ASU Football: Defense, special teams shine in win over Oregon State

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

The Sun Devil offense has received plenty of praise this year, but it was the defense that carried the team to victory on Saturday night.

Arizona State's high-octane offense struggled throughout its 30-17 win over Oregon State, but it was the Sun Devils' defense and special teams that really pulled through.

The defense was able to intercept Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion four times. To put things in perspective, Mannion only had six total interceptions coming into the game on the season. Corner Robert Nelson, had two interceptions in the game, including a 23-yard pick-six late in the fourth quarter which sealed the win for the Sun Devils.

"Big time players made some big time plays tonight. We beat a very good football team," head coach Todd Graham said.

Nelson now has five interceptions in his last five games.

"It all starts with our team," Nelson said. "I really don't have a feeling until the game is over...I smiled and moved on to the next play."

The biggest defensive challenge coming into the game was limiting the production of Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks led the nation in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns coming into the game. However, the Sun Devils were able to limit him to only 99 yards, which is 50 yards less than his average per game.

Graham attributes the Sin Devils' ability to shut down Cooks to the play of Nelson.

"I think it was probably Robert's best game. He's been clutch for us. When he sees the ball come out of the quarterback's hand he is really gifted," Graham said. "He basically covered bump-and-run man [coverage] on Brandin Cooks every single play and did a phenomenal job."

The game plan for the defense was to not get beat over the top. This meant that the Sun Devils weren't going to blitz as much as they usually do.

"We rushed four most of the night, and put pressure on the quarterback. If you put pressure on the quarterback he's going to throw you the ball. Our plan was to cover with seven and rush four," Graham said. "We felt like we could pressure with four and we were able to do that."

Quarterback Taylor Kelly methodically drove the Sun Devils to a touchdown on the first drive of the game, but struggled afterwards to find his rhythm. Kelly finished with 183 passing yards and two uncharacteristic interceptions.

However, running back Marion Grice was able to shoulder the offense's load as he rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Grice is now three touchdowns away from breaking Whizzer White's school record for touchdowns in a season.

"He's a great leader, he works extremely hard - that's a major accomplishment," Graham said.  "I think it speaks volumes about his work ethic, and how hard he's worked and the talent that he has."

The Sun Devils' special teams also had one of its best performances. The units blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter and also forced a turnover off of a punt.

"Special teams was a deal that back in the Stanford game I think we were exposed," Graham said. "Joe [Lorig's] really done a tremendous job with that group...I've told our guys the rest of the way, special teams has got to be first priority."

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