By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
For its first road game of the year Arizona State went to Champaign Illinois with a 2-0 record, a national ranking and looking for its first 3-0 start since 2007. The Sun Devils’ opponent, the Fighting Illini, were 2-0 and feeling disrespected due to not being ranked in the polls despite two blowout wins over Arkansas State and South Dakota State. The level of competition was undoubtedly the reason. Illinois was looking to establish themselves as a contender in the Big Ten Leaders Division after a bowl win last season. Leading both teams were two veteran coaches looking to cool the “Hot Seat” talk that’s been surrounding them in their respective schools. ASU’s Dennis Erickson has brought talent to Tempe yet has not been able to win after a 10-3 maiden season in 2007. 2011 was the year when it was to fully bloom into a winning season and prove the critics wrong. Illinois’ Ron Zook is known as an excellent recruiter but just cannot seem to get over the hump and build a consistent winner.
One of the traits that makes college football special are the subplots that exist in these types of games: two teams looking for legitimacy and recognition, two veteran coaches in must win situations and two quarterbacks looking to make a name for themselves in ASU’s Brock Osweiler and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase. There were many that felt that ASU would win this game and have a 3-0 record going into their most important game in September; a showdown with rival USC at home. The Illini were supposed to be another building block to a team looking to win its conference. They were supposed to be a test to see how the team has improved after an emotional win against Missouri the week prior.
The Illini did not get the memo.
In a close and physical game that could have gone either way, it was Illinois who persevered and found a way to win. It was Illinois who avoided the costly mistakes at the end and came up with a huge four and out to seal the victory. From the opening kick off it was evident that ASU was going to be in for a dog fight. The Illini came out fired up and ready to play and were not at all intimidated by the ranked Sun Devils. In the first offensive series the Illini stuffed the Sun Devil offense by making two huge plays: a big hit and tackle by Trulon Henry on first down then a sack of Osweiler on third down. ASU was forced to punt and a shanked kick gave Illinois the ball in great field position. Nathan Scheelhaase, the mobile and athletic Illinois quarterback, then used a combination of running and passing to march his team down the field and into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. ASU responded and tied the game 7-7 on a Brock Osweiler to Gerell Robinson pass. Illinois answered the touchdown by driving to the ASU 2 yard line after a 45 yard completion from Scheelhaase to A.J. Jenkins but was denied a touchdown by the ASU defense and had to settle for a Field Goal. Despite taking the lead 14-10 in the fourth quarter, ASU could not overcome its own errors on offense. The Illini rallied and won the game 17-14 when Scheelhaase connected again with A.J. Jenkins for 13 yards after Brock Osweiller was hit & fumbled on a pass play.
GRADING THE GAME
Brock Osweiler may get some heat for the turnovers and the loss, but it was not entirely his fault. From the start of the game Brock was harassed by the Illini defense. The pocket collapsed frequently and forced him to vacate his progressions and scramble. He was sacked six times, and on the fumble late in the game he was hit by a defender that came free on the edge. While he overthrew a couple passes, he was the victim of several drops by ASU receivers. Brock was gallant in defeat completing 25-45 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice: one on a fluke bounce off of ASU tackle Dan Knapp and the second on a tipped ball. He ran the ball well again and despite having happy feet in the second half, he was in control of the offense and had them in position to win the game after the Illini scored.
Dropped balls plagued this unit Saturday. Even the sure handed Aaron Pflugrad dropped a critical fourth down pass in the Devil’s final possession, but had a productive day by catching 7 passes for 75 yards. Gerrel Robinson had his best day to date by snagging 8 passes for 88 yards, but dropped a possible touchdown pass late in the game. Mike Willie caught 3 passes for 65 yards, but had a costly Pass Interference penalty that killed an ASU drive. Thomas Coyle couldn’t keep his feet in the end-zone on one play and dropped a pass in the 4th quarter that hit him squarely in the hands. They did make big plays and at times looked like a threat, but the drops at the end when the game was on the line cost them a better grade.
Cameron Marshall sat out the second quarter with an injury but returned to the game and had his best day this season rushing for 69 yards on 13 carries for a 5.3 per carry average. Kyle Middlebrooks struggled a bit and ran for 17 yards on 6 carries, and Jamal Miles was not able to get into the swing of things by rushing twice for 3 yards. When is Deantre Lewis coming back?
When a unit gives up six sacks, not much more needs to be said. The Illini were constantly in the backfield pressuring Osweiler. Defensive linemen Michael Buchanan and Mercilus Whitney combined for 3.5 sacks and linebacker Jonathan Brown had one and a half. The Illini were frequently in Brock’s face and flushed him from the pocket on several occasions. Run blocking was better but still not where it needs to be. Penalties killed potential scoring drives. Not a good day at the office for the Hell Hogs.
The unit suffered a huge loss at the beginning of the game when end Junior Onyeali left the game with a knee sprain. However, the line picked up the slack and had its best showing after two mediocre games. Corey Adams was disruptive and productive recording four tackles and a half sack. Will Sutton played his best game so far this season by registering four stops and half a sack. Bo Moos played hard and recovered a fumble along with two tackles. Jamar Jarrett had three tackles but also was a factor in pressuring Schoolhouse. Davon Coleman filled in admirably for the injured Onyeali by recording seven tackles and a half sack. The goal line stop in the first quarter was impressive, and they held their own against the big Illinois linemen for four quarters.
They were much improved after two less than stellar games to start the season. Vontaze Burfict showed flashes of his dominant self by recording nine tackles, and he had several hits on Illini ball carriers. He was constantly around the football and played hard until the end. Colin Parker continues to impress by getting a half sack along with eight tackles. Shelly Lyons had five tackles as did Oliver Aaron.
Despite the huge 45 yard completion in the Illini’s second series, the unit played a very good game. Coverage and tackling were much improved from the previous two weeks. Illinois’ talented receiver, A.J. Jenkins, was kept in check, and even though he had 103 yards receiving 58 of them came on two plays. Eddie Elder showed true grit by recording ten tackles, and Clint Floyd forced a fumble along with his three tackles. Osahon Irabor was much improved and confident in his coverage, recorded nine tackles. And finally, Keelan Johnson came off the bench to give the unit its first interception of the season.
A shanked punt that led to an Illini touchdown and a missed Field Goal that ended up making a huge difference in the game. Enough said.
DieHard Devils demand a much better performance in the quest to defeat rival USC, this Saturday. Watch for developments of Game #4 vs USC this week at DieHardDevil.com.
Comments are closed.