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ASU Football: What We Learned from the 37-7 Win Over Utah

Brandon Magee celebrates another great game (Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)
Brandon Magee celebrates another great game (Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

Now that's how you come back from a disappointing road loss.

The Arizona State Sun Devils hit the Utah Utes early, hit them hard, and hit them often during a dominant first half that set the stage for a 37-7 victory.

We handed out our team grades yesterday, now it's time to review the six key lessons that we learned on Saturday night.

Taylor Kelly may be #2

Matt Barkley is the best quarterback in the Pac-12. To say otherwise proves that you just don't watch a lot of college football. But who is No. 2?

Prior to this season, many would have said Washington's Keith Price. Arizona's Matt Scott had three straight great games before last Saturday's shutout against Oregon. Sean Mannion of Oregon State made a major bid for the title after knocking off his second straight ranked opponent. Newcomer Brett Hundley has been extremely productive in Noel Mazzone's offense at UCLA.

But all of those quarterbacks, including Barkley, have one thing in common: They are all behind Taylor Kelly in passer efficiency. In fact, all but eight quarterbacks in the nation are looking up at Kelly in that respect.

The one-time afterthought in ASU's quarterback competition is now one of the top playmakers in the conference following his first career 300-yard and three-touchdown game that came against a defense that entered Saturday ranked 15th in the country in total defense.

Through four games, Kelly has completed over 72-percent of his passes for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns with just two interceptions. He is also the team's third-leading rusher with 188 yards. But beyond production, he's continually shown great poise and command, and his ability to lead the fourth quarter almost-comeback in Missouri was thoroughly impressive. ASU looks to have a good one behind center.

Sorry Lotulelei, Sutton's the real Star

Entering Saturday's game, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was heralded as one of the top defenders in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 325 pounder has been near the top of most early 2013 NFL Draft projections, and for good reason—he's pretty damn good at football.

However, while he had a solid game on Saturday with five tackles, he was thoroughly upstagged by ASU's Will Sutton.

Sutton continued his torrid start to 2012 with another dominant performance. From the game's opening drive, Sutton had his way with the Ute offense, collapsing the pocket, shooting gaps and disrupting the entire offensive gameplan. He finished with four tackles (one for loss) and half a sack, but his continued presence helped stifle the Utes and open opportunities for his teammates, such as his pressure on Utah quarterback Jon Hays that resulted in a Keelan Johnson interception.

After the game, Todd Graham called Sutton, "The best D-lineman in the country in my opinion. A guy that has really started to buy in to the things we're talking about. He is so talented and explosive. I have not coached a guy better than him physically."

While Lotulelei will continue to get the national headlines, he now has some company among the elite at the position.

The running game is still an issue

While Sutton was leading a great defensive effort to shut down the Utah running game, the Sun Devils were having their own struggles on the ground.

For the fourth straight game, ASU had a different player led the team in rushing, in this case D.J. Foster and his 70 yards. With such a talented trio of backs, that's not all together surprising. But as a team, the desired effectiveness has not been there since the opener against NAU, an FCS team.

Over the last two games, the Sun Devils have averaged just under 3.2 yards-per-carry, a troubling figure. Cameron Marshall had just 14 yards on seven carries against Utah, and Marion Grice has just 34 yards on 10 carries over the last two weeks. Foster continues to be effective with his limited touches, but he's not ideally suited to be a feature back.

So far, the issue hasn't reached "problem" status, but it is definitely an issue worth monitoring, especially Marshall's continuing slump.

ASU may have the Pac-12's best 1-2 punch at linebacker

The Sun Devils lost all three of their starting linebackers from last season, as well as their primary reserve, so needless to say, the position was a major concern heading into this year. Getting Brandon Magee back was a boost, but coming off a major Achilles injury raised some questions, as did a host of unproven players vying for time.

Through four weeks, there have been two major answers to those questions.

Magee has come back better than ever. He made an incredible interception return for touchdown in the opener. After missing the Illinois game, he has been a beast over the last two weeks. Magee has combined for 22 tackles in that span, adding another interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to his totals.

But as good as he has been, newcomer Chris Young may have been better. He leads the team with 32 total tackles, and only four players in the nation have more tackles-for-loss than Young's 8.5. For good measure, he has made two sacks and forced a fumble.

The combined play of Magee and Young have turned around a pre-season weakness into one of ballhawking strength through the first third of the season.

We have a pulse from the wide receivers

After last week's drop-filled performance by the wide receivers, the group was in danger of flat-lining. Against Utah, Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier and Jamal Miles acted as speedy defibrillators.

Ross was terrific against the Utes, getting ASU on the board with a nice 38-yard catch-and-run touchdown. He made a nice 29-yard catch along the sidelines to set up the second touchdown and put together a great, drop-free night with five catches for 83 yards.

Ozier hauled in a 52-yard pass to help set up a later field goal, and Miles was consistent with four catches, including gains of 12, 16, and 22 yards. Even Alonzo Agwuenu, the very talenetd juco transfer, contributed his first career catch, a nice 19-yard gain after he broke a tackle.

As a group, they caught 13 of the team's 23 completions for 244 yards, and earned high marks in our position grades.

This team Speaks Victory in the face of least at home

Losing last week to Missouri was a heart-wrenching defeat. The team nearly overcame their self-inflicted mistakes to post a tremendous comeback win, only to once again shoot themselves in the foot. Facing a very tough team to open Pac-12 play would not give the Sun Devils any breaks.

Breaks? Breaks?! We don't need no stinkin' breaks!

Graham ensured that the mistakes of last week were turned into lessons to learn from, and the Sun Devils started fast and put away the Utes in the first quarter. Seeing ASU avoid the woe-is-me spiral into oblivion that characterized recent seasons was a promising change for the future.

While the Sun Devils have proven to be a juggernaut thus far at home, the road issue still remains. If Graham and company can take home a big win at Cal this Saturday, this may in fact be a new era for Sun Devil football.

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