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We hand out grades for the Sun Devils. Wide receiver Kevin Ozier celebrates after catching his second touchdown pass of the afternoon.
Arizona State beat California on the road for the first time since 1997. The Sun Devils played a disciplined game, only committing two penalties for 20 total yards en route to a 27-17 victory. Just because the Sun Devils improved to 4-1 on the season does not mean there aren't things they can work on.
Lets do some grading to see who passed their physical education class. I'll give you a heads up, one position group flunked their exam this week.
Taylor Kelly by himself could have deserved a flat A, but the two quarterback system did not fool California's weak defense whatsoever. Michael Eubank saw fewer than ten snaps in the game and he proved to the Pac-12 that he should not be utilized as much in the goal line sets. The Sun Devils need to do a better job of running a red zone offense in the future and that answer may be with Kelly under center.
Kelly showed poise in the pocket once again, completing 26 of his 45 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Oh yeah, he did not turn the ball over either. Kelly took some snaps inside the 20-yard line and the play action worked well against the California secondary. Kelly continues to impress.
Running Backs: B+
The backfield did not record a touchdown in this game, but Cameron Marshall had a solid game with 18 touches for 65 yards. The Sun Devils rarely used the run game inside the ten because there were no gaps on the ground. As a team, they rushed the ball over 40 times but a lot of that is result of the 35 plus minutes of possession. On a bright note, the running backs did not lose a fumble even though they did have a scare or two.
Ball security is arguably head coach Todd Graham's number one philosophy this season, but there are still some issues. Marion Grice averaged 4.7 yards per carry and the defensive line of California struggled to take him down at the line of scrimmage. DJ Foster was a non-factor in the running game, but he did catch five passes for 63 yards, which helped propel the Sun Devils offense to a new level. His success also comes down to Kelly's impeccable vision.
Wide Receivers: A
For the second straight game, the receivers stepped up their game in a big way. Rashad Ross proved that his butterfinger game against Mizzou was simply a fluke. Ross hauled in seven catches for 84 yards and he showed some slick dance moves making sure he got one foot in bounds. Jamal Miles had an average game in the receiving department because he was pulling quite a bit of double coverage, but Kevin Ozier picked up the slack when the team needed him. Forty-two yards of offense is not too flashy, but Ozier's two touchdowns were critical to ASU's win today.
The first touchdown grab he caught in basically quadruple coverage and he went up the ladder to make the play. You would have thought his hands were coated with stick-em after seeing that catch. His second score was more of Kelly's leadership and awareness to step up in the pocket, but Ozier's decision to run a slant route was a six-point decision. Thank you, receivers. You guys came to play yet again and it was noted.
Tight Ends: B
Don't get me wrong, Chris Coyle is still on of the best tight ends in the country but California's secondary was all over him. Coyle did his job of drawing a couple of penalties downfield, but he did drop some very catchable passes in the flats. He finished with four catches for 37 yards. Darwin Rodgers caught one pass for a one yard score, but he missed two basic blocks that resulted in a sack and a tackle for a loss. It is a nice thing seeing a touchdown beside his name in the stat sheet, but he is on the field to block and he had a few mental lapses.
Offensive Line: B-
The pass protection has never been a problem for this unit, but the rushing game is a different story. Kelly and Eubank were each sacked once in the game. ASU's rushing game averaged 3.6-yards-per-carry in the home victory against Utah last week and that number dropped to 2.4-per-rush against the Golden Bears.
Center Kody Koebensky snapped a ball over Kelly's head, dropping the Sun Devils out of field goal range. The offensive line consistently gave Kelly at least five seconds to get rid of the ball, but they could never help the running game. The longest run of the game for the maroon and gold was 15 yards. The offensive line has a week off to work on adjustments to the ground game. Without a doubt the talent is there, but they have yet to put it together on the field.
