ASU’s offense will go as far as redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly takes them. Through the first four games of the season, Kelly has silenced the preseason critics and shown everyone why he won the starting job.
Kelly has led an efficient offensive attack and is No. 9 in the nation in passing efficiency, while having thrown for an even 1,000 yards thus far.
“His strength is that he is a very good manager of our offense and what we’re doing,” coach Todd Graham said.
While the term “game-manager” tends to have a negative connotation for quarterbacks, Kelly is leading the No. 15 offense in the country, averaging 41.25 points per game.
“We want him to be efficient,” Graham said. “He’s a good decision maker. He’s very calm and poised, (and) I think that’s one of his strong points.”
Receivers stepping up
The Sun Devils’ receiving corps struggled to hold on to the football against Missouri. There were several drops that left sour tastes in the mouths of the entire position group, but in Saturday’s victory over Utah, the group — especially senior wide receiver Rashad Ross — stepped up.
Ross and redshirt junior Alonzo Agwuenu did some extra film study during the week and it appeared to pay off as the receiving corps responded to its coach’s challenge.
“I was really proud of those guys,” Graham said. “I have to tell you, I thought our receivers really stepped up and played. They just went up and attacked the ball.”
However, the group still has to get better at the basics, as one game will not silence critics. Specifically, the receivers need to work on fundamentals, as Graham mentioned there are still a few false steps in their routes, which can cause major problems in a timing offense such as the one the Sun Devils run.
The overwhelming majority of the ASU roster appears to have bought in to Graham and the new way of life in Tempe, but the offensive line is a group that has really stood out to Graham.
“Our offensive line is a group that is very solid,” Graham said. “We have some strong leaders (and some) strong character up front.”
With the amount of depth the Sun Devils have in the backfield combined with offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s emphasis on running the football, the offensive line is a crucial component of the offense.
Through four games, the big men up front have answered the call, as ASU is averaging 187.50 rushing yards per game.
Special teams not quite special
ASU’s special teams played better against Utah than they did against Missouri, but Graham is far from satisfied.
“I think we played good, we didn’t play great,” Graham said. “We had more mental errors, a lot of mental errors in our punt return … I thought we improved, but that is going to be a very key point for us.”
ASU easily defeated Utah 37-7, so the special teams may have gone unnoticed to some, but Graham believes special teams is the key to winning close football games.
The Pac-12 is a competitive conference, and Graham knows there will be a lot of close football games down the road. Although ASU has been involved in three blowout wins thus far, the coach knows special teams will be a deciding factor down the road and wants to make sure the mistakes are cleaned up sooner rather than later.
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