak to four games. Off to the Northwest.
As I sit here in the press box overlooking the dark and empty Los Angeles Coliseum, sweaty and still out of breath from the long and arduous hike up the bleachers from the field, I still can’t believe the Sun Devils came away with a victory tonight, 38-34. Down 34-25 with three minutes left. Back-up QB Mike Bercovici hit Cameron Smith for a 73 yard touchdown pass and then a 46 yard hail mary pass to Jaelen Strong to end the game.
Just nine days from a severe beat down by the hands of UCLA, the Arizona State Sun Devils came into their second game without their star quarterback Taylor Kelly who suffered a foot injury in the win in Colorado. Mike Bercovici, back up QB, went 42-68 for 488 yards against the Bruins, was an experiencing a homecoming of sorts as he grew up just north of LA in Calabasas.
“Words can’t express what that felt like. It was one of the hardest fought games I’ve been a part of. Give them a lot of credit.” Coach Graham said postgame. “They battled. I’m so proud of our team and coaches and how hard they worked and prepared.”
The end of this game was a complete opposite to what appeared to be another Sun Devil defeat in the Coliseum. USC’s uncountable number of dropped passes and numerous badly timed penalties were the only things that kept ASU in the game. But you have to give this ASU squad credit as they didn’t fade, give up or put their heads down until the final gun went off.
In temperatures that rivaled the Valley of the Sun, the Sun Devils special teams started off where they left off against the Bruins a week before, awful. A 53 yard punt return by USC’s Nelson Agholor early in the 1st quarter was the game’s first score. A couple of ASU scores by Biletnikoff nominee Jaelen Strong and a newly popular ASU two point conversion put ASU up 15-7 half way through the second quarter.
Going into the second half only down by two, the Sun Devils appeared to be posed to jump on the Trojans and leave Los Angeles with a much needed road victory. An exchange of field goals in the 3rd quarter sent the game into the fourth quarter with only a two point differential. Little did anyone realize that the fourth quarter would produce almost the same amount of points that was scored in the first three quarters combined. An early 4th quarter TD by USC QB Cody Kessler put the Trojans up nine and it looked like the might have been the game winner as the game went scoreless for almost another 10 minutes. ASU back DJ Foster, who along with the rest of the Sun Devils couldn’t muster much on the ground, went on top for six to close the game back to within two with a 21 yard TD catch with a little over three minutes left in the game.
Less than a minute later with the Sun Devils trying to get the Trojans into a three and out situation, Javorius Allen broke through the ASU line for a game ending 53 yd TD run. Allen was a thorn in ASU’s side all day with his 143 yards on the ground. But as the 70,000 Trojan faithful began to file out of the Coliseum, the Sun Devils continued to grind until the final gun. The first play following the kickoff was a scrambling Bercovici to Cameron Smith 73 yard pitch and catch to bring the Devils back within two, 34-32 with 2:43 left in the game. But no timeouts. After three straight running plays and a pooch punt by USC QB Kessler, left ASU on their own 28 with no timeouts and :23 seconds on the clock. An incomplete pass, then a 26 yard pass to Gary Chambers to the USC 46 left ASU with :07 after Bercovici grounded the ball. Even with regular place kicker Zane Gonzales still in AZ, a 63 yard field goal attempt was never an option, so a hail mary was the only thing left. Bercovici then tossed a floating ball up into the LA night to find a wide open Jaelen Strong who hauled in the 46 yard pass for a Sun Devil 38-34 victory.
Mike Bercovici’s thought’s on the final play. “First off, credit to Tyler Sulka, who stayed firm on the right side and Vi Teofilo, Nick Kelly, Christian Westerman and Jamil Douglas for setting firm. They brought three. We practice that play every Thursday and our coaches put the same amount of stress on a Thursday practice like it was on the field. It was a little bit of a prayer, I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I got it that far. It looked like a little bit of a duck. But I needed to give us a chance and who else but Jaelen Strong comes up with it.”
I have to be honest, instead of maintaining journalistic integrity and possibly getting some good pictures, I ran onto the field to celebrate with the whole ASU team. In my 30 years of being around ASU, this was probably the greatest finish I’d ever seen and I had a front row seat standing on the five yard line. The post game was full of congratulations and talk of what happens when you work hard, stay the course and finish the game. All cliches that aligned themselves into a huge Sun Devil victory.
Not only was this victory a great moral boost with normal starter Kelly still on the bench, but it also solidified the confidence this Sun Devil team has in its coach’s preachings as well as back up QB Mike Bercovici. The Sun Devils now have a much needed bye week to get healthy before they host the Cardinal of Stanford. A game that will bring back bad memories of last years two drubbings.
