Aug. 30, 2012; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State quarterback Michael Eubank (18) attempts to run with the ball in the first quarter against Northern Arizona University at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE
The "Speaking Victory" era got off to a rousing start, as the Sun Devils trounced NAU 63-6 to open the 2012 season.
You can read our recap and notes from the action here, but now we get critical and hand out our position-by-position grades.
Taylor Kelly did his job in being efficient and mistake free, completing 15 of his 19 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown and did not have a turnover. Most promisingly, he also mixed in a handful of impressive plays, including a 49-yard strike to Chris Coyle and a nice 23-yard run. Kelly was also good throwing on the move, as Mike Norvell dialed up a few designed rollouts.
However, he did miss a few open receivers that could have gone for big gains, and underthrew Rashad Ross on a would-be touchdown, although Ross bailed him out with a great mid-air adjustment for a 50-yard catch. In future games when the opposition gets tougher, ASU can't afford to miss such chances.
Michael Eubank was mostly a running threat, gaining 36 yards on seven carries, and had a one-yard touchdown. His most impressive play was a third down conversion in which he turned the corner and showed off his speed on a 13-yard pickup. He completed his only pass for two yards.
Ryan Woods saw late action and did not throw a pass. This is notable due to Woods getting the nod instead of Mike Bercovici, who Todd Graham said after the game the team would try to redshirt.
Running Back: A-
Although Cameron Marshall scored two touchdowns, he had just 14 yards on nine carries. Much of that was due to his playing time being severely limited after he lost a fumble in the first quarter. That opened the door for D.J. Foster to have a sensational first half, totaling 65 yards rushing on just four carries and a touchdown. His night ended early after he fumbled, but he showed his rare explosiveness with 67 yards rushing and 32 yards receiving on four catches.
The star of the night was Marion Grice, who shouldered the offensive load in the second half. He led the team with 107 yards and three rushing scores, and showed his great blend of power and speed.
In his first action since 2010, Deantre Lewis had 12 yards on four carries.
Wide Receivers: B
It was a relatively quiet night for the receiving corps.
True freshman Richard Smith, pressed into greater duty due to the pre-game suspension of Jamal Miles, had quite a debut. He led the team with five receptions for 45 yards, and had his first career touchdown. He also ran three times for 26 yards on sweeps.
The biggest play by the group was Ross' 50-yard catch. The pass from Kelly was underthrown, but Ross made a great adjustment to not only make the catch, but defuse a very good interception opportunity. Kevin Ozier has two catches for 29 yards.
The unit also did some fine work in run blocking.
Tight Ends/3-Backs: A
There had been a lot of talk over the offseason about the potential of Chris Coyle at the 3-back spot, and he showed that why such talk was warranted. He led the team with 65 yards receiving on just two catches, including a 49-yarder. He would have had much more had Kelly not missed him on a few other throws. Coyle was consistently open along the seam, and the Kelly-to-Coyle tandem could be one to watch going forward.
In addition, their work in the run game was at times quite good, and Coyle had a great seal block on Eubank's touchdown run.
Offensive Line: A-
The ASU offensive line had a fine game on Thursday night, paving the way for 305 yards rushing, the most ASU has had since 2001, while averaging six yards per carry. They were also solid in pass protection, as they only surrendering a single sack.
They did have issues in goal line situations, as the they often failed to get significant push off the ball. On several possessions, it took the team several runs to punch it in from short yardage.
Defensive Line: B+
The defense wanted to become an attacking force, and the line did that on Thursday. Will Sutton had six tackles, one for loss and had a sack. Junior Onyeali had 1.5 tackles for loss and Gannon Conway had a sack. But beyond the stats, they consistently applied pressure to NAU's quarterbacks and gave them no time to get comfortable in the pocket.
It's been a long time since Brandon Magee has played in a game, but he made his presence known. The senior captain had two tackles, but made a sensational interception that he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. It was a sensational debut for Chris Young. The team's starting spur 'backer, he led the team with eight tackles and was a ball carrier-seeking missile on several plays that he made in the NAU backfield. He had a game-high 2.5 tackles for loss. Starting middle linebacker Steffon Martin was quiet, making just one tackle. True freshman Carlos Mendoza had three tackles (one for loss) in mop up duty.
The Sun Devil safeties had a great night, with Alden Darby and Laiu Moeakiola each had interceptions, and the secondary as a whole did not have any major lapses in coverage. Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr were solid in their coverage assignments, and Robert Nelson made a great play to defuse one of the few NAU downfield passes.
Special Teams: C
With Jamal Miles out due to suspension, the return games did not perform well. Ross mishandled the opening kickoff, letting it roll before a late pickup allowed him to get only seven yards. Nelson averaged just 6.5 yards on his two punt returns. The punt return team almost had several blocks on the night.
The kickoff coverage teams were solid, allowing just 23 yards-per-return, but the punt team gave up an 18 yard return.
Alex Garoutte made all nine of his extra points but did not attempt a field goal. Josh Hubner was great on punts averaging over 45 yards per kick and pinning two of his three punts inside the 20. Kelly made a pooch punt late in the first half of 32 yards.
Graham and staff delivered the "high octane" they had promised all offseason long, at least in the first half. The team was effective, relentless and efficient in the first two quarters and, unlike previous ASU teams, decisively put away an inferior opponent.
The offensive pace lessened in the second half, something Graham called "excruciatingly slow", but it was nevertheless effective.
Perhaps most promisingly of all, the team committed just four penalties for 30 yards, an obviously radical departure from the Dennis Erickson years.
The challenge for the staff will now be to get the Sun Devils to rise to the same intensity next week when they will be facing a much tougher opponent when Illinois comes to town.