The Sun Devils left fans fatigued Saturday afternoon after a close finish, but emerged victorious in what will be remembered as a game that freshmen helped send the seniors out on a high note. It was the second bowl victory for ASU in three years under Todd Graham and the second 10-win season in a row for the first time since 1972-73 season. The maroon and gold may have come out on the higher end of the scoreboard, but they struggled at points throughout the contest. Let's take a look at the Sun Bowl positional grades
In his final game as a Sun Devil, Taylor Kelly completed 24 of 34 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. It's hard to complain about this performance from the ASU signal caller, considering he was pulled from the Territorial Cup less than a month ago for his inability to get the offense moving as a unit. Kelly's legs also helped him with nine carries for 24 yards, a few of which came in crucial fourth down situations. He overthrew and under threw Jaelen Strong on two different deep balls, but hasn't connected with him on a lot of those this season. Kelly took three sacks, only one of which was his due to his own inability to throw the ball quick enough. The Sun Devils got just enough out of Kelly for the win, but it was all they needed and his ability to stay turnover free also helped tremendously.
Running backs: A-
As a whole, this group jumps into the "A" range because of the balance they provided, which lacked at multiple points this season. D.J. Foster and Demario Richard combined for 120 yards on 18 carries while Kelly and Kalen Ballage also contributed for a total of 152 yards on the ground. Richard had the only two rushing touchdowns of the day for the maroon and gold. ASU attacked Duke mostly with the read option, staying away from the stretch plays to Foster which have been ineffective in recent games. Kelly read the defense well which led to huge chunks of yardage on the ground. The only true criticism of this group is they didn't perform up to snuff in third or fourth and short situations, which nearly cost ASU the game.
Wide receivers: B
Jaelen Strong had his typical day with seven catches for 103 yards, but nothing truly stood out about this group against the Blue Devils. Kelly certainly spread his 24 completions around, utilizing eight different receivers who each had a catch. The drops were few and far between but the route running wasn't as crisp, that's not to say it was a poor effort by any individual receiver, but the running game was working more often and therefore they weren't called on as often. When they were, the passes tended to be short crossing or comeback routes. It was a decent day for this group, but nothing special.
Offensive line: B-
It was a positive day for this group, opening up huge holes for D.J. Foster and Demario Richard, but Kelly was still sacked three times including one which forced a fumble that ASU was lucky to fall on. Duke's offensive line wasn't spectacular by any stretch and yet in third and fourth down and short situations, this group struggled to get any kind of push forward. While the play calling at those times was suspect, they still have to execute what's called by the coaching staff and if nothing else get their pads lower and just move the line of scrimmage. The Sun Devils were just 4 of 13 on third down conversions Saturday and a lot of those fell on the defensive line.
Defensive line: C+
It's difficult to give out anything in the C-range in a victory, but it just wasn't the best day for the defensive line. ASU had just one tackle for loss and didn't record any sacks. In fairness, Duke was one of the country's leaders in fewest tackles for loss coming into Saturday, but a superior team like the Sun Devils should have gotten into the backfield more. Marcus Hardison had 13 tackles but next after him was Tashon Smallwood with just six. Shaquille Powell had 129 yards on the ground with 29 carries. He also had three receptions for 52 yards and the Sun Devils bit on the quick screen passes all afternoon and got burned a few times. The Blue Devils also converted 10 of 20 third downs and all four of their fourth down opportunities. The ASU defensive line has shown this season that they're better than that.
Antonio Longino set a career high with 17 tackles while Salamo Fiso and Laiu Moeakiola weren't far behind with 12 and nine tackles respectively. Although they lacked penetration on blitzes, they held Anthony Boone to 235 yards passing and limited some potential bigger plays. They gave up over 160 yards on the ground but just 3.8 yards per carry. The conversion numbers weren't where Todd Graham probably wanted them, but still one of the better outings by this group this season.
When a player from a position group seals the game with a single play, its hard not to put this group in the A range. Kweishi Brown did just that with an interception to give ASU its Sun Bowl victory. Jordan Simone, in spite of having a stomach bug, also had 10 tackles with a fumble recovery which Brown stripped. Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown held Jamison Crowder to 102 yards and seven receptions, a stat line which should be considered a victory. Both players also had some great coverage on deeper passes which made Duke resort to dump offs, screen passes and trickeration. The corners and safeties clearly had one of the biggest impacts on the game and come out with the highest grade.
Special teams: C-
This was my hardest grade to give out. A 68-yard punt return for a touchdown by Duke with three missed tackles, followed by a 96-yard kickoff return in the second half by Kalen Ballage. If one deserves an F, the other deserves an A, factor in Gonzalez and Garoutte and I landed at a C- because while Ballage's return was great, a punt return for a touchdown is more inexcusable. Then, ASU gets surprised by a fake punt which led to a Duke touchdown. Let's face it, the special teams play didn't really get fixed this season. Zane Gonzalez, however, was a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals. But again Duke averaged 25.8 yards per kickoff return so the bad outweighed the good from this group.