A quarterback is judged by one statistic: wins. Throw out Taylor Kelly's subpar completion percentage, his low yardage total, and any other stat imaginable because the sophomore gunslinger just won the biggest game of his career. When Todd Graham came to town, he brought plans for a power running attack that could more than make up for the fact that his stable of quarterbacks was less than impressive. In fall camp, Graham shocked Sun Devil supporters everywhere when he selected Taylor Kelly to be his starting quarterback and against the Arizona Wildcats, it finally paid off. The Sun Devils came into the game having won every game in which Kelly did not throw an interception and having lost every game in which he did. In Tucson, Kelly protected the ball and did just enough for the Sun Devils to come out on top.
Running Backs: A
The changing of the guard is official; Marion Grice is the premier back at Arizona State. After a season-long debate over who deserves to take the lion's share of the carries, Grice left no doubt with a gritty 18 carry 156-yard performance in which he found the end zone three separate times. The passing game did just enough to put the Sun Devils in position to win this game, but Grice sent the Sun Devils over the top. Cameron Marshall came into the season as the lead back, and scored late to give the Sun Devils a 34-27 lead that they would never relinquish. The Sun Devils have been waiting for a dominating performance from a running back, and Grice's night will be looked back on as the best outing by an Arizona State back all season.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: B-
It's hard to give out a C to any position group when a team wins a rivalry game, but the wide receivers may have been most deserving. No receiver accounted for more than 39 yards through the air and Jamal Miles led the bunch with 5 catches. Rashad Ross dropped not one, but TWO golden opportunities late that would have swung the momentum in the favor of the Sun Devils for good. Instead of participating in stretching lines on Saturday morning, Ross might want to find himself some stationery and write thank you notes to the running back unit. Tight End Chris Coyle looked like a sure bet to break Todd Heap's single season catch record for a Sun Devil tight end, but the normally active junior caught just two passes for 20 yards. Better luck next year.
Offensive Line: A
Consider this: Against Washington State, the Sun Devil line allowed four sacks and struggled to maintain consistency in any facet of their run blocking schemes. Against the Arizona Wildcats, the same group gave up just one sack and paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Late in the game, this group was near flawless as they opened holes for Grice, Marshall, and Michael Eubank on each player's fourth quarter touchdown score. Rarely do teams come from behind from large deficits with a stellar ground game, but the big boys would not be denied and gave the Sun Devils running room when they needed it most.
Defensive Line: B
Perhaps one of the more disappointing efforts of the evening came from the group that had the most outstanding regular season. All year long, the Sun Devils depended on the likes of Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, and Junior Onyeali for defensive production. In the most important game of the season, their impact was hardly felt. The Sun Devils rode into Tucson with the national lead in sacks per game, but that total took a hit as they managed to corral Matt Scott just a single time on Friday evening. Sutton came away with two tackles for loss, but Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey rushed for a staggering 6.9 yards per carry on 25 attempts. As Carey navigated between the tackles, Matt Scott had far too much time to pick apart the Sun Devil secondary that made up for the inconsistencies of the front line. Sutton made great plays in crunch time that forced the Scott into making some regretful decisions, but we've come to expect so much from this group that last night felt like a rather pedestrian effort.
17 tackles. Every so often, a defensive player wills his team to victory and last night was Brandon Magee's time to shine. Magee's astounding 17-tackle effort included a game-high three tackles for loss as he single-handedly stuffed any Wildcat ball carrier within his reach. The Sun Devil senior spent the better part of rivalry week overflowing with excitement and Friday's performance proved why. Even though the Wildcat offense rushed the ball with ease, the linebacker unit's stat sheet is impossible to ignore. Chris Young added 10 tackles and seemingly stopped anything Brandon Magee did not and Todd Graham will praise this group's night as one of the main reasons the Sun Devils came out on top. Magee committed a personal foul for roughing the passer on a pass that was intercepted, but that might have been the only drawback from his career night in Tucson.
As Garic Warton stumbled across the goal line in the third quarter, the Sun Devil sideline looked on in disbelief. Two Arizona State defenders had a bird's eye view of Matt Scott's pass, yet they failed to track down the football and Warton capitalized with a brilliant catch and run that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the second half. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, Warton's snag would be one of just a handful of times in which the secondary came up short. For the second week in a row, the Sun Devils held their opponent to a completion percentage below 50% as the Wildcats managed just 230 yards through the air. Although the Sun Devils committed their fair share of pass interference penalties, a little excitement never hurt anyone, right? Three different Sun Devils came up with momentum swinging interceptions including Robert Nelson's fourth quarter interception that squashed the Wildcats' comeback efforts. Nelson's 66-yard return to the Wildcat two-yard line was simply the icing on the cake of a dominant fourth quarter. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Keelan Johnson forced a Matt Scott fumble, Kevin Ayers blocked a punt, and Nelson set up Michael Eubank's quarterback keeper that put the game out of reach. The final quarter is one that Sun Devil fans will remember forever, and the Arizona State secondary made that possible.