In what started to be a pleasant evening in Tempe, AZ quickly turned into UCLA Bruin massacre of the Sun Devils. When the carnage was over it was UCLA 62 ASU 27. There are dozens of stats about number of scoring plays over 80 yards, number of unanswered points and points off turnovers to decipher, but in my corner of this press box, the worm turned right before the half.
Down 20-17 on the UCLA 17 with no timeouts, ASU has a couple of options. Kick a field goal and they go into the half tied and a clean slate. Throw a safe pass into the endzone or turn the ball over. ASU QB Mike Bercovici took option #3 and threw an ill fated pass into coverage which was intercepted by Ishmael Adams and returned 95 yards for a touchdown. In essence, game over.
The simplicity of that game description isn’t quite the narrative of the game. There was some flat out awful tackling from ASU, multiple turnovers and some awful defensive strategies. Looking at the pure stats of the game one would think the game was competitive and rather intriguing. Taylor Kelly’s replacement Mike Bercovici was 42-68, 488 yards 3 TDs. Jalen Strong had 12 catches for 146 yards. ASU doubled UCLA’s first downs 38-19, but when you’re running 80 yard plays and 95 interception returns, there isn’t a lot of first down availability. It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out between the turnovers and big plays thats where the game was won and lost.
When Bercovici was questioned about the pick six, he was very clear in his answer. “That was unacceptable on my behalf and it’ll never happen again. We’ve got a very capable place kicker to put up points.” Both Bercovici and Jordan Simone echoed the same thoughts about how this is a team and they win and lose as a team. The “Sun Devil brotherhood” as they called themselves. “We never Quit.”
With 60,876 fans in attendance tonight, a 12,996 record crowd of students made up a large chunk of fans that braved the 98 degree kickoff temp to #blackoutthebruins. Instead, the Bruins scored more points than any other opposing team in Sun Devil Stadium history.
“That was embarrassing”, is how Coach Graham started his post game presser. “Tackling was atrocious. We only played 58 downs on defense and we looked gassed and tired”. Graham continued with these comments, “We thought they’d get tired because they had to play over 100 plays on defense, but it was our guys who looked tired. We took a step backward in our tackling. I’ve never seen us do that before.” When asked about Bercovici’s performance, Graham had several thoughts. “Mike did some great things, and I’m proud of him. He started out nervous and you could tell by some of his early throws. They couldn’t stop us, our turnovers are what stopped us. And Mike and our team will grow from that. Our guys have character and played every play. Our big problem right now is our defense hasn’t played a full four quarters”. And that last statement worries me as the Sun Devils prepare for some real big games.
The sentiments of many of the ASU media circus, is of how this team will prepare for a tough Trojan team next weekend on the road. Not only have they faced adversity in this young season, but its officially slapped this team upside its face. Will Bercovici be settled enough to play a complete mistake free game? Can the defense find a way to tackle someone and play for a complete four quarters? Will the special teams step up to help the cause? These are real life questions the Sun Devils must answer if they have any chance to compete in the rugged PAC-12 South.
Leaving Boulder tonight with a win was a distant second in the minds of the ASU Sun Devils and their fans as both their offensive and defensive captains fell to injury. SPUR linebacker Viliami Moeakiola left the game with an apparent arm injury while QB Taylor Kelly left the game limping gingerly with a right foot injury. The 38-24 victory over the Buffs was a good road conference win but time will tell with how both injuries play out for the UCLA game in a week and a half.
Another stellar week week for Sun Devil running back DJ Foster as he rumbled for 148 yards and another 59 in the air for his second consecutive week with over 200 yards of offense. Taylor Kelly put up another great rushing day before his injury including a 50 yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter. There was never a doubt how the offense would function tonight as ASU jumped out to 17-0 early lead. But just like last weeks game in Albuquerque, the Devils allowed the Buffaloes to get back into the game with two 2nd quarter scores. Although Buffalo wide out Nelson Spruce will never be confused with recently departed Paul Richardson, his seven catches for 97 yards and two TD’s got the 38,547 in attendance onto their feet.
Although the Devils didn’t start the game with a defensive penalty as they’d done the previous two games, the ASU squad did amass eight penalties for 59 yards. Several of them were key in keeping some Colorado drives alive. The frustration on the field shown by Coach Graham was enough, I can’t imagine the dialogue in the locker room. During his post game presser Coach also pinpointed the costliness of that many penalties and how they can’t repeat this once they get deeper into PAC-12 play.
In addition to the penalties the loss of Taylor Kelly for any period of time is very troublesome for me as well as every other Sun Devil fan. While I’ve opined about the play of back up Mike Bercovici this year, this game was nothing to change my mind about his ability to lead this team. He looked a little lost and confused in the fourth quarter and the Buffaloes could sense it taking advantage of his tentative play. None of the three times ASU had the ball in the fourth quarter lasted more than 6 plays. Without a late 4th quarter interception by Sun Devil Christian Sam, the Buffaloes had some nice momentum to make this game closer than it should have been. Punter Matt Haack was stellar and took advantage of the mile high air with his seven punts averaging over 48 yards each.
