ASU's outstanding play at home continued on Saturday, led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who dimed Utah for 326 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Sun Devil offense grabbed the headlines with a 37-point outburst, successfully scoring on their first five drives.
Utah came into Tempe with legitimate Pac-12 South aspirations, yet left feeling dejected and frustrated. All the credit belongs to ASU, as they played so well that practically every player deserves a House of Sparky award.
The ASU wide receivers have been the Achilles heel offensively, desperately searching for someone to step up. Senior Rashad Ross answered the call, bringing in five receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Ross blossomed at Camp Tantozona, heading up the mountain as a question mark but leaving atop the depth chart. But prior to kickoff against Utah, Ross was struggling, accumulating a mere two receptions on 67 yards.
With Pac-12 play now underway, ASU needed to provide quarterback Taylor Kelly with a go-to wideout. Ross appears to be most qualified for the job. Opposing defenses are focusing on tight end Chris Coyle. Therefore, the Sun Devil receiving threats will get plenty of opportunities to succeed.
In the post-game press conference, Ross credited his improvements to better focus. Coach Todd Graham took special note on how "Ross was consistently attacking the ball." Beyond the detailed X's and O's, Ross simply improved, earning Comeback Player of the Week honors.
While Utah's offense is very mediocre, the ASU defense still made a big-time statement. The stout unit allowed only seven points, applying consistent pressure in quarterback Jon Hays' face.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton went beast mode again, shutting down Utah star running back John White IV. All the talk coming in was regarding Utes D-lineman Star Lotulelei, but the true star was Sutton.
Utah's offense looked confused and rattled all night, mainly due to Sutton. Coming into 2012, expectations for Sutton varied, but he is now clearly on mission. At 6-foot-2 and 271 pounds, Sutton plays much tougher than his frame.
The high level of play from Sutton leads me to believe teams are going to start doubling him. Sutton has a keen ability to clog running lanes while also forcing quarterbacks to get rid of the rock quickly.
Among ASU's countless talented defenders, replacing Sutton would be impossible. Against Utah, Sutton's impact did not translate over to the box score, rather leaving Jon Hays woozy on a couple prime-time hits.
As I announced the game last night on the Blaze Radio, it felt like Sutton was everywhere. When in doubt of who made the tackle, just assume number 90.
Last but certainly not least is ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who runs away with MVP honors. The Sun Devils' staff is buying the hype as well, cutting down on the usage of backup Michael Eubank.
Kelly is making offensive coordinator Mike Norvell appear to be a genius. As stated in the intro, Kelly posted 323 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions vers Utah. Another jaw-dropping stat is his completion percentage of 72.8.
In recent weeks, ex-ASU coordinator Noel Mazzone even commented on Kelly. In a recent column by Dan Bickley of Azcentra.com, Mazzone told Bickley, "It's fun to watch Taylor (Kelly) and Cameron (Marshall) and Jamal (Miles) having all that success."
Kelly's best asset may be preparation, as he came out of the gates fast nightly. Before anyone can blink an eye, ASU tends to have seven to 14 points on the scoreboard. Coach Todd Graham hates turning the ball over, and Kelly implements that philosophy effectively.
The easy going, shy, soft spoken Idaho native lets his play do the talking. Some fans are afraid to compare him to Jake Plummer, but I am not. Kelly also runs well, keeping defenses off balanced.
People are just beginning to see Kelly's potential, playing way beyond his years. Kelly is accomplished tremendous feats despite being a sophomore with little experience, translating to a bright future for ASU.