Oct 27, 2013 - 11:45 am - Arizona State Sun Devils
Tempe, AZ - Through seven games in 2013, ASU 5-2 (3-1) sits atop the Pac-12 South.
With the toughest part of the schedule behind them, the Devils feel confident going into their final five conference games. However, the competition is tough: Washington St., Utah, Oregon St., UCLA and Arizona.
We are at what is hopefully the perfect half-way mark of 2013. Because to play seven more games, the Devils will have to win the PAC-12 South title which would ensure a 13th game in the PAC-12 Championship. Then win or lose, game #14 will come in the form of a Bowl game.
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Looking back a year ago, one thing can't be overstated about 2012. In one year, new Head Coach Todd Graham's staff and team who "bought in" established a new identity for Sun Devil Football, finishing 8-5 including three straight Wins and ASU's victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
There's truth in the old cliche, "To know where you're going, you have to know from where you came."
Let's look back at key developments from the first seven games of 2012, when the Sun Devils sat at exactly the same record that they are at now, 5-2 (3-1).
Game #1, Aug. 30, 2012 - ASU vs. NAU: W, 63-6
Marion Grice led all rushers with 107 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns
The Sun Devils rushed for a combined 305 yards on 51 attempts (5.98 per attempt)
Taylor Kelly made his first career start going 15-19 for 247 yards and one touchdown.
Kelly also rushed six times for 43 yards.
Brandon Magee made two tackles and one interception, which he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. It was his first and only career pick six.
ASU allowed 237 total yards (88 rushing, 149 passing)
Game #2, Sept. 8, 2012 - ASU vs. Illinois: W, 45-14
#52 Carl Bradford pulls Illinois QB's Jersey
The Sun Devils forced three interceptions, two from linebacker Carlos Mendoza.
A shoulder injury would end Mendoza’s season against the Illini
QB Michael Eubank threw five passes completing all of them for 69 yards and tossing two touchdowns.
Eubank also ran seven times for 51 yards and another score.
TE Chris Coyle hauled in 10 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
ASU sacked Illinois six times for -35 yards.
ASU racked up 510 total yards of offense, (192 rush, 318 pass)
Game #3, Sept. 15, 2012 - ASU at Missouri: L, 20-24
Taylor Kelly was 14 for 23 passing for 178 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Kelly had a team-high 15 rushes for 59 yards.
The Sun Devils were held to 113 yards rushing, their second lowest total of the season.
LB Brandon Magee recorded his second interception in three games.
Magee led all Sun Devils with 12 total tackles.
ASU controlled time of possession, holding the ball for 34:51 to Missouri’s 25:09
The Sun Devils were lights-out on third down, allowing Missouri to convert only twice in 12 attempts.
Game #4, Sept. 22, 2012 - ASU vs. Utah: W, 37-7
Freshman RB, #8 D.J. Foster
Utah’s two-time 1,000 yard rusher, John White, was shut down by ASU’s defense, gaining only 18 net yards on 14 carries.
ASU’s defense allowed only 129 yards of total offense.
The defense only allowed two drives of more than 26 yards.
21 of ASU’s 37 points came in the first quarter.
QB Taylor Kelly threw 326 yards on 19 completions as well as three touchdowns and one interception.
RB D.J. Foster rushed a team-high seven times and 70 yards as well as catching one pass for 26 yards.
LB Brandon Magee had a game-high 10 tackles as well as a forced fumble that he recovered.
Game #5, Sept. 29, 2012 - ASU at Cal: W, 27-17
ASU sacked Cal QB Zach Maynard seven times, tied for the most in a game all-season
DT Will Sutton and DE Junior Onyeali combined for five of the seven sacks.
The Sun Devil offense ran a whopping 94 offensive plays for 409 yards.
Of those 94 plays, ASU ran the ball 48 times (51%) but only gained 116 yards (2.4 yards per rush) and didn’t score a rushing touchdown.
K Alex Garoutte had a rough day going 2 for 5 on field goals, one of which was blocked.
ASU fumbled the ball three times but didn’t lose any of them.
WR Kevin Ozier caught three passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns.
Game #6, Oct. 11, 2012 - ASU at Colorado: W, 51-17
The Sun Devils put on their second-best offensive performance of the year with 593 yards of total offense (261 rush, 332 pass)
Taylor Kelly passed for 308 yards on 20-28 passing and tossed five touchdowns.
RB Marion Grice did most of his damage as a receiver, catching five passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns.
RB Cameron Marshall rumbled for 98 yards on 13 carries.
RB D.J. Foster led the team with 132 all-purpose yards (61 rush, 71 receiving)
LB Brandon Magee made a game-high nine solo tackles as well as sacking Colorado QB Jordan Webb twice
DT Will Sutton also chipped in two sacks.
Game #7, Oct 18, 2012 - ASU vs. No. 2 Oregon: L, 21-43
Sun Devil #10 Keelan Johnson jumping to block an Oregon Field goal
ASU scored on its very first offensive play, a 28-yard strike from QB Taylor Kelly to WR Kevin Ozier.
ASU suffered demoralizing injuries to DT Will Sutton and DE Junior Onyeali in the first quarter.
The Sun Devil defense was gashed for a season-high 406 rushing yards.
The Sun Devil defense gave up touchdown runs of 71 and 86 yards.
QB Taylor Kelly was 10 of 18 passing for 93 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked five times.
QB Michael Eubank didn’t fare much better, going 10 for 19 passing for 123 yards, one touchdown and two picks.
S Alden Darby led ASU in tackles with 12.
The Sun Devils outscored Oregon 14-0 in the second half but it was too little, too late by then.
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There are certainly some similarities and differences between what ASU did in the first half of 2012 and what we have seen in 2013.
But the question is, will the 2013 Sun Devils push that rock further up the hill with their remaining schedule?
