Well, well. That was nice to see, don't you think, Sun Devil Nation? The Arizona State Sun Devils once again followed up an early season dismantling at the hands of a conference foe by upending their next opponent. As the 38-23 scoreline would suggest, there was plenty to be excited about regarding the team's play against the UCLA Bruins. Let's take a look at how the position groups fared this week.
Offensive Unit: A-
Allow me to play devil's advocate here. Of the Sun Devils' 16 possessions, four were three-and-outs. On top of that, the Bruins managed to rack up eight tackles for a loss and nine pass breakups. That's all I've got.
With that said, ASU's offense still generated 34 points against a defense that had entered the contest only allowing 18 points a game. It also managed to total 465 yards while showing true balance (45 rushing plays called, 45 passing plays called) in a masterful performance. It was a total team effort.
This is the Mike Bercovici that had so many clamoring for the fifth-year senior as a dark horse Heisman candidate and ASU as a sleeper College Football Playoff pick at the start of the season. Bercovici finished 27-of-44 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
With the Sun Devils offensive line turning in its best performance of the season, Bercovici managed to stay upright and comfortable in the pocket most of the night, allowing him to get into a rhythm and really play with the freedom and confidence that made ASU fans chant his name in 2014.
His accuracy was the most consistent it's been in a single game this season. In fact, Bercovici's stat line could've been even better had it not been for a few drops, and his interception was tipped before missing his intended target.
Not to mention, Bercovici also legged out 37 rushing yards, including a highlight 34-yard touchdown run. Excellent showing by the team's leader.
Running Backs: B
The Sun Devils' three-game stretch of having at least one 100-yard rusher ended on Saturday, but combined, the ASU running backs (Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage, Jacom Brimhall) finished with 35 carries for 141 yards and a score.
Richard also saw work in the receiving game (8 catches, 55 yards) and, to the delight of his critics, managed to not fumble during the contest. Ballage was the ball carrier in what was the play of the day, when he drove a pile forward 20 yards into the end zone to seal the win for the Sun Devils with just 45 seconds remaining in the game.
It wasn't the most explosive backfield display, but it was certainly effective, and that's all they could ask for against the Bruins.
Wide Receivers: B
I counted at least three drops made by Sun Devils receivers on Saturday. Although, some of the great adjustments they made to haul in a few of their allotted receptions were outstanding plays.
D.J. Foster (who now boasts the school record for most consecutive games with a reception, 45) flashed his ability early on, making big plays with the ball in his hand. The rest of the way, it was a complete group effort, as the wealth was shared around the receiving corps.
It wasn't a perfect outing, but a solid one that the group as a whole can surely build upon moving forward.
Tight Ends: A-
Kohl once again had a drop that stalled a potential trip to the end zone visit this week, but he still came up big when the Sun Devils offense absolutely needed him to.
Aside from his 32-yard catch in the second quarter, Kohl moved the chains on each of his other two receptions, including a crucial third-down catch-and-run on ASU's final possession to help solidify the victory. True safety valve value.
Offensive Line: A-
As far as the passing game and protecting the quarterback are concerned, this was the best game this group of players has put together all season. After struggling in each of the first four games of the year, the Sun Devils offensive line managed to only allow Bercovici to get sacked once during the game, while not conceding one quarterback hit. This allowed Bercovici and the rest of the offense to look as comfortable as they've looked in 2015 thus far.
Meanwhile, the running game wasn't as successful, but it was sufficient. The Sun Devils only averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and also surrendered eight tackles for a loss. Regardless, their effort on the evening was demonstrated by their aid to Ballage when they helped push the pile into the end zone for a game-capping touchdown.
Defensive Unit: A-
Last weekend, Todd Graham's aggressive, attacking identity was the reason for the defensive group's low grade. This week, it's the reason it's so high.
The Sun Devils were relentless in their pursuit of Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen the entire game, and it all started with the stout play up front, which helped contain one of the most dynamic ball carriers in the country.
Defensive Line: A
Tashon Smallwood (3 tackles, 2 TFL) and Viliami Latu (one tackle, one sack, one safety) were the standouts on the defensive line, clogging up any chance of the Bruins establishing the advantage in the trenches. Latu's safety was not only the difference early on, but snatched momentum for the Sun Devils defense which lasted for a majority of the contest.
The ASU defensive line's discipline in gap containment also freed the back-seven players to have a greater impact on the game, too.
Salamo Fiso (8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack), Christian Sam (7 tackles), Laiu Moeakiola (5 tackles, 1 INT, 3 pass breakups), and Antonio Longino (3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pass breakup) were heavily involved in the outcome of this game, as they constantly hounded and harassed Rosen and swarmed Paul Perkins.
Their free rushing lanes were available courtesy of the defensive line, but that's not to say the linebackers weren't taking advantage of chances when they were presented. Even D.J. Calhoun was finally able to make his way to the quarterback to log his first sack of the season.
Jordan Simone (8 tackles, 0.5 TFL) didn't have to worry about chasing down the speedy Adoree Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster this week. Instead, Simone was able to freely play up closer to the line of scrimmage, directly affecting the opposition's running game and horizontal passing game.
His teammates, Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington (2 tackles, 1 pass breakup each) did a good job keeping the Bruins receivers in check for most of the game (Jordan Payton, who exploded for 5 catches, 151 yards and two touchdowns in the 2014 matchup, was limited to 6 catches for 73 yards).
Freshman Kareem Orr (2 tackles) and the rest of the secondary had a bit of trouble dealing with tight end Thomas Duarte (6 receptions, 101 yards, 2 TD), but all-in-all it was a solid performance from the group.
Special Teams: A
Matt Haack changed the game for the Sun Devils. He may be an unsung hero for his efforts in this one, but the left-footed kicker made all the difference in a game where field position was paramount in determining a winner.
Field Goal Specialist: C+
Zane Gonzalez missed his first field goal attempt of the game (44 yards), but managed to end his three-kick miss streak with two straight connections (31, 25) to get back on the right foot (pun intended?).
Punter/Punt Coverage Team: A+
Matt Haack might have won the game for the Sun Devils on Saturday night. Haack pinned five of his seven punts inside of the UCLA 20-yard line, including a 46-yarder that skipped out of bounds at the UCLA one-yard line with four minutes remaining and UCLA down by six; meaning the Bruins would have had to drive 99 yards down the field.
Haack's clutch punting resulted in UCLA's average starting field position beginning at their own 25-yard line, and directly parlayed into two safeties for ASU. His influence on the game pit the Sun Devils in favorable spots, and gave them the advantage in the oft-overlooked-but-important third phase of the game.
Kickoff Specialist/Kickoff Coverage Team: B+
Ishmael Adams wasn't back returning kicks for the Bruins on Saturday, but it wouldn't have really made any difference who was. Zane Gonzalez drew five touchbacks on seven of his kickoffs, although the other two kicks were returned for gains of 34 and 23 yards.
Tim White couldn't neatly field his first return, but managed to pull out a fantastic 63-yard gain out of it, almost breaking loose for a touchdown. He followed that up with a 47-yard return on his next kickoff return, and managed a return of 19 yards on his final attempt. It shouldn't be much longer before he takes one back to the house this season.
We've earned this.