The Arizona State offense has had plenty of ups and downs throughout the 2012 season. With a new quarterback among seven new starters learning a new offensive system, there were bound to be growing pains, but the production of the unit under Mike Norvell has exceeded expectations.
The Sun Devil offense ranked 32nd in the nation with nearly 450 yards of total offense, and their 36.4 points-per-game was 22nd among FBS teams.
With the team sitting at 7-5 after their win over Arizona, Norvell's squad will get a chance to add to those numbers in an upcoming bowl game. We caught up with the first-year Sun Devil coordinator to get his thoughts on the Territorial Cup victory, how some of his key players have developed and what things he'd like to see the offense do better.
House of Sparky: What was your impression of you first Duel in the Desert experience?
Mike Norvell: It was a great atmosphere and a great game. Over the years of watching it on television, it doesn't really give you the full sense of being there in person of the intensity there is and just an excitement of the game. It made it a memorable one and one that I'll never forget.
HoS: As a coaching staff, how important was it to take home the Cup in the first year?
MN: Since the very first day we've been here, that's been the talk. As you go across this state and you talk to former Sun Devils, that's the game that everybody points to. We knew the importance of it. It was great for us and the situation we had going to get our seventh win and beating a top 25 opponent as well as other things that made it sweet. But no question, we knew that this was something that was going to be a major focus when we got here, and I'm glad to get the first one.
HoS: The offense started out quite sluggish against a defense that had struggled all year. In your view, what were the factors behind that slow start?
MN: We just had a couple of missed executions. You sit there on the second drive and we have a holding penalty that got us into a long yardage situation that stalled the drive. Then we got moving after that point. You got to eliminate the turnovers. That was something thatI was disappointed in.
HoS: What was your impression of Marion Grice in that game?
MN: He played well. He ran the ball extremely hard, made some guys miss and showed some flashes of what we expect from him. He really had a quality game.
HoS: The offense likes to spread the ball around, but do you think that Grice can be a feature back in the future? How good can he be?
MN: He can be really good. I think we have three of the best backs. Those guys work hard and they push each other. To see him step up in a big game like that was fun to see.
HoS: What is your evaluate Taylor Kelly's first season as ASU's quarterback?
MN: I thought Taylor played well. He did a lot of great things. It's a great learning experience, getting that first year under his belt. The whole key, you look at the games we win, he protects the football. I don't think he threw an interception in a game we won this year. A lot for him to build on. He made a lot of plays last Friday and helped us win games this year.
HoS: Chris Coyle now stands just a few receptions away from passing Zach Miller for the single season TE reception record. With the struggles of the wide receivers this season, just how important has his production been for the offense?
MN: Chris has been a very, very dynamic player for us. People like to talk about all the catches he has, but watching him and all the things he does in the run game and blocking and being a complete player, its been the best thing about him this year. I'm really proud of the way that he has worked and developed, and I'm looking forward to moving forward and seeing him continue to grow.
HoS: How valuable are the extra practice sessions that you'll be getting as a bowl team?
MN: They're huge. That's something that I talked to the offense about before coming out here. It's so big for the development of each and every one of our players. Doesn't matter if you are a senior or a freshman. You come out here and you work on your fundamentals. You work on your timing and your rhythm. We're going to see a lot of growth from this football team on the 15 practices we're going to get.
HoS: Now with a full regular season complete, what are some of the areas in which you feel the offense made the greatest strides?
MN: Overall, our execution. Guys are starting to have a sense of what we want in terms of tempo and a sense of what we're wanting offensively. We were able to do some things in the option game there in the last game that were big for us. They've been things that we've been running this year but not quite executing as well. To see that all come together and the guys play at that tempo was good to see.
HoS: On the other hand, what areas do you think have not meet expectations?
MN: Things we need to get better at, I would say third downs are something that we got to grow in. We've got to be better at converting in those situations. I know we were right there in the middle of the conference, but that's something that we got to get better at. Keeping those chains moving, keeping those drives going. We want to continue to stretch the field vertically down the field. Those are all things that we will continue to work on, and try to hit those big plays downfield and that helps us out when we get down into the redzone.
HoS: What are you major lessons that you are taking away from the 2012 ASU season, both as a team and yourself as a coach?
MN: I've learned that we've got guys that this program, this university and this team is important to them. To watch these guys fight through a lot of things that happened this year. We got off to a great start, and the had a four-game stretch that wasn't what anybody was envisioning. They never stopped. They never stopped early on one play. To see them rebound, to win in November and finish strong and win on the road. We got a football team that's going to battle for a full 60 minutes. I'm just looking forward to seeing them grow and where the future is going to take us.