As a student, it's much easier to get your report card after you know you aced a test and that's exactly how the Arizona State Sun Devils should feel after clobbering the Washington State Cougars on Thursday night. The Sun Devils trounced Washington State in every aspect of Thursday's contest and our position grades will start by acknowledging the offensive side of the football.
Taylor Kelly was the most efficient player on the field on Thursday and that's exactly what offensive coordinator Mike Norvell expects out of his signal-caller. Kelly didn't look like Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota out there, but he did his best A.J. McCarron impression against the Cougar defense.
Kelly tossed 22 completions on 31 attempts and racked up 275 yards through the air. Every time the Sun Devils needed an important throw, Kelly gave it to them and his five touchdown tosses upped his total to 23 on the season. With five (possibly six with the Pac-12 Championship) games remaining, Kelly needs just eight touchdown passes to surpass Andrew Walter and claim the single-season school record for touchdown passes.
Aside from his impressive aerial effort, Kelly showed an improved command for the read-option attack that the Sun Devils rely on so heavily. Twice, Kelly kept the ball near the goal line and both times, the redshirt junior found the end zone with his feet. When you account for seven touchdowns, it's hard to find any area of your game to critique.
Running Backs: B+
Marion Grice put together another solid effort on the ground with an 18-carry, 94-yard effort that helped the Sun Devils move the chains throughout the first half. Grice was a bulldozer on the ground, but it's clear that opponents are keying in on him around the goal line. Despite not scoring a touchdown tonight, Grice provided a much-needed decoy that allowed Kelly to pick apart the Cougar defense in the red zone.
D.J. Foster carried the ball eight times for 30 yards and although his 3.8 yards per carry average is less than stellar, Foster was gusty all night long. The running back found the end zone on a beautiful screen pass in the second quarter and bullied his way in for a score.
Deantre Lewis saw extended action out of the backfield tonight, but Lewis fumbled in the first half and that marked the first time a Sun Devil back has turned the ball over this year. Lewis still managed to make his mark with a number of impressive runs in the fourth quarter. If not for the Lewis fumble, this group could have graded out in the low A's.
Wide Receivers: B+
No Sun Devil receiver was particularly outstanding, but with Jaelen Strong limited due to injury, the group stepped up as a whole and made Washington State pay in a variety of ways. Rick Smith made his best catch of the season on a juggling 51-yard touchdown pass with a defender clearly interfering with him. Strong still managed to reel in four catches including an 11-yard touchdown grab in the first half.
Tight end Chris Coyle put together a solid night with three catches and 28 yards including a touchdown pass that helped Arizona State wrap things up before halftime. Coyle had his bell rung on the play before, but he showed the toughness and grit we've come to expect out of the Sun Devil tight end. All in all, this group did what it needed to do, and that's a testament to the hard work the players have been putting in during the week.
Offensive Line: A
When Arizona State wins, it's usually on the strength of the offensive line and Thursday night was no different. The line paved the way for more than 280 rushing yards and kept Taylor Kelly upright in the pocket all night long. Evan Finkenberg and Jamil Douglas deserve extra credit for working hard on the left side of the line as that's where Marion Grice was able to find his widest running lanes.
As it came time for the Sun Devils to eat up the clock, Washington State still couldn't slow the Sun Devils in obvious running situations as the line powered through the fourth quarter with ease. Deantre Lewis was the beneficiary of some great blocks and the chemistry the line has developed throughout the season was on display throughout the second half. On the final drive, the second team got a few reps in and defensive tackle Mo Latu even made an appearance at right tackle.