Howdy, Cal fans. Not gonna lie, I'm still pretty raw over last weekend's dumpster fire against SC. Sure, I expected us to lose. But the WAY we lost was pretty damn disheartening. No touchdowns despite numerous red zone opportunities, some ugly turnovers, and letting SC run for ALMOST 300 YARDS. Poor execution, questionable effort, really just an awful game all around. And we were only down 8 in the third quarter! Umm, what the hell? As a result, the general tone of this post may be a tad pessimistic. I'm angry, I'm disappointed, and it's feeling like we have a tall task in front of us this week.
And that isn't just because every game looks tough based on the 4-game sample size we're working with thus far. ASU looks pretty good. Nomadic head coach Todd Graham has installed a read-option spread offense and it seems to be working well. I had mixed feelings about just what this Sun Devil squad could do this year, but they got my attention after dismantling a good Utah defense last week in Tempe. Considering how erratic we've been defensively through four games, this could be a tough day.
Below, we'll take a look at the players who make up this Sun Devil offense and what to expect from them...along with plenty of editorial negativity and defeatism sprinkled in. I'm a fan, but I'm also a realist. And maybe this will be a reverse jinx or something. Deal with it.
2011 Record: 6-7
2012 THUS FAR : 3-1
Week 1: Won vs Northern Arizona 63-6
Week 2: Won vs Illinois 45-14
Week 3: Lost @ Missouri 20-24
Week 4: Won vs Utah 37-7
2012 OFFENSIVE STATS
Rushing: 187.5 yards/game (46th)
Passing: 280.5 yards/game (31st)
Scoring: 41.3 points/game (15th)
STARTER-Taylor Kelly, Sophomore - 6'2, 205 lbs
After a hotly contested battle to the starting quarterback spot in the first year of Todd Graham's tenure as head coach at ASU, sophomore Taylor Kelly beat out redshirt frosh Michael Eubank for the job. Thus far, Kelly has filled in admirably for the departed Brock Osweiler, completing almost 72% of his passes and averaging 250 yards passing per game. He's thrown 6 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, both of which came in a week 3 road loss against Missouri. The Missouri loss was Kelly's weakest statistical passing performance of the year thus far, as he completed 61% of his passes for178 yards and just 1 touchdown to the aforementioned 2 picks. Last week's home beatdown over the Utes was by far Kelly's best game, as he completed 73% of his passes for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. It's worth mentioning that Kelly is a mobile guy who is utilized in the run game a fair amount as well. He's rushed for 147 yards on 33 carries (4.45 YPC) thus far on the year, and carried the ball 15 times against Missouri. He's currently the Sun Devils' third leading rusher. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Eubank does have a apckage of plays tailored for him, and there's a good chance we see him behind center a bit on Saturday as well.
Upside: Mobility, accuracy, lack of turnovers
Downside: Experience I guess
What to Expect:
Well, Kelly is 9th nationally in QB Efficiency, and our defense has been anything but efficient in getting off the field thus far in the season. He doesn't make many mistakes, and we haven't been good at forcing quarterbacks into mistakes. Kelly can move the chains with his legs, and we've struggled with mobile quarterbacks. Kelly wasn't under much fire last week against a pretty damn good Utah front 7, and while I like our talent up front...we've been woefully ineffective at creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks that don't play for Southern Utah. Graham's passing offense contains a lot of misdirection routes that create space quickly for receivers, so I think Kelly will have open looks before we get to him. He's a good quarterback. We have yet to put out a complete effort on the field defensively. I see little reason to be optimistic that this is the week. But this is a home game, so...we've got that going for us.