Post game comments from DJ Foster as well as Jordan Simone both sounded similar as they spoke of ‘teamwork’ and what everyone around them is doing and less of what they’re doing. Of course they eluded questions about both Kelly and Moeakiola. Coach Graham wasn’t anymore forthcoming with comments regarding the injuries either. “All is I know is he’s out tonight and we’ll evaluate it tomorrow,” Coach Graham said after the game. “I’m very concerned. It was tough for us tonight, that’s part of it. You have to be able to respond. This is the adversity we talk about.” This was also the first presser with Coach that he commented on a lot of players and how hard they worked. He recognized a good 5-10 players on particular plays. The look on coach Graham’s face after this win showed deep concern. His star QB finishing the game with a walking boot and his team allowing a far less talented team stay in the game definitely was wearing on him. With two weeks in a row on the road experiencing this ‘adversity’ that the coaches have all been preaching about, the Devils have a monster game at home in a week and a half against the highly ranked Bruins of UCLA.
Just looking at the stat sheets there isn’t much that jumps out that this was awful game for the Sun Devils, but they did give up a lot of yards. The numbers that back up running back Kalen Ballage have put up are nice and I’m told by reporters closer to the program that he’ll be a great talent in the next few years. So if the injury bug strikes twice and Foster goes down, Ballage should be able to carry the load. As this team gets ready to face UCLA without Kelly, the amount of adversity multiplies exponentially.
With the daunting stat of not winning a non-conference road game since Colorado in 2006, the Sun Devils traveled to Albuquerque to take on the Lobos of New Mexico. In the first game of a home and home series with New Mexico, ASU looked to break the long stretch of road losses. The good news for Sun Devil nation is they took care of business in front of 25,742 fans as they toppled New Mexico 58-23. The bad news is that it was another sloppy effort against a lesser team.
ASU’s main focus tonight was to control the triple option offense of the Lobos. And at times it appeared they faced this type of offense every week. On other drives? They moved the ball on the Sun Devils like they weren’t even on the field. And one word that has been heard in practice all fall finally came to light, adversity. Coach Norvell as well as Coach Graham have been preaching that this young team would be faced with it, and how would they react would be the question. Luckily the stretch of the second quarter where New Mexico scored 14 unanswered points to close within eight was stymied by halftime. “We’ve been preaching and preaching to prepare for adversity”, quoted Coach Graham. “And at halftime I told them to do what you were suppose do”. Evidently, many of the troubles the Sun Devils encountered during the that stretch was caused by players freelancing and not following the game plan. After listening to QB Taylor Kelly and Coach Graham in the post game presser, the message was clearly sent to the team that they MUST follow the coaches direction in the second half.
Besides that stretch in the second quarter, the game was never really in doubt for the Devils. Running back DJ Foster logged 217 yards on the ground with 19 carries. He’s the first Sun Devil to gain over 200 yards since 2001 when Delvon Flowers reached the magical 200 barrier. His first words when asked about the big game were pure praise for his linemen and Taylor Kelly. He almost tried to explain it was everyone else who put up those yards instead of himself. Kelly also had a big day on the ground with 97 yards including a 41 yarder in the first quarter.
Besides starting the game again (Weber State also) with a defensive penalty, the other curiosity of the first half was the two point conversion that saw De’Marieya Nelson throw to kicker Zane Gonzalez. It’s reminiscent of something the Oregon Ducks would try and also makes other teams in the conference think twice about what this team can throw at you.
Special teams was also something of some concern this evening. The short kickoffs can be attributed to the 30-35 mile an hour gusts of wind, but the blocked extra point, missed field goal and blocked PAT (lead to a 2 point conversion for New Mexico) are something that need to be fixed immediately before PAC-12 play begins.
Back up running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard both saw extensive action with some good results in addition to wide out Cameron Smith. As young as this Devil squad is, these are the type of games to get as many guys action before league play starts.
The progression of ASU’s first three games are just what you’d want going into a season. starting off with a weak opponent and gradually working your way up into tougher competition. Coach Graham said during the post game presser that there was “marked improvement” over the Weber State game. But the guys were still making mistakes. The three fumbles (one lost) and four penalties ASU committed are a thorn in Coach Grahams side and he will make a concerted effort this week in practice on those issues. So with a ‘good’ win on the road and PAC-12 play beginning next weekend in Boulder against the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils can now focus on continued improvement as the first mid term exam will be UCLA in Tempe in a couple of weeks. As for me? I’m heading off for some BBQ and some more green chili before I head back to San Diego.