Arizona State is enjoying a week off after their expectation-exceeding 4-1 start, capped by a great win over Cal.
Saturday's game was a very good overall effort, as the Sun Devils left Berkeley with a win for the first time since 1997. Now a few days after the fact, here are some lessons that have become clear.
1) Chuck Norris something something Will Sutton something
You've heard plenty of them. You know, those hyperbolic and ironic "facts" centered around the all-around badassery of Chuck Norris. Here's a new fact: if you insert Will Sutton's name in for ol' Chuck's, then the hyperbole and irony immediately vanish.
Right now, Sutton is playing at a ridiculously dominant level. His three sacks and four tackles-for-loss against Cal earned him the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Week award, but that doesn't due his play enough justice. He's about as unblockable as any defender in the nation, and a serious contender for All-American honors.
2) This is a new era
This was a big win for Todd Graham and his Sun Devils. There's no question about it.
First off, it was a conference win that kept ASU atop the Pac-12 South division. Secondly, they won on the road, where they had just five wins over their previous 23 games away from Tempe. Most importantly, it was the strongest sign to date that the "Speaking Victory" era has a chance at finally breaking the cycle of self-destructive Sun Devil teams.
The team made a lot of mistakes, and there is plenty of room for improvement. But they also battled from start to finish and continue to raise their level of play with each successive game. Those are traits not seen in the program for some time.
The work of Graham and his staff is just beginning, but these early trends are a most encouraging sign of the sleeping giant finally starting to wake.
3) The rushing defense as still an issue
Right now, ASU boasts some exceedingly impressive defensive rankings. They are second in the nation in tackles-for-loss, fifth in sacks, seventh against the pass and 10th overall in yards allowed. However, after another sub-par day on the ground, the Sun Devils rank a pedestrian 50th against the run.
This isn't merely a product of facing a very talented Cal backfield. All season long, the Sun Devils have repeatedly found themselves gashed for big runs in between those flashy sacks and TFLs.
While they have yet to have what can be described as a "bad" game, they've allowed Illinois, Missouri, Utah and Cal to make enough play and long runs to keep fans and coaches worried as the team looks forward to a very tough second half, highlighted by battles against Oregon, UCLA, Arizona and USC.
4) And so is the rushing offense
On the flip side, the ground game hasn't been the haven for the Sun Devil offense it was thought it would be.
Over the last three weeks, the team's yards-per-carry average has been 3.1, 3.3 and 2.4. Yuck. Even without the great talent level in the Sun Devil backfield, those numbers are bad.
Cameron Marshall—who entered the season under promises of 30 touches and spots on several award watch lists—saw his biggest workload of the season with 17 carries, but amassed just 61 yards. Outside of a 15-yard run, Marion Grice was limited during his 10-carry, 47-yard day.
Overall, the ground game is not yet a "problem", but it's certainly hovering in the lower regions of "good enough". It's getting the job done so far, and for that they deserve some credit. But with a schedule that will soon get a whole lot tougher, the backs and offensive line will need a better effort going forward.
5) The offense better get really good on fourth downs
While ASU was undoing some negative memories by winning at Cal, there were some bad flashbacks that resurfaced.
Kicker Alex Garoutte was again a liability, missing two very makeable field goals (39 and 30 yards) and having another blocked. Those misses rightly overshadow his two makes from 28 and 33 yards, and the only silver lining can be found in the fact that his misses didn't cost the team a game, as it did last season. He's now six for 10 on the year.
His continued struggles from those otherwise makeable distances may soon put his job in jeopardy (backup Jon Mora missed his only attempt—a 40-yarder—against Utah) or, could alter the team's playcalling on fourth down should they find themselves just outside an opponent's redzone.
In any event, this is not a good situation.
6) The wide receivers prove it was not a fluke
After three uninspiring games to open the year, the pressure was mounting on the Sun Devil wide receiver corps to step up and make a statement. Last week, Rashad Ross and company responded in a big time way, helping to lead the way in the win over Utah.
The group made sure that during Saturday's game against Cal, any notion of that being a fluke was dismissed...or at least pushed back another game.
He made two sensational plays. On the first, he caught a pass at the goal line and took a crushing blow from several Bears for a touchdown near the end of the first half. Later, with ASU clinging to a 20-17 lead with just 6:17 left in the game, Ozier caught a pass on third and 11 and raced 22 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
7) Cal QB Zach Maynard will be going pro in something other than sports
See above. Or this.