Oct 03, 2012 - 09:35 am - By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
Demons were exorcised, a losing streak in California was broken, and a pitchfork was firmly planted in the turf at the remodeled Memorial Stadium last Saturday afternoon. The Sun Devils were able to maintain focus, discipline, and a business-like approach going into their second conference game to achieve an important victory heading into the bye week. Cal has a roster loaded with talent that has been ranked near the top of the conference recruiting classes over the last several years, but all the talent in the world couldn't overcome a series of mental errors and facing a determined and hungry ASU team on the other sideline. Let’s take a closer look…
Sun Devil Offense
ASU came out looking to keep the Cal defense off balance with a series of runs, play-action passes, and routes into the soft spots of the defense that were created by linebackers intent on stuffing the running game. In a somewhat breakout game, Cameron Marshall ran 17 times for 69 yards for just over a 4 yards per carry average. That is more touches and yards per carry than he's had in any game to this point in the season. Marion Grice ran the ball 10 times for 47 yards, with much of that gained on tough second effort after defenders could not bring him down on first contact. Although the running game is beginning to pick up steam, it is still not at a level that will allow ASU to primarily ride their stable of backs to a win or clock killing drive. But on a beautiful day in the Bay Area on Saturday, the run game was instrumental enough in opening up the underneath routes between the Cal linebackers and secondary. DJ Foster, Chris Coyle, Jamal Miles, Kevin Ozier, and Rashad Ross were recipients of a ton of space with which to work. Foster, in particular, had a field day running seam routes in front of the secondary and was a couple of shoelace tackles away from huge gains or scores. Reserve tight end Darwin Rogers caught his first pass as a Sun Devil for a one yard touchdown to open the scoring and a 7-0 lead. After an impressive camp, the athletic Rogers was expected to be a big weapon going into the season. But after watching some of his other reps on Saturday, it became evident why he hasn't seen more game action. He was beaten badly by a defensive end who was able to get pressure on Kelly forcing an errant throw on third down, essentially killing a drive. Once he becomes more of a complete player at the position, the Sun Devils will surely have a killer 1-2 punch at tight end. Another big accomplishment was for the second week in a row, the ASU offense was able to avoid committing a turnover. However, at least two passes by Kelly could have easily been picked off, and Cameron Marshall fumble and a bad snap were both recovered by ASU. The Sun Devils also owned the time of possession battle 35:41 to 24:19.
The receiving core looks to be finding its proverbial legs as the season progresses. Speedy Rashad Ross and strong possession receiver Kevin Ozier provided targets for Kelly both down field and on underneath routes. It appears as though Ross' case of the drops have been all but cured. Once he improves his field awareness, his speed and ability to stretch the field are going to be huge weapons against tougher secondaries in games to come. Foster releasing from the slot position will continue to be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, but if Miles and Richard Smith can be more active in complimenting the vertical game, this offense will be extremely difficult to defend. Miles had three grabs for 41 yards, and his route running is improving. Ross led the team with 84 yards on 7 catches.
Kelly finished with 292 yards passing and three touchdowns on 26-45 attempts. It is undeniably clear that his poise and athletic ability is what won him the starting nod, and ultimately what allows this offense to sustain drives. Kelly also continues to be so cool and collected when facing adversity or when scrambling to make plays. When he wasn't dissecting the Cal defense with pinpoint throws outside of the pocket, he tucked it and ran 10 times for 35 yards. He also showed off some surprising arm strength with a strong throw into traffic, hitting Ozier at the goal line for a 17-7 lead. On the final scoring drive of the game, Kelly worked his magic again on the run. He read an inside linebacker break coverage in order stop him, and was able to pull up and hit Ozier again for a 22 yard catch and run for a touchdown, essentially putting the game away. Credit goes to Ozier for his tough running after the catch to score. Kelly has undeniably become the official leader of the new Sun Devil offense.
Sun Devils on Defense
The Sun Devil Defense continues their trend of disrupting the opposing offense by getting into the backfield and causing all sorts of havoc. To put it into perspective, ASU had 14 tackles for a loss on Saturday and rank second in the nation with an average of 9.8 per game. They also sacked Cal quarterback Zach Maynard seven times bringing their total to 20 for the season. That's good enough for 4.2 sacks per game and a #5 ranking in the country. Will Sutton is an absolute beast and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. So far, there hasn't been an interior lineman who can neutralize him in a one-on-one situation. He made his way into the backfield untouched a number of times. That type of quickness is unheard of for a defensive tackle. He finished the game with eight total tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks. I'm not sure what else he could have done to warrant being double-teamed, but Cal never made that adjustment, and quarterback Zach Maynard paid dearly for it all day. Junior Onyeali, Chris Young, and Davon Coleman also created a ton of pressure off the edges, combining with Sutton and Carl Bradford in giving the Cal backfield headaches for all four quarters. Bradford finished his productive day with six tackles and a sack. He was caught in the wrong gap on one play giving up a long run, but was assignment sound throughout the game. Enough can't be said of Brandon Magee this season. Although he isn't the flashiest player, he is an absolute menace on defense making plays in the backfield (one sack), stuffing the run, and running down receivers after the catch. His football IQ is off the charts as he seems to be in the right place at the right time every play. Chris Young does an exceptional job of disguising coverages and maintaining outside contain finishing the day with five tackles. The Sun Devil defense combined for five tackles for loss in the first quarter alone, setting the tone for what was going to be a long day for Cal coaching staff and players.
Junior Will Sutton was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Cal.
The ASU secondary was solid overall despite giving up a few big plays. Keelan Johnson made at least one touchdown saving tackle by running down Isi Sofele after a 23 yard gain. Johnson ended up with nine tackles (tied for the team lead) which is not a statistic you generally want your free safety to have. He wasn't nearly as technically sound with his tackling this week, but he made his presence felt again this week with at least big time hits. Osahon Irabor was solid in coverage and probably should have had at least one interception. Deveron Carr was also solid in coverage, but committed a pass interference penalty that saved a touchdown. Alden Darby contributed four tackles and recovered a fumble caused by Magee. The defense only gave up 126 yards passing, which may be a bit misleading as Cal abandoned their early success with the short passing game behind the ASU linebackers, and Zach Maynard was horribly inaccurate throwing to several open receivers. The frustrated Maynard only connected on 9-28 attempts and was seen visibly upset on the sideline with the amount of pressure he was under all game.
ASU Special Teams
Josh Hubner was excellent in his punting, giving Cal an average field position of their own 19-yard line. He had punts of 62 and 61 yards, both pinning Cal inside their 20 yard line. Taylor Kelly also had a pooch punt that was aided by a holding penalty that jammed the Bears on their own 4 yard line. The score indicates a much closer game than what really transpired. 39-17 sounds like a more accurate score, but the kicking woes continue for Alex Garoutte. He converted on only 2-5 attempts, all from inside of 40 yards. One kick was blocked by a Cal defender that can't be blamed on Garoutte. However, ASU is heading into the toughest part of their schedule and will undoubtedly be in close games week in and week out battling the top teams in the conference. The coaching staff will have to make it a priority to find a more reliable replacement sooner rather than later. Outside of the field goal attempts, ASU played a very complete game, but they were aided by a series of Cal mental mistakes and penalties. The Bears finished with twelve penalties for 119 yards compared to ASU, who committed one penalty for 15 yards. We have seen through the first five contests the impact that discipline can have on the outcome of a game.