Cameron Marshall, Senior - 5'11, 215 lbs OR DJ Foster, Freshman - 5'11, 85 lbs OR Marion Grice, Senior - 6', 200 lbs
This is a bit of a RBBC case thanks to incumbent starter Cameron Marshall having a slow start to the season due to a hamstring injury. True frosh DJ Foster has taken advantage of the opportunities, leading the Sun Devil rushers with 196 yards on 32 carries (6.13 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. He actually got the most carries last week against Utah and was ASU's most effectiv rusher, toting the ball 10 times for 70 yards. Foster is a playmaker and is going to be a very good player. Considering how close Cal came to getting his commitment back in February, this makes me sad. JuCo transfer Marion Grice started the season with a bang, rushing for 107 yards and 3 touchdowns on 14 carries in a week 1 victory over Northern Arizona. In the games since then, he's gotten 2, 6, and 4 carries respectively. It appears Marshall's gradual return towards a full workload is seeing Grice's carries drop off. Despite some fairly pedestrian numbers (32 carries for 95 yards, 2.97 YPC), Marshall does have 5 total scores on the year, with 4 coming on the ground and one through the air. He had two touchdowns last week against Utah, and Graham has stated a desire to see Marshall's touches increase in the coming weeks. All three of these guys are very capable receivers, and Foster actually is second on the team in receiving yards with 163 on just 9 receptions.
Upside: Pass-catching, cobine all three guys together and they form one very complete back
Downside: Poor OL run-blocking, three guys...not one.
What to Expect:
Thus far, this unit has underperformed in 2012...and they've actually outrushed us (750 yards to 700 yards for Cal). No judging here, just sayin. There are talented pieces here that fulfill different roles, but the thing that concerns me most is the frequency that all three backs are used in the passing game. Foster is a change of pace guy who is most dangerous in space. ASU does a good job of getting the ball where he has room to operate. He's a big-play threat. I downplayed Cam Marshall's ability to run behind the ASU offensive line last year prior to our game in Tempe, and he went out and ran all over us for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite his slow start this season, I won't take his talent lightly again, especially considering how much weaker we've been against the run in 2012. Grice is very similar to Marshall in that he's big enough to be good between the tackles. All three guys can catch, and will be used in the flats. Utah did a nice job stuffing the run, but that didn't much matter when you take a look at the box score. I think it will be important for us to take some pressure off of a secondary that needs help to succeed. I think we have the ability to stop the run, but that's not the same as actually doing it. Shit, your guess is as good as mine as to whether we're up to the task. And it actually feels like a guessing game at this point, considering what SC did to us on the ground last week. I'm angry and depressed. Home game!
Rashad Ross, Senior - 6', 170 lbs
Kevin Ozier, Junior - 6'2, 195 lbs
Jamal Miles, Senior - 5'10, 185 lbs
All three of these guys bring experience from the 2011 season, with both Ross and Miles being real speedsters. Miles is a big-play guy who is also utilized in the run and return game. He did not play in week 1, but has tallied 11 catches for 138 yards since then and had his biggest game against Utah with 4 catches for 59 yards. He's only had 7 rushes for 35 yards thus far in 2012, but he had 237 yards rushing at over 8 yards per carry in 2011. Ross is a converted DB who had just 2 receptions going into the Utah game, when he blew up for 5 catches and 87 yards with 1 touchdown. Though Ross is pretty slight, he's a burner and he caught 5 balls against us last year in Tempe. He's also used in the return game. Ozier isn't nearly as fast as Ross and Miles, but is a bigger body. He's caught 10 balls for 146 yards and 1 touchdown in 2012, catching 2 or 3 passes in each of ASU's first 4 games. He's consistent at least, and more of a possession guy than a big-play threat. The wealth seems to be very evenly spread amongst these three guys, with matchups likely factoring in with regard to which guy gets a few more targets.
Upside: Athleticism, speed, playmaking ability
Downside: Inconsistent, drops
What to Expect:
Last week against the Utes was the best showing for this group by far. They'd been plagued by drops and inconsistency prior to that effort. Let's hope some of those dropsies come back, because both Ross and Miles are very dangerous in the open field. I actually felt we did a pretty good job last week against SC's wideouts, at least in terms of minimizing the big plays. A similar effort this week should serve us well. If that means tightening up the zone, then that's exactly what needs to happen. