Thursday night, ASU crushed NAU, so now it's time to dish out some props for the Sun Devils' big-time performers. This is the first in a new weekly series, which we'll hand out some game ball awards out to ASU's stars of the game.
Let me be clear, by newcomer I mean a player who wasn't on ASU last season, so this is open to both freshman and juco transfers.
We will start with marquee running back recruit D.J. Foster, who accumulated 99 total yards and a touchdown in his debut. The true freshman rushed for 63 yards in the first quarter, breaking a school record for most yards on the ground by a player in their first quarter of action. Oh and by the way, ASU's first offensive play of the year ended in Foster's hands on a 16-yard reception. Despite the explosive outing, Foster did fumble and failed to "own the ball" causing his candidacy to drop.
Wide out Richard Smith got his name called due to the one-game suspension of Jamal Miles. Smith, a true freshman out of Long Beach Poly High School, proved to be a very viable option. On the night, Smith had five receptions for 45 yards with a touchdown, while also rushing for 26 yards. Until about halftime, Smith would have won the honor, but instead Marion Grice stole the show in the second half.
Grice is a tank, listed at 6-foot and 215 pounds, and possesses the brute strength to run defenders over yet is quick enough to cross the finish line first. The highly touted junior college back carried the rock 14 times for 107 yards and three touchdowns. His average yards-per-carry against NAU were 7.6, featuring a 27-yard Marshawn Lynch-type run. Grice was clearly the best newcomer and wins a game ball.
This was an easy decision; Brandon Magee's pick six was a fantastic acrobatic grab, worthy of ESPN status. Magee had not played under the lights of Sun Devil Stadium since 2010, but did not wait long to make his presence felt.
The play started with Magee lingering around the line of scrimmage, slowly creeping back into coverage. NAU quarterback Cary Grossart saw an opening but Magee jumped out of nowhere to make a remarkable catch. The surprising part was, Magee had some nice moves including numerous stiff arms to ensure six-points. Among the 63 points ASU scored, Magee's interception was the Devils highlight of the night.
15/19, 247 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. That stat line epitomizes consistent play. The man who did that was ASU starting quarterback Taylor Kelly. Practically nobody thought Kelly would hit the turf all year, causing many to express doubts when Kelly won the job.
Kelly displayed what Coach Graham's been preaching all off-season: don't turn the football over. Rather than being flustered in his first start, he played like a savvy veteran.
However, while Kelly's arm strength deep down field still is iffy, his short-to-intermediate throws are right on the money. Kelly stepped up well in the pocket and continues to refuse to make poor decisions.
The most unique and underrated part of Kelly's arsenal is his ability to run. Before spring ball, Kelly was predominately a running quarterback. Now, Kelly has made significant strides in his passing, while also staying deceivingly fast, making him only that much tougher to game plan for.
Going into week two, ASU has a tough task in Illinois. Yet, if Kelly plays this consistently, the Devils will have a fighter's chance each week.
Strongest Individual Performance
ASU blew out NAU 63-6, making it basically impossible to single out one player. Some would say Foster, Magee, Kelly or Grice but I believe Sparky was the strongest INDIVIDUAL performer.
Here's why. Kelly helps out Foster by throwing darts, Foster aids Kelly by running wild. Magee does not get a pick-six without pressure from the defensive line, everybody helps out etc.
There was absolutely no one assisting Sparky doing 315 pushups. Workout freaks out there are currently stating, "not that tough and Sparky's pushups suck." Haters can hate, but 315 pushups is tough regardless, sure they would be more impressive if Sparky's head were up and buttocks higher, still hard to do.
Fans sit in the stands and complain how hot it is every game. Imagine being in that suit, let alone working-out in it. 63 pushups straight is damn tough; I can only do about 30. After 315 pushups, Sparky deserves a nice bath alongside the football stars.
Best Overall Unit
Between the quarterbacks, running backs, offensive line, defensive line, and secondary, there is no wrong answer for which unit did best.
ASU's quarterbacks were efficient all night, flawlessly running their two-man system. The running attack was the best it's been this decade. The O-line did their job, giving Kelly ample time to throw and backs plenty of wholes. The D-line shut down a good tailback in Zach Bauman. The secondary had two interceptions, while only allowing 149 yards on the night.
I personally believe the coaches were the best unit. ASU lead the nation in penalties last season, meaning the mere four penalties last night were a big step in the right direction. Coach Todd Graham has demanded discipline and the Devils were exactly that.
The talent level at ASU was probably higher in 2010, but player's football IQs were lower. Therefore, in close game situations, the Devils tended to implode last season yet will shine under Graham. ASU will no longer lose games by beating themselves; opponents will have to outplay the Devils in order to get victories.