Here’s what we know to this point in the season…The 2012 Sun Devils have sent a message to the rest of the conference that they are for real. The team that was flying under the radar and picked to finish last in the division will now have the proverbial target on their back and have the rest of the conference gunning for them. Sun Devil Nation has seen what this team is capable of, and expectations are through the roof right now. After the bye week, ASU heads to Boulder for what should be a very winnable game against a struggling Colorado program. Then a huge opportunity presents itself back home in Tempe for a “blackout” game against the Oregon Ducks on ESPN. However, the Sun Devils need to take care of Colorado first and there is no doubt that Coach Graham and the ASU coaching staff will have the team prepared and ready to go for their trip to Boulder.
Sep 30, 2012 - 09:51 am - In a season full of small victories in the big picture of an entire football schedule, the win over Cal on Saturday was a big one. Coach Todd Graham and the new 2012 version of Sun Devil football took an important step forward in the Pac-12 Conference and can feel very confident heading into the bye week. From the opening kick-off, the Sun Devils were very focused and prepared at the task at hand. Once again, ASU Quarterback Taylor Kelly was calm, cool and confident as he ran the offense systematically and stepped up when it was needed most. Kelly finished the day 26 for 45, with 292 yards and 3 touchdowns. At the other end of most of those passes, the two Sun Devil receivers that really stepped up their game were Kevin Ozier and Rashad Ross. Ozier had two touchdown catches, one was a strong possession catch in traffic and the other was the go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. This former walk-on has really stood out in the last two games and will be a prime target for Kelly moving forward. Senior receiver Ross also had another big game with clear focus and effort with 7 receptions for 84 yards. To balance out the passing game, Cam Marshall led the ASU rushing attack with a 65 hard earned yards on the ground.
The Sun Devil defense continues to attack and had 6 sacks on Saturday.
On the other side of the ball, the Sun Devil defense continues to exceed preseason expectations and currently leads the Pac-12 in total defense. It has become obvious after the first five games, that Coach Graham inherited and recruited some very talented players that are perfect for his new defensive scheme. On Saturday, Will Sutton, Junior Onyeali, Chris Young, Carl Bradford and company crushed the Cal Bears with six sacks. The defense continues to attack the quarterback, create pressure and make life a little easier on the Sun Devil defensive backs.
The only red flag on Saturday was the kicking game on special teams. Alex Garoutte seemed to still be battling some confidence issues when he approached each field goal attempt. If not corrected, this is an area that will come back to haunt the Sun Devils in the future. But for now, the Sun Devils sit at the top of the Pac-12 South Division at 2-0 in the conference, and 4-1 overall. Not a bad spot heading into the bye week and a chance for the coaching staff to evaluate the first five games of the season.
Sep 29, 2012 - 09:35 am - By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
The KEYS to a Sun Devil victory today are very clear. In order for ASU to beat Cal and start a new winning streak on the road in the State of California, the Sun Devils must accomplish the following objectives:
SUN DEVIL OFFENSE
Beat the “Cover 2” Defense
Stretching the two deep Cal safeties will open up underneath routes. 4 and 5 receiver sets will: 1) Create mismatches with linebackers forced to cover speedy receivers 2) Open up the post-corner routes forcing safeties to cover the deep sidelines, and 3) Open up the short flat areas for running backs out of the backfield, and intermediate middle routes for the ASU slot receivers and tight ends. Using play action against the “Cover 2” will also freeze linebackers at the line of scrimmage playing the run, and create huge soft spots between safeties and linebackers where ASU receivers have made big plays. Cal cornerbacks will be forced to "pick their poison" by deciding to cover the deep sideline or closing in on the short flat routes. Either way, there will an open receiver on the outside. The outside receivers will have to do a great job of selling the post route in order to run the Bear safeties out of play, keeping them in the middle of the field and opening up the sideline and underneath routes. Many throws against the “Cover 2” shell require a strong-armed quarterback, which is not something Taylor Kelly has ever been labeled. However, he showed an ability to throw to the deep ball in the Tontozona scrimmage, and I suspect Coach Norvell will dial up at least a few of these throws to keep the Cal secondary honest.
Jump on Cal Early
We saw first hand last week what an early lead can do to the opposition. If ASU can reproduce early scoring drives this week, it will force Cal into abandoning their game plan, essentially getting away from the strength of their offense…the running game (more on this later). In order for the Sun Devils to go up early, they are going to have to be more multi-dimensional than they have been by establishing the run game. As stated above, a productive running game will freeze the linebackers in the Cal 3-4 front creating soft spots for the tight end and slot receivers to make big plays. Count on Cal defensive coaches to have game-planned this week against Coyle, Foster, and Miles in the short passing game. ASU can unlock that space by forcing Cal linebackers to stay home to stop the run. Keeping those defenders honest, whether ASU is able to run for big yardage or not, is going to be the key against the Cal defensive front 7. Cal IS giving up 189 rushing yards per game ranking dead last in the conference, so the two offensive keys will work hand-in-hand in allowing ASU to dictate the game plan to the Bears. It could be a field day for multiple ASU skill position players if they can keep Cal off balance.
SUN DEVIL DEFENSE
Stop the Run
The strength of the Cal offense lies within a quarterback who can run and has a trio of running backs who have all displayed big play ability. Cal is rushing for 175.8 yards per game (4th in Pac), and if there has been any weakness in the ASU defense, it's been against the run (6th in the Pac) giving up 134.2 yards per game. The Devils did a great job of turning runs inside last week, not allowing any big gains to the outside on broken contain. Brendan Bigelow had touchdown runs of 59 and 81 yards against Ohio State and Isi Sofele is a big play maker with his elusiveness in the open field. Again, tackling on first contact and maintaining outside contain will eliminate Cal running backs getting into the second level of the defense will create 2nd and 3rd and long situations forcing QB Zach Maynard to beat ASU with his arm.
