Redshirt junior Taylor Kelly ranks sixth in the nation in passing yards this season with 327.5, but he hasn’t been as efficient as he was last year. Kelly’s quarterback rating, which was 159.9 in 2012, is down to 148.9 in 2013. His completion percentage is down to 62 percent after throwing 67.1 percent last year.
Still, Kelly has 16 passing touchdowns for the season and has been hurting secondaries with the back-shoulder fade. ASU has yet to come up with a win on the road, and it’s imperative that Kelly replicates his comfortable performances at home to games played on the road.
Running Backs: B
Senior Marion Grice may lead the nation in scoring with 15 touchdowns, but the running backs overall have struggled getting a rhythm going on the ground. ASU is averaging almost 50 yards less this year in rushing yards per game with 154.3.
Sophomore D.J. Foster has just 100 rushing yards on 21 carries, but he has the second-most receiving yards on the team with 334 on 32 catches and a touchdown. ASU is also getting a nice contribution from redshirt junior Deantre Lewis, who has been finding more playing time with the first team as the season progresses. The running backs have still been a vital part of the offense, but they must pick up more yards on the ground to keep the offense on the field.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
There’s no doubt about it, Jaelen Strong has given the offense a huge boost in the first half of the season. The redshirt sophomore is averaging 113 receiving yards per game and has four touchdowns on the season. He’s drawn several defensive pass interference penalties so far and single coverage seems to be futile against him.
Outside Strong, the team is still looking for other receivers to step up. Redshirt senior Kevin Ozier and redshirt sophomore Richard Smith, the team’s expected strongest returning wideouts, have been quiet so far. However, freshman Cameron Smith has slowly worked his way into the starting lineup after going through fall camp with a foot injury.
Senior tight end Chris Coyle and redshirt junior De’Marieya Nelson have a pair of touchdowns as tight ends, but Coyle admitted this week that his chemistry with Kelly hasn’t been spot-on lately.
Offensive Line: C
Some games the offensive line shows up, other games it doesn’t. It had a solid performance against USC and didn’t allow the Trojans to sack Kelly, but the Fighting Irish got to him six times the next week. To the offensive line’s credit, it went up against some of the most physical defensive lines in the country in Stanford, Wisconsin, USC and Notre Dame. Still, the line has been the weakest part of ASU’s high-powered offense and must improve in giving Kelly more time in the pocket and opening gaps for the running backs.
Defensive Line: B-
This group hasn’t been a complete disappointment, but ASU fans haven’t seen as many sacks as they wanted to see in the first six games. Not including redshirt junior linebacker Carl Bradford (who often lines up at the line of scrimmage), the defensive line only has 3.5 sacks on the season. Stopping the run also still seems like a problem this season, as the defensive line is partially responsible for giving up 168.8 rushing yards per game. In his six games, redshirt senior defensive tackle Will Sutton still hasn’t found a way to overcome double teams and come up with a signature performance.
Redshirt senior defensive end Davon Coleman stepped up nicely when sophomore nose tackle Jaxon Hood was injured for several games, but the rest of the defensive line as a unit struggled without Hood.
Senior linebacker Chris Young leads the team in tackles with 41 from the Will position and Bradford has been finding his groove recently with eight tackles in the last two games and 1.5 sacks against Colorado last week. Other than that, the Sun Devils haven’t had any consistency at the other two linebacker positions and continue to rotate a number of players, most recently redshirt freshman safety Laiu Moeakiola. The linebackers need to improve in tackling and help the defensive line in sealing gaps and stopping the run.
The secondary has been the clear bright spot on defense. Whenever ASU has needed a critical stop, the “No Fly Zone” has consistently delivered by getting big interceptions and giving the Sun Devils their momentum back.
The only game in which the secondary’s pass coverage looked vulnerable was against Notre Dame. But even then, redshirt senior defensive back Osahon Irabor came up with a pick-six that put ASU back in the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Redshirt junior safety Damarious Randall has emerged as a factor at field safety, getting 17 tackles against the Fighting Irish alone.
This group still needs to send more help on stopping big runs, though.
Special Teams: D+
This has been ASU’s Achilles’ heel, and coach Todd Graham knows it. The only reasons why it’s not failing completely is because freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez has hit seven-straight field goals and redshirt junior kicker Alex Garoutte’s ability to boot kickoffs into the endzone for touchbacks has helped limit opponents’ starting position.
Other than that, everything else on special teams has been a mess.
The Sun Devils sit dead last in the nation in punting with an average of 34.4 yards per punt. Junior punter Dom Vizzare muffed a snap against Wisconsin and freshman punter Matt Haack got a punt blocked against Stanford. The kickoff coverage has been spotty and is fortunate a return hasn’t been taken back for a touchdown so far.
Overall Grade: B
The Sun Devils end the first half with a decent 4-2 (2-1 Pac-12) record and stand second in the Pac-12 South. Although they’ve faced elite competition early, their record could be at least one win better had they not made some fatal mistakes against Notre Dame. Their talent is still there, but so are the questions. Like can the Sun Devils limit their recurring mistakes as they head into six games of conference play? And can ASU finally come up with some road wins?
Offensive MVP: Jaelen Strong
Defensive MVP: Osahon Irabor
Most Improved: Damarious Randall
Satisfactory: Causing turnovers, pass coverage, winning at home, playing a quick tempo style on offense and field goal kicking.
Unsatisfactory: Special teams (other than field goal kicking), stopping the run, special teams, ability to win on the road, special teams, depth at wide receiver, special teams, open-field tackling and special teams.
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