Redshirt junior Taylor Kelly set school records in both completion percentage and pass efficiency in 2012 and returns for a second season as a leader on the Sun Devil offense. He should dominate a Hornets defense that gave up 28.2 points per game in 2012.
Junior Garrett Safron had a solid sophomore season, completing almost 65 percent of his passes and throwing 22 touchdowns, but Safron is turnover prone. He threw 12 interceptions last season and has already thrown two this season in the Hornets’ season opening 24-0 loss last Thursday night to San Jose State University.
The two-headed monster of senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster is arguably the best in the Pac-12. Add a healthy and explosive Deantre Lewis to the mix, and the Sun Devils have three very quality runners to work with on a team that averaged 205.5 yards per game on the ground last season.
Sacramento State University senior running back Ezekiel Graham ran for over 800 yards last season but managed to gain only 49 yards in his first game this season against SJSU. Hornet quarterback Garrett Safron likes to run a lot, too, and gained 377 rushing yards in 2012, but he also lost four fumbles last season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Sun Devil receiving corps is surprisingly deep, and coach Todd Graham thinks it has greatly improved over last season. Senior Kevin Ozier and sophomore Rick Smith will start alongside newcomer redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong. Freshmen E.J. Jefferson and Cam Smith will also see playing time this season at wideout, while senior tight end Chris Coyle will have no problem finding open space coming off his record-breaking junior season.
Hornets top receiver Morris Norrise (777 yards, 7 TDs in 2012) returns to the team, but there isn’t much experience behind him. Ezekiel Graham was the second-leading receiver last season, and tight end T.J. Knowles, the third option, graduated. Seven receivers caught passes against San Jose State, but not one of them caught more than four total.
Seniors Evan Finkenberg and Kody Koebensky and redshirt junior Jamil Douglas all provide good leadership and experience on the Sun Devil front line. It will be interesting to see how new starting right tackle redshirt junior Tyler Sulka performs during game situations after having a very good fall camp.
The Hornets allowed only 17 sacks in their 11 games last season and return three starters but allowed three sacks in their season opener this season. If the line has another shaky performance this week, expect Safron to hit the ground a lot.
There are only a select number of teams that can line up with the defensive line of the Sun Devils, which recorded 52 sacks in 2012. Reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton returns along with fellow studs, redshirt junior Carl Bradford and sophomore Jaxon Hood.
The Hornets recorded 33 sacks in 2012 but lost over a third of them (12) to graduation. Senior Trent Eskew is the team’s leading returning sacker with four, but the Hornets only managed to force one last week against the Spartans.
Senior Chris Young was the team’s third-leading tackler a season ago and should increase his numbers this season from the Will position. He also had 14 tackles for loss last season, but the persistent questions remains: Can the Sun Devils stop the run?
Like Young, Hornets senior Todd Davis is the leader of the linebackers. He recorded 13.5 tackles for loss last season, including 4.5 sacks. Davis was also the team’s leading tackler last season, with 103. He had seven tackles against the Spartans but is the only returning linebacker for the Hornets.
Half of the Sun Devils’ third-ranked pass defense (167.92 ypg) returns in seniors Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor. University of Pittsburgh transfer redshirt sophomore Lloyd Carrington will make an impact at corner opposite of Irabor and redshirt senior Robert Nelson is able to play both corner and safety.
The Hornets secondary played well against the Spartans, limiting David Fales, the nation’s most accurate quarterback last season, to only 225 yards on 16-32 passing. The Hornets return five defensive backs from last year’s squad, but they only recorded 10 interceptions all season.
The punting game is the Sun Devils’ biggest concern heading into the season. Will it be highly touted freshman Matt Haack or junior walk-on Dom Vizzare? Neither has taken control of the job yet. Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez had a great fall camp, though, and the return game is dangerous, especially with Foster returning kicks.
Punting is not an area of concern for the Hornets, as senior Justin Weldon averaged 46.8 yards per punt against the Spartans. Weldon averaged 43.8 yards per punt last season, too. However, junior placekicker Jesse Aguilar didn’t have a good opening game, as he missed a field goal from 45 yards and had one blocked from 46 yards.
Overall EDGE: ASU
Despite several FCS over FBS upsets that detailed week one of the 2013 college football season, the Sun Devils should have no problem with the Hornets. The Sun Devils are far too deep, talented and disciplined to let the Hornets slip past them like Oregon State University did two years ago. Expect the Sun Devil backups to see a lot of time on the field this week.
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