Expose the Cal Offensive Line
Basically, the ASU front 7 just needs to do what they've been doing all season. They need to get into the backfield early and often and disrupt the Cal offense. The Bears O-line is hurt and has given up 17 sacks this season. ASU is tied for second in the conference with 14 sacks through four games. ASU is also tied for first in the Pac in interceptions with 8 through four games, and is leading the conference in interception return yardage. Ultimately, the numbers don't lie and this game could get ugly in favor of the Sun Devils if they can force Cal into playing catch-up with their passing game. Just to drive the point home a little farther, ASU leads the conference only giving up 139.8 passing yards per game. The ASU secondary has been stellar shutting down big play receivers all season. Zach Maynard has a big play weapon in wide receiver Keenan Allen, but the Sun Devil D-line can help neutralize that weapon if Maynard is forced to throw under duress. The two keys on Defense also go hand-in-hand by forcing Cal to play into the strengths of the ASU defense. Stay disciplined, keep outside containment, win the battle in the trenches, get after Maynard.
SUN DEVIL SPECIAL TEAMS
ASU could sure use a lift from their punt/kick returners this week. Playing on the road is tough, and getting big plays in the return game go a long way in quieting the home crowd. Getting good field position after a defensive stop will give the ASU offense a short field for scoring drives and momentum in hostile environments. The ASU O-line had a tough time with crowd noise in Missouri having to use the silent count. If they can keep the Cal crowd out if it, the offense will run that much more smoothly. All 5 of the keys to the game work in relation to one another creating a domino effect. Each one is important individually, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and will produce a Sun Devil victory today.
Sep 27, 2012 - 08:00 pm - By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
The Sun Devils head back out on the road this weekend to a place that has been notoriously unwelcoming for the maroon and gold. This ASU team has been all business at home, but now will have to carry some momentum with them into Berkeley's Memorial Stadium to face a Cal Golden Bears team that has their back against the wall. This game is extremely important for both Pac-12 teams on Saturday. ASU (3-1, 1-0 in Pac) looks to stay undefeated in conference play and keep their grip on first place in the South Division. On the other sideline, Cal will come out scratching and clawing attempting to even their conference record as they currently sit 1-3 (0-1 in Pac), a record that belies the level of talent across their roster.
Cal Offense vs. ASU Defense
Offensively for the Bears, junior quarterback Zach Maynard has completed 78-of-123 passes for 927 yards in 2012, with four passing touchdowns and four interceptions. Maynard is a true dual threat quarterback who has also run for a touchdown, and can extend plays making throws on the run similar to Taylor Kelly. ASU has already prepared for two other very dynamic dual threat signal callers this season, although they were spared having to deal with them due to injury. Despite the beating that Maynard took in last week's game against USC, he is expected to be ready to go on Saturday, and will be a handful for the Sun Devil defense outside contain. He is also complimented by an explosive trio of running backs in Isi Sofele (53 carries, 228 yards, 57.0 ypg, 1 TD), Brendan Bigelow (10 carries, 206 yards, 51.5 ypg, 2 TD) and CJ Anderson (28 carries, 157 yards, 39.2 ypg, 1 TD). Bigelow is an all-purpose back that had touchdown runs against Ohio State of 81 and 59 yards. Cal is currently rushing for 175.8 yards per game, ranking fourth in the Pac-12, while the ASU defense is ranked sixth in the Pac for rushing yards allowing 134.2 per game. Maybe more so this weekend than at any point this season, the Sun Devils will need a repeat performance of stopping ball carriers on first contact because Cal will look to establish their “run first” offense in order to open up their passing game. One thing to keep a close eye on is Cal's propensity to give up tackles for loss, which lends itself to the ASU philosophy of getting guys into the backfield where they lead the nation with an average of 9.75 tackles for loss per game. Look for Sun Devil Chris Young to have another productive game. ASU will be putting a priority on bottling up the Cal run game and forcing the Bear O-line to pass protect as they have allowed a league high 17 sacks. ASU has only given up an average of 139.8 passing yards per game, good for a #1 ranking in the conference.
Even if ASU can effectively stop Cal on the ground, the Bears have an aerial attack that isn't without weapons of its own. Standout wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is on numerous pre-season watch lists is Cal's leading receiver with 29 catches for 309 yards on the year. The Bears also have two talented freshman receivers in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper who round out a speedy set of play makers for Maynard to target. Ultimately, the ASU defense is going to have to play a complete game against a Bear offense that has the personnel to score an average of 27.8 points per game with dynamic offensive players. All the stats in the world mean nothing when dealing with a talented team who started the season with high expectations of themselves, yet have underachieved to this point. Cal will be looking to right the ship, and now have ASU squarely in their crosshairs knowing the success they've had at home against the Sun Devils. To date, ASU has not had to face a team that is nearly as multi-dimensional as Cal, and big plays are a definite possibility if there are any lapses in coverage or run defense assignments.
ASU Offense vs. Cal Defense
The good news for Sun Devil Nation is that ASU has been a juggernaut on offense averaging 41.2 points per game (2nd in the Pac), while Cal is allowing 31 (11th in the Pac). On paper, this game should produce a shoot-out that comes down to the better conditioned and mentally prepared team. This game might be just what the doctor ordered for Cameron Marshall. Cal gives up 189 rushing yards per game, which ranks them dead last in the conference, and may serve as a springboard for the ASU power run game to finally be a factor in the outcome. We may finally see what was thought at the outset of the season to be superior depth running back and the strength of the ASU offense come to life. Similar to ASU, Cal runs a 3-4 defense, but tends not to take as many chances blitzing. They rely on a heavy pass rush from defensive ends Deandre Coleman and Aaron Tipoti. With the future NFL talent that the ASU O-line has faced in the last two consecutive weeks, look for ASU to put a premium on running the ball between the tackles more effectively than they have in the first four games. Safety Josh Hill, ILB Robert Mullins, OLB Brennan Scarlett, and CB Steve rank in the top 15 in tackles in the conference despite the yardage and points that Cal gives up this season.
If the Sun Devils are able to get the Cal linebackers to commit to stopping the run, it should open up the short to intermediate passing routes that have been the bread and butter of the ASU passing attack. Stretching the field again this week will also go a long way in keeping the Cal defense off balance and allow for big play potential from several offensive weapons ASU has on the field. A key match-up to watch will be the down field battle between ASU receiver Rashad Ross and cornerbacks Steve Williams (two interceptions in 2012) and Marc Anthony. Ross had a break-out game last week against Utah and should be a big target for Taylor Kelly again this week.
The ASU kick return game has yet to produce the big plays this season that we've come to expect after several huge plays last season. With a high-scoring game predicted on Saturday, good field position or a special teams score will go a long way in giving ASU momentum in a tough road game. Jamal Miles has been relatively quiet thus far, but I can foresee at least a few big returns that will set the Sun Devils up for some short scoring drives.
ASU has had many challenges in the last decade on their past visits to Strawberry Canyon to play the Cal Bears. However, those were different times, different teams, different players, and a different coaching staff. Saturday is a new opportunity for Head Coach Todd Graham and the 2012 Sun Devils to start a new streak of their own by beating a Pac-12 team in California. Sun Devil Nation can expect the new version of ASU Football to be focused and ready for battle as they invade the Bay Area with a quiet confidence and a sense of urgency for the task at hand.
Nov 29, 2011 - 05:33 pm - By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
In her 1983 book “Sudden Death” Rita Mae Brown originated the famous saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.” For the 2011 Arizona State Sun Devils football team, this will be the phrase that will forever describe their failed season. What started off as a promising campaign that could have ended in a rematch against Oregon in the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game, turned into a 6-6 nightmare that ended with the firing of Coach Dennis Erickson. After starting 6-2, ASU lost four games in a row. Without question, this can be argued as the most disappointing end to a football season in the school’s history. The latest debacle happened this past Friday at Sun Devil Stadium against the California Golden Bears. It was the final home game of the season for 22 active seniors who were looking to end their season on a positive note and exit 2011 with the school’s first winning record since 2007.
ASU went into the game with nothing to win other than pride and self respect. Due to an unexpected result earlier in the day in Salt Lake City where Colorado beat Utah to erode any slim hopes at a Pac-12 South title.
The Sun Devils took the field on Friday and again were the very definition of insanity on defense as Brown stated it in her book. After three weeks of fundamental mistakes that led to big plays and points for the opposition, Friday night was just another game where the Sun Devils did the same things over and over on defense. The Cal offense went right through the ASU defense on its first drive and needed only five plays to set up a field goal and took the lead 3-0 before three minutes had even elapsed in the first quarter. The ASU offense responded as they did in every other loss and marched down the field eating up much of the clock going 80 yards on 11 plays. The drive ended on a Cameron Marshall run from one yard out to give the Sun Devils the lead 7-3. Cal came right back and scored the go ahead touchdown in a 6 play drive and then capitalized on an ASU turnover by Kyle Middlebrooks to jump ahead 17-7. ASU’s offense made up for the fumble by marching 80 yards on ten plays and scoring on a great catch by Aaron Pflugrad to get to within 3 points 17-14. The second quarter went back and forth with Cal scoring another touchdown and field goal, but ASU was able to rally and score two touchdowns to take the halftime lead 28-27.
In the second half things went south for ASU on defense as they had in the previous three games. The Cal offense looked unstoppable and was able to run and throw against what looked like a tired, uninterested and uninspired Sun Devil defense. Despite the offense scoring a field goal on the opening possession to put ASU up 31-27, it was all Cal after that. The defense was unable to stop Cal quarterback Zach Maynard and running back Isi Sofele in what would be a 21 point second half for the Golden Bears. Despite ASU fighting on offense, there were two more turnovers that favored the Bears and ASU fell for the fourth time in a row losing 47-38. Dennis Erickson and the senior class left with a loss in their final home game at Sun Devil Stadium.
Grading the Game
Brock Osweiler continues to perform and is able to manage the game and move the offense. He is without question the most valuable player on the offense due to his play making ability and leadership qualities. On the night Osweiler completed 21 passes on 37 attempts for 264 yards, three touchdowns but was picked off twice in the game. One interception led to a Golden Bear touchdown that put Cal up 27-14, and the second pick iced the game for the Bears late in the fourth quarter. He had a nice scramble in the first quarter that kept a scoring drive alive. While he did not play horrible, the two turnovers cost him a better grade because they were at key moments in the game that hurt the Sun Devils.
The group once again played hard and had a bogus interference call made against them. Mike Willie was called for interference, but it looked he was being held and then pulled away from the defensive back giving the illusion of a push off. Willie caught two passes for 21 yards in the game. Gerell Robinson was targeted by the Cal defense but managed to haul in three passes for 56 yards. Aaron Pflugrad caught two passes, one an impressive touchdown catch in the second quarter. The surprising player Friday was Rashad Ross. The junior caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. He was a one of the few bright spots in a disappointing loss. There were no major drops by this group Friday and they run blocked very well against the Cal defensive backs.
Cameron Marshall looked strong and like his old self gaining 159 yards on 23 carries for an impressive 6.8 per carry average. His fumble in the fourth quarter was uncharacteristic of him and hurt the team as they were trying to mount a late game rally. Kyle Middlebrooks fumbled in the first quarter which led to a Cal score and had twelve yards on two carries. Jamal Miles had three carries for 36 yards and was stifled by the Cal defense in the pass game with only 4 yards on three catches. Marshall’s impressive showing helped their grade this week but the turnovers, like Osweiler’s, led to points and help ice the game for Cal. With his 18th touchdown of the season, Marshall also tied former Sun Devils Woody Green and Terry Battle for the lead on the all-time ASU list.
After two abysmal weeks where they did not run block well, the unit stepped up and had a better game against Cal. ASU totaled 228 yards rushing which was a major improvement over the last two weeks. In the passing game they were better at finishing and allowing Osweiler the necessary time to throw the ball. The only sack came on a blitz by Mychal Kendricks who is the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the year. Adam Tello had two holding penalties and Garth Gerhart had a false start. Overall it was an adequate effort although still nowhere near where they should be at this stage of the season.
No hurries, no hits and no sacks on Zach Maynard who looked cool in the pocket and ran the ball effectively when he had no open receivers. Maynard ran the ball 5 times and gained 44 yards for an 8.0 yard per carry average. Not one single time was he in danger of being hit or sacked with the only hit on him being a roughing the passer penalty on Junior Onyeali . Cal’s offensive line handled this unit the whole game. Junior Onyeali and Davon Coleman managed four tackles each but were not able to get anything going in the pass rush. Jamar Jarrett, Toa Tuitea, Will Sutton and Bo Moos combined for six tackles. Cal running back Isi Sofele had 149 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. This is not a winning effort.
Colin Parker has played like an MVP all season and is the most consistent and disciplined of all the linebackers. The senior played his guts out making seven tackles and forcing a fumble. Shelly Lyons also played hard with six tackles. Aaron Oliver led the group in tackles with 8 and forced a fumble. The biggest disappointment on this unit is Vontaze Burfict. Despite making five tackles, he was flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct. One was offset due to Cal committing the same penalty against him and the other one happened in the end zone after a play. The second penalty was uncalled for as Burfict ran into a Cal player who was engaged with a Sun Devil defender after the play. The second penalty caused him to be benched for the remainder of the game. Too little, too late. Cal’s 259 yards rushing does not reflect well on this unit either.
Zach Maynard lit up the Sun Devil secondary on several plays and finished the night with 19 completions on 26 attempts for 237 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Osahon Irabor had two pass interference penalties and only managed three tackles. Keelan Johnson had five stops as did Eddie Elder. Clint Floyd had four stops and Deveron Carr had three. The biggest stats were zero interceptions, zero passes defended, zero pass break ups and they allowed eight different receivers to catch the football. It was another long night for the DBs after being one of the more consistent units earlier in the year.
Jamal Miles continues to be a dangerous return man and had a nice 51 yard return Friday. Josh Hubner only punted twice but boomed one for 59 yards. Alex Garoutte made his one attempt from 47 yards that put ASU up 31-27 in the third quarter. Coverage teams were decent as Cal averaged 27 yards per return.
Head Coach / Dennis Erickson
Outgoing ASU coach Dennis Erickson for the fourth week in a row was not able to get his team mentally prepared to play a full game. Too many mental breakdowns and lackluster effort fall on his shoulders. This loss, as well as the three before it, cost him his job as head coach. Football teams are supposed to get better and stronger as the season winds down. They’re supposed to make runs, not get run over. After a 6-2 start the 0-4 November will go down as the biggest coaching failure in ASU history. The second half benching of Vontaze Burfict was long overdue, but is also Erickson’s failure at not hiring the right position coach in the first place. Trent Bray was not the right choice to lead and prepare the Sun Devil linebackers.
Offensive Coordinator / Noel Mazzone
If anyone deserves some props in this game it’s Noel Mazzone. While his play calling is sometimes too predictable with the swing passes and designed runs, he still calls an aggressive game and his players make plays. The offense’s worst enemy Friday wasn’t the Golden Bears defense but turnovers. Four in one game is an aberration after a season of sound Ball Security. Play calling in the Red Zone was much better in this game as ASU went 4 for 4 with three touchdowns and one field goal. Third down efficiency was 6 for 12 and the two fourth down conversions were successful. The meltdown of the past four weeks can’t be put on Mazzone, he did his part.
Defensive Coordinator / Craig Bray
Do we even need to elaborate on Craig Bray? Yes, we should: his defense looked bored, uninterested, tired and like they would rather be somewhere else, especially in the second half in which Cal scored 21 points. Sure the offensive turnovers did not help, but this unit was supposed to be the strength of the team and it was the achilles heel. Cal had 484 yards of total offense and was 7 for 7 in the Red Zone and scored 48 points. Not even the Oregon Ducks put up 48. Even with all the injuried on the defense this year, predictable coverage, improper use of personnel, calling out Burfict rather than motivating him and a failure to make proper adjustments for his unit all falls on him.
Despite the late season slumber party and although they will go into the game with a heavy heart, ASU will be playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Dennis Erickson is out as coach and a new era of Sun Devil football is on the horizon. On December 4th we will find out where ASU is going to play, with one of the likely destinations to be Las Vegas. So while UCLA is most likely not eligible for a bowl and goes to the Pac-12 title game, ASU goes bowling. As Sun Devil fans, we should at least take some comfort in that. Couldn’t be a better time to blow off some steam on a road trip to Sin City…Vegas Baby!
Nov 26, 2011 - 01:21 am - By Jeff Alba for DieHardDevil.com
During pregame introductions, Dennis Erickson stood at the entrance of the Tillman Tunnel and personally shook the hand of each senior as they took Frank Kush Field for the last time. Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love stood directly behind the head coach to also pay her respect to the seniors. Earlier in the day, the Sun Devils were officially eliminated from any possibility of playing in the Pac-12 championship game. Win or lose on Friday night, one couldn’t help but wonder if this was also Erickson’s last appearance at Sun Devil Stadium leading the maroon and gold.
Although this was an emotional night for the senior players and their families in attendance, the Sun Devils came out flat and gave Cal the early lead. As a credit to Brock Osweiler and the team, they didn’t hang their heads and fold, but fought back and took the lead at halftime 28-27. Two unlikely players helped the Sun Devil comeback as Rashad Ross and Trevor Kohl each caught their first touchdown pass in an ASU uniform. Ross is going to be a future star next year.
As the second half began, the Sun Devils received the kick and quickly put another three points on the board. In response, Cal then drove 77 yards on their next possession to retake the lead at 34-31. Later in the third quarter, Cal scored again on another broken pass coverage by the ASU secondary. However, the Sun Devil offense quickly charged back as Cameron Marshall scored his second touchdown of the night and eighteenth of the season, which tied him with Woody Green and Terry Battle for the all-time ASU list.
In the fourth and final quarter, the Sun Devil defense made a solid goal line stand to hold Cal to a field goal and a six point lead to provide some hope. But in the end, the all too familiar result played with more penalties, mistakes and lack of leadership that would once again doom the Sun Devils.
As the clock ticked down on the seniors’ last game in their home stadium, it became very obvious that throughout the season, the ASU defense has desperately missed the on field leadership of Omar Bolden and Brandon Magee. Senior Colin Parker and a few others did their best to lead by example, but nothing could replace the vocal and active leadership abilities of those two. Also, ASU racked up a season high 121 penalty yards that included two more personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict, who didn’t play in the second half. With this disaster of a finish to the season, it is a foregone conclusion that ASU will most likely make a coaching change as early as tomorrow.
It is always darkest just before the dawn.
Nov 25, 2011 - 07:58 am - By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
The journey of a student-athlete at Arizona State University is a special one. It begins with a trek to Tempe where the athlete moves into university housing, meets new people, makes new friends, aligns with new teammates, adjusts to new coaches and learns their way around campus. It’s a very important part of the experience because it teaches the athlete what it’s going to take to not only succeed in the classroom but in their sport as well. For football players, that journey begins even earlier as they report two to three weeks before school begins to start preparation for the season. Then the pressure mounts, because in a very short time, the freshman has to make an impression on the coaching staff that will result in him either playing right away or starting the season as a redshirt.
Regardless of how those first few weeks go, the long journey ends for everyone with a final game at Sun Devil Stadium. The final game always brings an onset of emotion and nostalgia for the young men who play for ASU. Every senior takes the field for the last time with their eyes tearing up, heart racing and goose bumps on their skin wondering if it truly is over for their career. The final home game is a climax of four or five years of hard work: studying, practice, films, games, conditioning and attending class. This will be the case for 27 Sun Devils on Friday night. It will be their final time running through the Tillman Tunnel and onto Frank Kush Field to play a game in front of the home crowd. It will be an emotional night for these young men as they start to conclude their careers at ASU. Once that reality hits, they will undoubtedly wonder where the previous four or five years went.
There is no question that 2011 has been a major disappointment for this group of Sun Devils. Only twenty five days ago they were ranked #19, were 6-2 and heading to Pasadena to face a UCLA Bruins team that was coming off of a huge win against Cal, but two weeks removed from an embarrassing loss at Arizona. For ASU everything was going right; they only had to win two out of four games to clinch the Pac-12 South and advance to the title game. Many around the program and the nation felt that ASU had put the toughest part of the schedule behind them and were now ready to go on a run and begin dominating the opposition. The remaining schedule looked to favor the Sun Devils and with a 48-14 drubbing of Colorado following their bye week, it was obvious ASU was healthy and ready to finish the season strong. Many were expecting ASU to be 9-2 at this point of the season and getting ready to win their tenth game which hadn’t been done in Tempe since 2007.
Unfortunately it was all a mirage, a fallacy and Fool’s Gold all rolled up into one big letdown as ASU went on a three game losing streak. Each loss was more disappointing than the last, as ASU lost to UCLA 29-28, to Wazzu 37-27 and then to Arizona 31-27. Each loss was a continuation of the prior game as if ASU was stuck in a bad dream for three straight weeks. At UCLA, the Sun Devils forgot how to cover and were torched by Kevin Prince. They carried that into Pullman where a freshman quarterback threw for 494 yards and three touchdowns on a cold and snowy night. Then came the unthinkable; a home loss to 2-8 Arizona when the Sun Devils were favored by 10 ½ and were clearly the better team. The Sun Devils now sit at 6-5 wondering how it all unraveled in less than four weeks. One obvious issue during the three game skid is the Sun Devils made fundamental mistakes. Little things that should not be issues for a Pacific 12 football player like poor tackling, broken coverage, sound blocking on offense, dropped passes, missed assignments, missed kicks and bone headed penalties have been the norm lately. In all three games, one of these areas would break down and be the lynch pin for defeat. Despite heroic efforts by players like senior receiver Gerell Robinson and continued leadership from Brock Osweiler, ASU fell fast and hard.
Facing the Sun Devils this Friday in their last home game of the 2011 season are the Golden Bears of California. Recently, things have been a tough go in Berkley. Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is another Pac-12 leader who is fighting to keep his job after a subpar season in 2010. The Bears limped to a 5-7 record despite being a veteran team. One bright spot in their season last year was the Bears throttling ASU 50-17 in front of their home crowd. ASU went into Berkley the favorites in that game after Cal had been blown out by USC 48-14 in Los Angeles. Cal was nearly flawless on defense that afternoon forcing three turnovers and holding ASU to 57 yards rushing. On offense, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley threw for two touchdowns one being a 52 yard bomb on a broken coverage. It was Cal’s best performance of the season to that point.
This season, Cal was displaced in having to play their games off campus due to stadium renovations, but the Bears were determined to bounce back after their dismal 2010 season. They began the 2011 campaign at 3-0 before going into a showdown with Washington in Seattle. In that contest the Huskies beat the Bears 31-23 and started a three game losing streak in which the Bears lost to Oregon and USC in the subsequent two weeks. However, the last three weeks, including the loss to the Cardinal, the Bears have been playing much better football and look like a different team than the one that was dominated by UCLA 31-14 on October 29. In their annual Big Game against Stanford last week, they rallied late with strong offensive and defensive performances and almost pulled off an upset . With their current record also at 6-5 the Bears are looking to not only get to seven wins but position themselves for a post season invitation and save their coach’s job.
Meet the Cal offense
The Bears run multiple sets which are characteristic of their coach Jeff Tedford. They will use a Pro-Style then go into multiple receiver sets that resemble a Spread. They have a well rounded playbook and it all is centered on the play of their quarterback. Junior Zach Maynard leads the Cal offense and recently has started to play up to his ability. The junior transfer from Buffalo outclassed Heisman Candidate Andrew Luck last week in the Big Game which they lost. Maynard was impressive in the game completing 20 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He was smart with the football, not throwing any interceptions and is also a run threat out of the pocket. On the season, Maynard has completed 193 passes on 347 attempts for 2,565 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The run game is a big key to Cal’s offense. The Bears boast one of the best running backs in the conference in junior tailback Isi Sofele. Sofele is not a big back being 5’8”and 190 pounds, but he plays the game with passion and he is fast and shifty. He hits the hole quickly and shows surprising strength when running in traffic. He is the catalyst of the offense and already has put up impressive numbers in 2011. Last week against Cal, he ran 21 times for 96 yards with a 4.4 yard per carry average. On the season he has run 211 times for 1,171 yards, 8 touchdowns and a 5.3 yard per carry average. Leading the way for Sofele in the Pro Style formations is fullback John Tyndall. The 6’3” 240 pound Tyndall is a load and can knock defenders backwards in the run game.
At the skill positions, the Bears have speed and talent that can break games open. Sophomore Keenan Allen is another one of the “big” Pac-12 receivers that can out jump and out run defenders in the passing game. Allen uses his 6’3” frame to get position on cornerbacks and has great instinct for the football in the boundary. Allen is Maynard’s half brother and is his favorite target with 84 receptions for 1,200 yards, six touchdowns, 109.1 yards per game average and a 14.3 yard per catch average. Last week against the Cardinal he caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. Opposite Allen is another big receiver in Marvin Jones. Jones, also 6’3” is a dangerous player who has great technique running his routes and has great hands. In his final year in Berkley he’s caught 49 passes for 704 yards and three touchdowns. Tight End Anthony Miller is the third best receiver on this team and is another big target for Maynard. The 6’4” 260 pound senior has 21 catches for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
Cal has experience on the offensive line as well as size. Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz is huge at 6’6” 318 pounds. He is very agile for his size which allows him to use his body to negate defenders in the passing game. In the run game he is good at staying low and firing off to drive his opponent off the ball. Right guard Justin Cheadle is a good one as well who plays with great technique. Combined, the Cal offensive line has a total of 140 starts.
How ASU matches up
After three weeks of being dominated at the line of scrimmage it will not get any easier on Friday for ASU. Cal has a big line and fullback and will take the “Ground and Pound” approach to open up the perimeter for their big receivers. This is a game that is going to be determined by the Front Seven and their ability to stop the run game. With missed assignments, coverage and tackles plaguing the defense, the only way to stop the bleeding is to stuff Cal’s running game. Zach Maynard is still green in the offense and while he was been vastly improved the past few weeks he is still prone to being disrupted. Defensive Coordinator Craig Bray needs to do something different this week to get pressure on Maynard. Last week, Arizona’s Nick Foles had too much time to make plays and it hurt ASU in the second half when they scored two touchdowns on passing plays to take the lead. Bray needs to find a way to best utilize his personnel this week to get to Maynard.
This week is going to be a test for the defensive backs after getting lit up for three weeks in a row. Cal has big and fast receivers and a good tight end. It’s going to be critical that the backs prepare well and learn what the Bears’ tendencies are. They are going to have to play smart and not allow themselves to get out of position. The mental part of the game is also going to be huge Friday. Mental breakdowns lead to big plays for the offense. This unit needs to settle down, read their keys and play the game with sound technique. They also have to tackle well when a pass is completed to avoid any garbage yardage that helps the offense move the chains.
Mentally, the Sun Devils need to play this game clean and not allow the referees to flag them like they did last week. While the pass interference in the end zone during Arizona’s first drive was iffy the remaining penalties were not. ASU needs to be disciplined and not make dumb mistakes that keep drives alive and end in points for Cal. They need to get back to basics and execute their fundamentals if they are to have a chance at shutting down the Cal offense. They also need to force Cal into mistakes so that they can get the ball back. With only three turnovers in the last three games, including none last week, they need to find a way to get the ball back into the hands of the offense.
Key Matchup: ASU defense vs. themselves
Meet the Bear defense
Cal is coming to Tempe fielding one of the top defenses in the Pac-12. They employ a variety of schemes under former Cardinals coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Pendergast uses multiple alignments ranging from the 3-4 Zone Blitz Pro Style to the standard 4-3, and will even put five men on the line in a true 50 look. The variety has paid off for the Bears as they lead the Pac-12 in total defense giving up 326.91 yards per game and rank first in pass defense yielding 204.09 yards per game. Cal ranks nationally in the same categories at 21st and 40th in those respectively. The Bears also lead the league and are ranked seventh nationally in tackles for loss with 7.9 per game. Overall, the Bears rank fourth in the conference in total defense. Without question, this is the strength of the team and it boasts not only talent but play making ability in its personnel.
The strength in the Cal defense, as in any Zone Blitz defensive scheme, is the linebackers. Cal boasts two of the league’s best in Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt. Kendricks is a multi talented player who can stop the run, rush the passer and drop into coverage. In 2011, the senior leader has made 88 tackles, 11 for loss, two sacks, two pass break ups and has recovered a fumble. Last week, Kendricks had a huge game against Stanford making 13 tackles and sacking Andrew Luck one time. Holt is also a very good defender and is second behind Kendricks in tackles with 80. Holt also has two sacks on the year to go along with his 9 tackles for loss and two pass break ups.
Up front, the Cal bears have two outstanding defensive ends who can disrupt the opposing team’s run and pass game. Defensive end Earnest Owusu is active along the front with 26 tackles, 7.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2011. He plays hard and will not allow himself to stay blocked. He uses his 6’5” frame very well defending passes, knocking down two in 2011. Trevor Guyton is the premier player on the defensive line. In 2011 Guyton has made 39 tackles, 10 for loss, 4.5 sacks and has recovered two fumbles. He is a “motor” player who will play until the whistle blows. Nose Guard Aaron Tipoti is a load and uses up two blockers but also has made 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season.
In the secondary the Bears are big, can cover and have speed. The best player in the secondary is senior free safety Sean Cattouse. Cattouse is an outstanding player who could get All Pac-12 recognition in 2011. He looks more like linebacker playing safety being 6’3” 218 pounds. The senior leads the secondary tackles with 67. Last week against Stanford he had a big game in making 13 tackles. On the perimeter, Cal has two very good corners in Marc Anthony and Josh Hill. Anthony is a big corner at 6’2” and can keep up with any receiver in the conference. For the season, Anthony has 42 tackles, a sack and an interception. Hill is also very active breaking up 9 passes to go with his 29 tackles.
How ASU matches up
This defense is going to be a big time challenge for ASU. With the multiple alignments the Bears will throw at the Sun Devils, this game is going to come down to discipline, preparation and being able to make adjustments during the game. All things that ASU has had a hard time with in the past three weeks. It will all start with the offensive line. This unit has been a huge factor in Cameron Marshall not being able to break the 1,000 yard rushing plateau this season. The Hell Hogs have just been awful in the running game. They have one final opportunity at home to change that trend before the post season. They will need to be very sound technically and mentally if they are to have any shot at winning this game. They will need to fire off the ball, engage the Bear defenders and get movement off of the line of scrimmage. Cal makes their living tackling runners and receivers behind the line of scrimmage so it’s vital that this unit not allow the defensive line and linebackers to penetrate into the backfield. In the passing game, they are going to have to account for the fifth or sixth man that blitzes from either the outside linebacker position or from the inside. They have to be prepared for the Bears doing things they haven’t yet shown on film.
Brock Osweiler had a rough start and finish last week and needs to be at his best Friday if ASU plans on leaving Sun Devil Stadium victorious. He needs to be smart with the football, make better decisions and put the ball where only his receivers can catch it. Cal has big athletic secondary players who can jump with the receivers, so he needs to be laser accurate if he is to avoid cheap turnovers. At the same time, the ASU receivers need to make plays on the ball when they get their opportunities. They will need to be very precise in their routes and need to be physical when they are run blocking to open up the secondary for Marshall, Miles or other backs running the football.
Despite the let downs and head scratching losses, ASU still has an opportunity to advance to the title game. Surprising as it may seem, due to USC not being eligible, there is a possible three way tie for first place if: ASU wins, UCLA loses and Utah wins. ASU then holds the cards and will win the South. None of that is important though because ASU has to win a football game before they can even be in that conversation. Although a simple concept, it’s something they haven’t been able to do since before Halloween when they routed Colorado. If they plan on beating Cal, the Sun Devil players and coaches cannot commit the sins of the past three weeks which have crippled them. The team needs to be ready mentally and physically to play a full 60 minute game. The Bears are not going to lay down and will fight and claw themselves to get the win. After three straight losses, ASU is reeling and Cal is on the upswing playing with more confidence after almost taking down Stanford on the Cardinal’s home field. They will come into Sun Devil Stadium hungry to end conference play on a high note as they go into the postseason. Rest assured, this will be a great game as both teams are fighting for not only survival but respect. Win one for the Sun Devil seniors.