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ASU vs. Stanford: Positional grades from Sun Devils’ 34-24 loss

Grades came in the mail a bit early.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) had quite the mix of report cards amidst a 34-24 loss to Stanford on Saturday afternoon.

Here’s how we graded each unit:

Quarterbacks: D+

It seemed the wheels fell off for redshirt junior Manny Wilkins. He carried the Sun Devils four games straight without an interception, as he putting an exclamation mark on his performance with a season-high 347 yards with three touchdowns against Oregon. But against the Cardinal, Wilkins managed just 181 yard with no touchdowns, minus 11 rushing yards and his worst feat: two interceptions. It was the first time Wilkins threw a pick and passed for less than 200 yards this season. When the Sun Devils went down 31-17 midway into the third quarter, Wilkins answered not with a score, but with an interception (his second to junior Justin Reid), further limiting the Sun Devils’ chances of coming back.

Running backs: A

While they weren’t nearly as explosive as Stanford junior Bryce Love who ran for 301 yards and broke through 1,000 yards this season through just week five, Arizona State’s running back corp was arguably the most efficient unit on the field. After four games of 79, 44, 168, 142 yards on the ground respectively, the Sun Devils broke open for 214 yards. Senior Demario Richard proved he’s back to full form after an early season injury with 80 yards on 22 carries and 57 receiving yards. Senior Kalen Ballage, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 60 yards and nine carries, split time at the sparky formation with sophomore N’Keal Harry who was efficient as well with 17 yards on three attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Sophomore Kyle Williams added 65 yards on the ground.

Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends: C+

In a stat category usually full of receivers, Richard a running back, led Arizona State in receiving yards with 57. And combined, the Sun Devils attained just 195 yards receiving. It was the first time all season ASU earned less yards in the air than on the ground. Wilkins was unable to get go-to first down machine junior Jalen Harvey involved, as he caught just one pass for 43 yards. A major bright spot though is Harry who not only got action running the ball, but caught a three passes for 50 yards and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ceejhay French-Love.

Offensive Line: C

While Arizona State’s O-line let up three sacks, and six tackles for loss, the Sun Devils’ running game was surely efficient and the offensive line should be held accountable for that. One minor error was on Junior Quinn Bailey who pushed the Sun Devils back 10 yards for a holding call. The Sun Devils gave up seven sacks against New Mexico State, but have improved since then, allowing three, four and four respectively since week one. The offensive line isn’t perfect, but has definitely improved, getting the running game in rhythm.

Defensive Line: D

If anyone can achieve over 300 yards on the ground, the blame will ultimately fall on the defensive line. The line attained zero tackles for loss and failed to sack Stanford redshirt freshman quarterback KJ Costello. Junior JoJo Wicker led the line with three tackles, but senior Tashon Smallwood didn’t record a single solo tackle. It’s an event that has occurred just twice before in his career dating back to 2014.

Linebackers: B-

While the linebackers were second in line to stop Love, it seemed they were the odd man out. Missed tackles were abundant, but much of them fell on the secondary in big plays. DJ Calhoun led Arizona State with 2.5 tackles for loss and added nine tackles. Junior Christian Sam led the Sun Devils with 10 tackles. But in the end, it was a combined effort from the line and linebackers to attain zero sacks and just two quarterback hurries, letting Costello have an easy first first-ever start for the Cardinal.

Secondary: D+

Love’s biggest runs were of 61, 43, 39, 59, and 31 yards. In order to pick up 30-plus yard gains, there’s a third unit he has to beat, and that’s the secondary. In Love’s first major run, a 61-yard touchdown, senior safety Chad Adams missed a major tackle near the 30-yard line, which could have cut the run in half. Just a score later, Adams missed another tackle near the same area. What could have been about a 13-yard run, turned to a 43-yard touchdown on a missed tackle near the 30-yard line, again, making the score 14-3. Also, one of Arizona State’s three penalties came on junior safety DeMonte King, as his personal foul gave Stanford 15 yards.

Special Teams: C-

The brightest light on Arizona State’s special teams was Junior Michael Sleep-Dalton who punted for an average of 43.2 yards per punt, a five-yard improvement from last week’s average. Freshman Brandon Ruiz punched in a 32-yard field goal, but missed from 59 yards out with 18 seconds remaining. But the worst of Arizona State’s special teams woes came returning the ball, as Ballage muffed his first kick return, gathered it, and earned just six yards. Sophomore punt return man Ryan Newsome returned the ball twice for minus two yards.