Taylor Kelly played a near flawless game against an overmatched Washington State defense. Kelly managed just three incompletions on 23 attempts and tossed four touchdowns in an efficient outing. Michael Eubank's effort was highlighted by a 29-yard touchdown strike to Chris Coyle, but his late interception was the one drawback from today's performance. The Sun Devil quarterbacks did take four sacks, but they showed visible progress against the Cougars secondary. The best part about the quarterback combo was their willingness to throw downfield, as 19 of their 27 completions went to Sun Devil wide receivers. Kelly's poise in the pocket was evident throughout the afternoon, which something he struggled with against USC. If Kelly can rally the troops with a victory over Arizona, he will have earned the faith of even his harshest critics.
Running Backs: A
The three-headed monster has company! After two weeks in which offensive coordinator Mike Norvell largely ignored the running game, four different backs, including James Morrison, carried the ball today and combined for 206 yards on 42 carries. Morrison carried 12 times after the outcome was decided, but he adds another presence to the deep stash of backs Arizona State sometimes keeps hidden. Cameron Marshall spearheaded the rushing attack with a gritty 75-yard outing as the Sun Devil rushers amassed over five yards per carry against a decent Washington State defensive line. Though no Sun Devil rusher found the end zone on the ground, Marion Grice sliced and diced his way through the Cougar defense on an electrifying catch and run for a touchdown. Success on the ground forces a coach to call running plays, and that makes the return to relevance that much sweeter for the Sun Devil backfield.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A+
A 19-catch, 245-yard day might be considered standard for most teams' receiving units, but this was far and away the best performance of the season by Sun Devil pass catchers. Opposing defenses have been able to key on running backs and tight ends coming out of the backfield all year, but a sudden change occurred today. Rashad Ross caught eight passes, Jamal Miles snagged five, and Kevin Ozier added three. Toss in a few Chris Coyle touchdown receptions and the Sun Devil receivers don't just look viable, they look dominant. Coach Todd Graham promised Arizona State fans a high-octane attack, but that's only possible when an offense can throw down the field with regularity. This group had their sharpest game of the season, and that's why they earn the elusive A+.
Offensive Line: B
Not every position group gets to jump for joy after today's game. The offensive line opened up the running game and provided their quarterbacks with ample time to throw on most drop backs, but they did not eliminate all of their ugly trends. First off, a false start at home is an unacceptable penalty and the Sun Devils committed one today. Secondly, Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank took four sacks and that's still way too many. Coach Graham knows this group has to improve because the Wildcats are going to come out with pride on the line next week. The key to any victory starts in the trenches, and the Sun Devils have to make adjustments and prepare to handle various pressure packages they might look susceptible too.
Defensive Line: A+
One. That's how many yards Washington State gained on the ground. Granted, the Cougars came into the game dead last nationally in rushing yards, but their chances of climbing out of the cellar got a whole lot worse. Honestly, any Division 1 defense could have a field day against Washington State's running game. That's not why the defensive line earns an A+. The Sun Devil defense accumulated seven sacks and put pressure on Washington State quarterbacks on nearly every play. The real statistic that can be attributed to the defensive line is the Cougars 1 for 16 success rate on third down. Davon Coleman led the charge by harassing the Cougars from the opening possession on and that's why the Sun Devils were able to limit Washington State to just seven points.
Evaluating the play of the Sun Devil linebackers today is difficult because there were not as many tackles to be made. Washington State does not consider running the ball a legitimate option, and they completed very few passes against a stout Sun Devil secondary. With so few opportunities for tackles, the linebackers' grade in is left in limbo, but they earn an A nonetheless. Against a team like the Cougars, Brandon Magee and Carl Bradford were asked to drop back in coverage a whole lot more than they are used to, and they performed admirably. The dynamic duo combined for two sacks and four tackles for loss and shut down Washington State when they were called upon.
The secondary wasn't perfect, but they came awfully close. Excluding a 54-yard screen pass touchdown in garbage time, Arizona State thwarted every effort made by Washington State to seize momentum. The defensive line put pressure on the Cougars, and the secondary held up to their end of the bargain. Washington State passed for just 240 yards and had a 43% completion percentage. The one thing we can count on the Cougars to do is pass the ball, but Keelan Johnson and company shut them down. Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor earned their stripes today, and they've got another tall task ahead of them against the pass-happy Wildcats.
Special Teams: B-
If not for Josh Hubner, the Arizona State special teams unit would draw a considerable amount of criticism. The king of field position downed two punts inside the 10-yard line including a masterful kick that pinned the Cougars inside the two. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Hubner doesn't handle field goals and Jon Mora absolutely shanked a 31-yard attempt. A dual-quarterback system is questionable, but a dual-field goal kicker system is downright absurd. Aside from the kicking game, no one the Sun Devils send out to field kicks or punts looks certain they will catch the ball, and Jamal Miles nearly had a muff. The close calls are growing tiresome, and it's time to unleash D.J. Foster.