Marion Grice scores a fourth quarter touchdown (Photo: Dak Dillon-US PRESSWIRE)
The "Speaking Victory" era was at a loss for words for the first time on Saturday night. Arizona State was thoroughly outplayed in the first half, yet thanks to some nice breaks hung around into the second half. The Sun Devils then mounted a terrific fourth quarter rally that fell juuuust short in the 24-20 loss.
Last night, we took a look at the game through the numbers. Now let's now hand out some letters to grade the Sun Devils.
It was a tale of two halves for the Sun Devils and their quarterback.
In the first half, Taylor Kelly and the ASU offense appeared rattled. The normally cool and collected Kelly was under pressure from the start, and made some ill-advised throws. In the first half, he completed just five of his 12 throws. He did, however, make some big plays with his feet, which accounted for much of the team's first half offense. Kelly ended up leading the team with 59 yards rushing.
However, in the fourth quarter, he channeled the aura of another Idaho born Sun Devil quarterback and became a dangerous playmaker. Kelly made several key plays, including two key third down conversion passes to Marion Grice in which he extended plays and avoided pressure before unleashing his pass. At one point, he posted 13 consecutive completions.
Sadly, his final attempt of the night ended hopes of a Sun Devil victory, when he forced a pass that sailed high and was intercepted by Kenronte Walker.
Michael Eubank was ineffective in his action, and in the game's defining sequence, lost two yards on two carries from the Missouri one-yard line with the team trailing 24-20.
Running Back: B-
As runners, the Sun Devil running backs had a tough night. All told, they gained just 61 yards on 15 carries. Starter Cameron Marshall continues his rough start to the year with just 15 yards on a meager four carries. D.J. Foster ran five times for 22 yards. Marion Grice was the late hero, scoring two touchdowns, but his overall production was 24 yards on six carries. Overall, it was an underwhelming showing.
However, Grice and Foster made big impacts in the passing game. Foster's 33-yard catch and run touchdown finally shook the ASU offense out of it's early malaise, and Grice had two critical third down receptions in the fourth quarter that extended eventual touchdown drives.
Wide Receiver: D
Over the first two weeks, major questions surrounded the wide receivers. After Saturday, we're no closer to any answers.
In the first half, drops defined the unit, with Rashad Ross and Richard Smith losing catchable balls. In the second half, Ross dropped a sure touchdown that hit him right in the hands. He did gain some redemption with a key 16-yard catch, his only of the night, that preceded a Grice touchdown. Jamal Miles led the group with four catches, but for just 25 yards and Kevin Ozier had three for 21, and that was it.
The group's inability to get open continued to hurt the team throughout the game, as the Missouri pressure forced quick reads from Kelly, often with no where to go.
Tight End/3-Back: B
Chris Coyle continues to be the go-to target in the Sun Devil offense. Once again, he led the team with five receptions, although the Tigers were able to limit the damage. He amassed just 42 yards, but 24 of those came on a great diving grab on a key fourth quarter drive.
Offensive Line: C-
After a dominating performance a week ago, the Sun Devil line struggled against the Tigers.
In the first half, the Missouri front four pushed around the ASU line, completly shutting down the Sun Devil running game. The pass rush harassed and hurried Kelly and allowed three sacks on the night.
The Sun Devils surrendered 10 tackles-for-loss and the running game was only able to get 3.1 yards-per-carry.
Defensive Line: B+
For all the struggles of the offense, the Sun Devil defense was mostly solid, and the line contributed several big plays.
Playing a four-man front for much of the game, the line was able to make some noise against a piecemeal Missouri offensive line. Will Sutton continues his strong start to the season, making eight tackles with a sack. Jaxon Hood also had a sack, and Carl Bradford was very active all night long, making a tackle-for-loss among his seven stops.
Brandon Magee missed last week's game but came back with a vengeance. He made a diving interception at the ASU three-yard line to stop a Missouri drive, and tied for the team lead with 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Spur backer Chris Young had 11 tackles and another one for loss, giving him six already this season.
Overall, the unit was very active all night, flying to the ball and helping the defense to several critical second half stops. The Tigers averaged only 2.7 yards-per-carry on the night and were unable to sustain late drives due to the swarming ASU attack.
With James Franklin out of the game, the Sun Devils thought they caught a break, but backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was able to make some key throws early, especially short. However, as the game wore on, the Sun Devil coverage improved greatly.
The Sun Devils only allowed two completions over 20 yards, with a long of 26.
Special Teams: F
The special teams chaos started early and continued all game long.
Jamal Miles' fumble on a first quarter punt return led to Missouri's first touchdown. A bad snap on a third quarter punt forced Josh Hubner to quick kick under heavy pressure, a punt that went only 11 yards. That allowed Missouri to start at the Sun Devil 33, and they soon scored the game-winning touchdown.
But the last error was the costliest. After Grice's second touchdown closed the Tiger lead to 24-20, holder Ryan Woods dropped the ensuing extra point snap, and was forced to run and was soon tackled. That four-point gap forced ASU to go for it on a fourth and goal, which failed, instead of kicking a chip shot, game-tying field goal.
After two great performances, this game had a distinctly Ericksonian feel to it.
The Sun Devils were clearly rattled early, playing sloppy and their execution was poor. In the end, like so many games in recent years, the team showed enough to win, but in the end they turned out to be their own worst enemy. The mistakes on special teams ultimately damned the team to defeat, and were all avoidable on some level.
But beyond the mistakes, it may be the playcalling at the end of the game that may receive the most scrutiny. With a second and goal at the Missouri one trailing 24-20, the staff inserted Michael Eubank into the game, despite the hot streak of Kelly and the presence of Grice. Eubank ran two keepers, and lost two yards in the process. On fourth down, the put Kelly back in the game and he threw an incomplete pass to turn the ball over on downs.