Defensive Line: A+
Ignore the 183 yards rushing they gave up to Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson. That is not solely their fault. Will Sutton looked like a man among boys in this game. He finished with eight total tackles, two sacks and four tackles for a loss. Junior Onyeali helped Sutton on the end with his three sacks and three tackles for a loss. Davon Coleman added another sack to the defensive line's totals.
The consistent pressure the D-Line applied left Cal's quarterback Zach Maynard frazzled all game. Heading into the game, coach Graham said that Cal's offensive line would be one of the better lines they would face all season. They prepared perfectly for it. Maynard finished with a low 32% completion percentage and just 126 passing yards. The defensive line was hungry for success and that is exactly what they found.
Much like the defensive front, the linebackers stepped up big in this game. Senior Brandon Magee appeared to have a quiet game, but he was deadly. He finished with 9 total tackles, one of which was a sack. Devilbacker Carl Bradford finished with six tackles and the other sack from the linebacker unit. The linebackers clogged the lanes for the most part and did their job of getting in the face of Maynard and blowing up the pocket.
The one noticeable error was their containment on Sofele's 24-yard touchdown run up the gut. Besides a few minor errors, the linebackers were never exposed, which gave time for the front four to apply pressure and make the big plays. Another notable performance: Chris Young finished with five tackles.
There were no interceptions thrown in this game but that does not mean the secondary did not play well. They did drop a few potential interceptions, including two nearly picked off by Osahon Irabor. Irabor did joke with House of Sparky earlier in the off-season that he has bad hands, but he made up for those hands with his lockdown defense. If the Sun Devils could have intercepted one pass in the afternoon, it could have potentially changed the momentum a lot earlier. OK, enough of the "what-ifs." The defensive backs committed no penalties and gave up just 126 yards passing.
The only daunting error for the secondary was that they were looking at the numbers on the back of Cal's jerseys a couple of times. One play in particular, Keelan Johnson turned on the jets to catch Sofele and make a tackle after a 32-yard gain. Johnson finished the day tied for a team high with nine tackles. This shows us how hard the secondary was worked. Alden Darby was second in the secondary with four tackles and recovered a Sofele fumble in Cal territory.
Overall, the Sun Devils used a nice mix of man and zone coverage, but a couple of 40-plus yard plays need to be addressed before the road game against Colorado.
Special Teams: B
Josh Hubner deserves to be a finalist for the nations best collegiate punter. He had two boots over 60 yards and the special teams did a great job of covering punts and kickoffs. The one time Cal returned a punt for 22 yards, it was called back for illegal blocking in the back.
The return game was above average and Jamal Miles was forced to fair catch a majority of the kicks. The few he did return were nothing special. He finished with five total returns for 88 yards, including a 20-yard punt return.
Alex Garoutte is the reason the game looks close on paper. He did not have a field goal attempt longer than 40 yards and he went an abysmal two for five on his attempts. It does not matter if you go to ASU or Mesa Community College, a 40% is a 40% anywhere in the country. He failed this test.
Think about this: If he went a perfect five for five, the score would have been 36-17, which reflects the one-sidedness of the game better than the final ten-point differential. Any field goal inside 40 yards should be a very makeable kick. One miss is acceptable. But three? C'mon Garoutte. Two of the kicks were legitimate misses, while the third was blocked by a Cal defender in the ASU backfield. We won't blame Alex for that one.
This was a crucial game for the Sun Devils. Head coach Todd Graham had only been on the sidelines for four ASU games entering Saturday's game. ASU has not beaten Cal on the road since 1997. Wait. Just kidding. They have not beaten Cal on the road since 2012. Unlike the Dennis Erickson era, the Sun Devils played a disciplined game.
They only saw the yellow laundry twice for 20 yards in comparison to Cal's 12 penalties for 119 yards. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to work on the goal line offense, but the Sun Devils helped negate the red zone woes after a 37-yard drive for a touchdown with 53 seconds remaining in the first half. This team is a lot more focused than last year and ASU is a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 South.