The Sun Devil offensive line prepares for battle - Christian Petersen
The Sun Devil offense scored 51 touchdowns this season, and left tackle Evan Finkenberg played a part in nearly every one of them.
When Cameron Marshall opened his season with a nine-yard touchdown run, Evan was there. When Michael Eubank soared over the pylon like Superman against Illinois, Evan was there. When Marion Grice scampered 52 yards to the end zone against Arizona, Evan was there.
Every time the Arizona State offense unleashed a big play this season, left tackle Evan Finkenberg had a hand, or his entire body, in the play. Whether the junior found himself smashing linebackers or sealing off pass rushers, the Sun Devil tackle was a consistent force on the offensive line all season long.
Among the many changes Todd Graham brought to Arizona State this season, discipline came first and foremost. A successful transition required focus on the snap count, clean blocking techniques, and an ability to wear out the Sun Devil opponents, and the Arizona State offensive line took these challenges to heart.
Though the Sun Devils returned just two starters from the 2011 offensive line, the new program guidelines depended upon the ability to win the battle in the trenches. As the incumbent at left tackle, Evan Finkenberg took the challenges of building a solid foundation at the point of attack personally.
"We wanted to cut down on penalties, cut down on our holding calls, and bring a lot of discipline to our individual work and I think it's been paying off this year," Finkenberg said.
Coming out of fall camp, most of Arizona State's concerns surrounded the quarterback position and the difficult task of replacing Brock Osweiler. When Coach Graham surprised Sun Devil fans with the announcement of Taylor Kelly as the starter, questions immediately shifted to the offensive line.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell assured that the Sun Devils would commit to running the football, but with such little experience returning up front, the effectiveness of a power running game remained uncertain.
Finkenberg insists that his unit did not pay attention to the critics because the coaching staff put so much faith in the linemen. The talented Arizona State backfield continually praise the linemen for their important role on the team and when asked about the opportunity to block for Sun Devil standouts like Foster, Grice, and Marshall, Finkenberg's face lit up.
"You just get to bow your neck, go straight ahead, and crush some linebackers. It's fun because when you have great rushing stats, it shows the offensive line is doing their job."
After a great start the season, the offensive line struggled at points against ranked competition. However, Finkenberg believes the group never got demoralized and maintains they made an effort to work even harder as the season progressed. In the Territorial Cup game against Arizona, their labor paid off as the Sun Devils rushed for 269 yards and allowed just one sack.
The outing in Tucson also produced the first 150-yard game of the season from a Sun Devil running back, as Marion Grice torched the Wildcat defense. Each Sun Devil will remember the victory forever, but the offensive line took great pride in their performance.
"It was huge, so exciting for the program and it's great for the whole Sun Devil nation. It gives us momentum and a winning streak going into the bowl game," Finkenberg said.
Heading into the bowl game, Finkenberg is satisfied with the progress he and his colleagues have made. Questions turned to answers, as Arizona State finished the regular season with a respectable total of 190.8 rushing yards per game, ranking 38th nationally. When Arizona State faces off against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Sun Devils will have their hands full as the Midshipmen present the sixth-best rushing offense in the country.
The Arizona State offensive line knows the time of possession battle will be critical, and Finkenberg hopes the Sun Devils can keep the Midshipmen off the field by establishing the run early. The Sun Devils are confident in their offensive scheme, and Finkenberg believes successful double teams will help curtail the Midshipmen defenders.
"Changing the line of scrimmage is our goal. When we run power plays, you get a double team with the guard next to you and you get to nail a linebacker who doesn't see it coming," Finkenberg said.
When the Sun Devils take the field on December 29th, they do so for the final time in 2012. Though the bowl game might be the end of the road for the seniors, Finkenberg has his mind centered on the bigger picture.
In 2013, the left tackle will return for his senior season and will anchor an improving Sun Devil line. The junior looks forward to the leadership opportunities ahead of him, and cannot wait to take the younger players under his wing.
Next season, Arizona State will feature an incumbent at quarterback in Taylor Kelly, two experienced running backs with Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, and a veteran playmaker in Chris Coyle. Finkenberg thinks the offense can find its groove early, and he wants the offensive line to be the foundation of the team.
"I'll get to mentor the younger guys and show them the ropes. I'll get to make sure everyone's pushing themselves in the offseason and getting prepared for next season. It's exciting," Finkenberg said.
When Arizona State finds the end zone next season, Evan Finkenberg will likely have played a role in the score. Running or passing, crushing linebackers or walling off defensive ends, if the Sun Devils are scoring, Evan Finkenberg will be there leading the way.