Sept. 8, 2012; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Rashad Ross (15) catches a pass in the second quarter against Illinois Fighting Illini at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE
It's hard to think of a better start for the Todd Graham era than what has transpired over the first two weeks of the season.
Following the 63-6 win over NAU, there were still many skeptics about how good ASU truly is. While we still may not have a definitive answer, we know a lot more after the Sun Devils stomped Illinois 45-14 on Saturday night.
Let's now hand out some grades to the Sun Devils.
When your quarterbacks start off 14 for 14, you are probably in for a good night. Taylor Kelly continues to prove he was the right choice as the ASU starter. He looked calm, cool and collected in dissecting the Illini defense, and is developing quite the rapport with Chris Coyle. He finished 18 of 24 for 249 yards and a touchdown and added 26 yards on the ground. Michael Eubank threw much more than last week, completing all five of his throws for 69 yards and had two touchdowns to Coyle. He added a seven-yard touchdown run of his own.
Most importantly, for the second straight game, the quarterbacks did not have a turnover
Running Backs: B-
After rushing for 305 yards last week, it was expected to be a tougher go against Illinois. The team ran for 191 yards and averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry. Cameron Marshall had 52 yards and a touchdown, DJ Foster added 37 yards and a score and Marion Grice followed up his 107-yard, three-touchdown effort with just 18 yards on two carries. However, Marshall turned the ball over at the goal line on ASU's first possession, his second lost fumble in as many games.
Wide Receiver: B
Another relatively quiet night for the group. Jamal Miles returned and 54 yards on three catches, including a 41-yard catch and run, but lost the ball on a fumble. Kevin Ozier scored the team's first touchdown and ended the night with three grabs for 23 yards. The unit's only other action was a 14-yard catch by J.J. Holliday, his first career catch.
Tight End/3-Back: A+
Chris Coyle continues his ascent. After leading the team with 65 yards on just two catches (and being wide open on a few more) last week, Coyle was dominate. He led the team with 10 catches for 131 and two touchdowns. Those 10 receptions top Todd Heap's single-game best (eight) and his 131 yards top Zach Miller's best ever output (102). Coyle continues to present match-up nightmares along the seams, and has connected well with each quarterback.
Offensive Line: A
The biggest question heading into this game was how ASU's offensive line would hold up to the relentless Illini attack. They did much more than that.
They provided a great pocket for most of the night, allowing ASU to pass for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly and Eubank were able to stand tall and comfortable and go through their reads. On the ground, the line paved the way for an impressive 192 yards and a terrific 5.1 yards-per-carry against an Illinois team that held Western Michigan to -6 yards last week.
Defensive Line: B
If there was one black eye on the night, it was allowing Illinois to run for 231 yards and average 4.6 yards-per-carry, although much of that was in the second half when the game was no longer in doubt. Will Sutton had a team-high three tackles-for-loss and eight total stops. Junior Onyeali had a sack, Jaxon Hood had two stops and Davon Coleman three. As a whole the unit was relentless on the pass rush, forcing the Illinois quarterbacks into several errors.
No Magee, no problem? Maybe. His replacement, true freshman Carlos Mendoza, had two first half interceptions before leaving with a shoulder injury. Chris Young continues to fly all over the field and make plays, notching 2.5 tackles-for-loss and a half sack. Devilbacker Carl Bradford, in danger of being demoted earlier in the week, had 2.5 sacks. Grandville Taylor had four tackles and Brandon Johnson had a sack in mop up duty. Overall, the unit was disruptive and flew all over the field in great pursuit.
In the even that the Illini got a pass off, the ASU secondary was on point. They held the Illini to just 101 yards through the air, with no pass going for more than 17 yards. Alden Darby had his second interception of the year. Fellow safety Keelan Johnson led the team with nine tackles.
Special Teams: B
Being so dominate, the ASU return game had little to do. Jamal Miles had just 47 yards on his two kickoff returns, but did set the ASU career record for kickoff return yards, passing Rudy Burgess. He also opted to fair catch his punt return opportunities, even on some with room.
Alex Garoutte made his first field goal attempt of the year in the fourth quarter, connecting from 35 yards. Punter Josh Hubner was very good, showing a strong leg on a 56-yards kick while also continuing to pin opponents deep.
This team has bought in to Todd Graham and it shows. The Sun Devils dominated a quality opponent from start to finish, and maintained their aggressive, yet disciplined approach. The team committed just one penalty on the night, and that was an intentional delay of game to give more room for the punt team.
This win may just have proved that the stain from the Erickson era is now gone.