ASU football exhibits competitive Spring Game in front of record crowd

If Saturday’s Spring Game was any indication of where the ASU football program currently stands, the Sun Devils have a few reasons to be optimistic.

ASU had a record Spring Game attendance of 8,456 fans while the slow removal of upper north end zone deck was one of the signals of change at Sun Devil Stadium. The fans saw a balanced competition on the field as the team continued to preach its goal of winning championships after the game.

“I was very pleased with the competition,” coach Todd Graham said. “I love this team and love the character. We had a great spring. Our program is about one thing, and this is winning championships. Anything less than being Pac-12 Champions is less than acceptable.”

 

 

ASU unveiled a new format for the Spring Game by evenly splitting the squad to Maroon and Gold teams and incorporating competitive drills as part of the on-field program. The day started with the Maroon team winning the “W” drill, which is ASU’s version of the Oklahoma drill. The team then broke away in several drills that included a battle between the offensive and defensive lines and a 7-on-7 scrimmage that featured the skill positions.

The Maroon team held a 9-3 lead over the Gold team heading into the standard 11-on-11 scrimmage.

“I like the format that we did because it created more competition,” Graham said.

The Maroon team quickly extended its lead at the start of the scrimmage. Redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong caught a 60-yard pass from redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly that set up redshirt senior running back Deantre Lewis’ touchdown run. Redshirt senior safety Damarious Randall gave the ball back to the Maroon team by intercepting redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici’s pass to set up redshirt senior tight end De’Marieya Nelson’s five-yard touchdown catch.

Maroon jumped up to a 23-3 lead, but a lull on offense gave Gold momentum as junior running back D.J. Foster, redshirt freshman wide receiver Ellis Jefferson and redshirt senior linebacker Marcus Washington rallied back with touchdowns. Maroon countered with only two field goals from sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez.

“It was nice to see the Gold team fight back,” Lewis said.

Maroon still ended up winning 29-23 and was awarded a steak meal after the game, while Gold settled for a tuna meal. The stakes of the game created a competitive atmosphere to the game that pleased Graham.

“I was happy,” Graham said. “I liked the mentality we had today. I thought we were a lot more physical.”

Lewis had the best individual performance of the scrimmage for the Maroon team, accumulating 88 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

“It felt good,” Lewis said. “I thought we came out here and competed and we got closer as a team.”

Kelly went 7-of-22 passing for 92 yards and a touchdown. Bercovici went 11-of-24 passing for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

The game still wasn’t perfect to Graham’s standards. With the team still not being completely conditioned, it led to several issues.

“There were way too many dropped balls today,” Graham said. “The tempo was way too slow. There are a lot of things we need to work on.”

ASU still couldn’t avoid injuries in the Spring Game. Redshirt freshman tight end Grant Martinez left with an apparent neck injury and redshirt senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks suffered a shoulder injury near the end of the scrimmage.

The Spring Game was the ceremonial end to ASU’s month-long spring camp. The team won’t convene again until fall camp at the end of July. Until then, the team will focus on conditioning its current players and welcoming the incoming freshmen.

“The biggest thing (to work on the offseason), if you ask me, would be transitioning our newcomers,” Graham said. “We have a tremendous class of guys coming in and we pride ourselves on being able to transition them very quickly.”

 

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion