It's better to show up late than never, right Sun Devil fans? ASU got outclassed in the first half trailing 29-0, but Todd Graham rallied the troops to outscore the Cardinal 28-13 in the final two quarters. Who deserves the blame, and who earned some kudos? Let's dish out the position grades.
Taylor Kelly and the offense couldn't move the ball or score in the initial 30 minutes, which is very rare under Mike Norvell. The redshirt junior quarterback bounced back in prolonged garbage time to put up nice statistics. Based on the numbers alone, I would give Kelly close to an A, but his 368 yards and three touchdowns are deceiving. Kelly also tossed two interceptions, with one coming on a last minute hail-mary heave.
The Idaho product faced consistent pressure and received little help from the wide receivers, other than Jaelen Strong. The entire night could've spiraled downhill even more so after the disastrous start. Instead, Kelly made me proud to believe in the maroon and gold with his veteran resiliency. Facing countless obvious passing situations, Kelly delivered in the latter stages, showcasing the Sun Devils' usual high-octane attack. 28 points against one of the nation's best defenses should've been enough, so it's unfair to give Kelly the majority of the blame.
Running backs C-
Marion Grice and Heisman darkhorse rumors are on hiatus, as he rushed for 50 yards on 17 carries. To be clear, Grice didn't have many opportunities because of the lack of holes. ASU averaged 2.1 yards per attempt, which won't get the job done. Despite the lack of production on the ground, Grice managed to collect his usual two touchdowns and find a niche role in the passing attack.
Deantre Lewis was the only other running back to record an attempt, gaining four yards on his sole shot. The running game continues to disappoint, in spite of the ultra-talented unit. Grice couldn't maintain any rhythm, consistently getting wrapped up near the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile D.J. Foster didn't log one carry, and he should be considered a wide receiver for the remainder of 2013.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Nothing about Strong's 12 receptions, 168 yards and touchdown reception deserves average markers. Without Strong, the entire unit wold've probably failed, meaning the junior college star may be a division one star. ASU tallied at least five drops on the afternoon, and almost every wide receiver can take the blame. Rick Smith, Foster, Strong and more contributed to the disappointing performance by the outside targets. The mistakes came in key situations, making it nearly impossible for Kelly to get ASU back in striking position.
For the tight ends, it feels like we're back in the Dennis Erickson era. Chris Coyle caught one pass and it was his 45-yard touchdown. In 2012, Coyle was the top option, but things have changed drastically through the opening three games this season. Mike Norvell needs to re-insert Coyle into the game plan, otherwise Kelly won't be at his best.
Most importantly, the wide receivers simply need to make the plays they are supposed to. I'm not asking for diving one-handed snags, just catch the routine balls.
Offensive Line F
Kelly had limited time to make his reads and the running game had nowhere to go, therefore the offensive line clearly failed. Stanford exposed right guard Vi Teofilo often, and ended up posting three sacks. ASU's blockers up front had two penalties, one of them came on a rare offensive face mask. The Cardinal reset the line of scrimmage too often, pushing Evan Finkenberg's unit into their own backfield.
Around halftime, House of Sparky editor Kerry Crowley said the offensive line could be having one of the worst performances ever. He did say the line corrected many issues in the second half. I think frustration factored into those comments, but he is completely correct. Still, during the attempted comeback, the blocking wasn't that much better.
Defensive line D+
Aren't the Sun devils supposed to boast one of the premier pass rushes in college football? I haven't seen anything close to resembling elite through week three, including the pedestrian showing at Stanford. Will Sutton lost the battle against All-American guard David Yankey, and the problems start there. If Sutton can't win his individual assignment, ASU will continue to be placed into precarious situations. In more bad news, Jaxon Hood exited the game due to an injury and got put on crutches immediately.
The Stanford offensive line could be considered the best in the country, but that isn't a valid excuse. ASU brings too many blitzes to only produce one sack. Against the run, the Cardinal methodically gained 4.9 per yards per carry at the expense of the Sun Devil defensive line. David Shaw's team possessed the ball for slightly over 35 minutes, mainly because of their complete control over Sutton, Gannon Conway and company.
Alert the Pac-12, Carl Bradford is back and better than ever. Bradford recorded ASU's only sack, while applying non-stop pressure on Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. Chris Young left his own mark also, tallying ten total tackles and flying to the ball. Salamo Fiso's four tackles don't stand out on paper, but he showed why Todd Graham considers him the defense's 12th starter. Stanford milked the clock and managed to pick up solid gains despite the presumed run calls, and Fiso changed the plan. David Shaw was forced to call a trick quarterback keeper bootleg because of Fiso's ability to clog the running lanes.
It wasn't all pretty, the linebackers deserve at least partial blame of the Cardinal's steady 4.9 yards per carry. The second level of the defense missed fundamental tackles, unable to corral the powerful downhill approaches of Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson.
Don't blame Osahon Irabor, Robert Nelson and the rest of the cover men for the loss. Hogan's final line of 11-17, 151 yards, two touchdowns and one interception was a win for the ASU defense. Let's remember, the linebackers and defensive line didn't apply enough pressure, making the secondary's job tougher. When the corners and safeties received help, Nelson got an interception.
Hogan's 8.9 yards per completion were below average, yet slightly out of context. Since the Stanford signal caller only tossed the pigskin 17 times, the secondary didn't have many opportunities to fail. Ty Montgomery, the Cardinal number one receiving threat, finished the afternoon with 62 yards, meaning ASU's back half did fair well against him.
Special Teams F
There's nothing special about the ASU special teams, it's awful. For the second straight week, the offensive and defensive outputs (positive or negative) weren't as noticeable as the special teams blunders. Todd Graham slid Matt Haack into the starting punter position after a rough outing from Dom Vizzare, but the punter seems irrelevant because of the atrocious blocking. ASU got two more punts blocked, including Kelly on a pooch attempt. The Haack blocked punt resulted in a safety, and it went off his own lineman's rear side after getting pushed back numerous yards.
Zane Gonzalez wasn't close on his 45-yard field goal, however few collegian kickers connect from that far out. If the game comes down to the final moments, it'd be hard to trust Gonzalez to deliver.