It would be easy for a lazy teacher to toss straight A's at every ASU football player after the team accumulated over three times as many total yards as Sacramento State and a 4-to-0 takeaway ratio.
But that's not what we're about here at House of Sparky. As Todd Graham put it a week ago, "We're trying for perfection, and we'll tolerate excellence."
With perfection being the new standard, let's see how the Sun Devils' report card turned out against the Hornets:
If you gave Taylor Kelly a full four quarters of play last night he would have made Peyton Manning's numbers look pedestrian. Kelly matched his career high in touchdowns (five) in the first half and finished the day 23-of-31 with 300 passing yards. The craziest part is that if the score was somehow closer, Kelly would have likely had even less incompletions. At least four of his misses came on balls that he wouldn't normally attempt but just decided to give a whirl under the circumstances. As for the rest of the gang, Deantre Lewis inflated Michael Eubank's final stat line (3-for-4, 70 yards) with a 57-yard catch and run. The bruising quarterback did make a smart decision to tuck and run on his rushing touchdown though so he might have gained a slight edge on Mike Bercovici for the backup job.
Running backs: B+
If Deantre Lewis (105 total yards on 10 touches) continues to show the freshman-esque explosiveness he displayed Thursday, this running game will be unstoppable. Lewis was clearly ASU's best big play threat against the Hornets and he did enough to eat into D.J. Foster's carries moving forward. Foster wasn't given nearly as many opportunities to shine as he should have been but he at least did put up some average receiving numbers (four catches, 29 yards). Speaking of not shining, Marion Grice's running was nothing special Thursday. Outside of his eight-yard touchdown run, his normally superb vision wasn't honing in on the correct lanes for most of the night. Grice did total 65 yards and a touchdown on four grabs yet most of that damage was due to missed assignments. Overall, I was pleased with what ASU's lead back did but I do think that wasn't anywhere near what he can fully offer.
Wide Receivers: B
Most of the grade goes to Jaelen Strong, who wrangled in a team-high six receptions for 58 yards and touchdown Thursday. After failing to grab the first ball that went his way, Strong did his best redeeming act. For the rest of the evening, Strong was ASU's clear cut No. 1. His highlight of the night came when he straight overpowered the defender on his touchdown grab despite obvious pass interference. Unfortunately, it's difficult for me to give this unit anything above a low B because of how sloppy Sacramento State's secondary looked. Kevin Ozier's long catch of the day, a 41-yard touchdown, was handed to him on a silver platter due to a missed assignment. Richard Smith did hold his own but he also flashed supreme ability against a small school secondary in last season's opener before pulling a disappearing act for the rest of the year. Although Strong's play will put some fans at ease, wide receiver still remains a glaring question mark.
Tight Ends: A-
Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson did everything that was asked of them and more. And by more, I mean playing running back. Although Nelson didn't get in the end zone on his carry, it's exciting to see Graham even trying something like that. Give Nelson another chance in the future and I bet it works out. At their normal positions, Coyle and Nelson were routinely open. Their numbers could have been even bigger if Kelly wasn't looking other ways. Unfortunately, I can't give them a full A due to how many freebies were thrown their way by the Hornets' defense. Still, it's worth adding that these two will undoubtedly be Kelly's best friends all season long.
Offensive Line: B+
Arizona State's offensive line was quiet and that's a compliment in every sense of the word. They opened up lanes for the running game and kept Kelly upright. I would have liked to see what happens if Kelly held onto the ball longer. It's easy for the protection to look solid when every one of a quarterback's throws is quick and decisive.
Defensive Line: B
I'm probably being too picky for my own good but I just would have liked to see some more pass rush considering the talent in this unit. In a perfect world, the Hornets would have used deeper dropbacks instead of playing scared. But I guarantee the defensive line wouldn't use that as an excuse for their lack of sacks. It was encouraging to see how many plays were stuffed at the line though. If that can keep that up all year long, I'll gladly sacrifice some sacks for smaller running lanes.
Both of ASU's interceptions came from this unit. While Anthony Jones was more about positioning, Grandville Taylor's was more about purely making plays. The heavy rotation implemented by the defensive staff was an encouraging sign as well, especially if Chris Young isn't able to get over his knee sprain before next weekend. My only real complaint is how silent Carl Bradford was. If he's going to legitimately make a run at the sack record, he's got to take advantage of these types of opportunities.
The more I watch Osahon Irabor, the more I believe he's the most underrated player on this team. I'm still not sold on ASU's secondary as a whole but Irabor and Alden Darby should be able to hide a good majority of their flaws. Overall, this unit did all that they could. The only real chance at a game-changing play they had was when Darby broke up that pass on the first drive. For that reason, I wish the Hornets' offense didn't have the fear of God in them the whole game. It would have been nice if these gentlemen were tested a little more before the Badgers roll into town.
Kick/Punt Coverage: A-
How about that Robert Nelson block? If the coaches continue to utilize him that much on special teams it won't be his last either. The man is as athletic as they come. The only thing keeping this group from a perfect grade is that 19-yard punt return. It just can't happen.
Kick/Punt Return: B
Nothing special to report here. Nelson was solid enough when called upon and he should get the job done all season long. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of Richard Smith though. In the game-changing department, Smith might have a slight edge.
Zane Gonzalez drained a dreaded 40-yarder and also chipped in a routine kick from 29 yards out. His misses were far more memorable than his makes though. Wide right from 33 yards out isn't going to cut it. The misfire from 49 yards is a little more understandable because Gonzalez is known more for his accuracy than his distance. But while you might call it first game jitters, I call it unacceptable.
He isn't Josh Hubner but if Thursday if any indication, Dom Vizzare should be able to get the job done well enough. Vizzare averaged 43 yards on his two punts with the help of a fortunate roll.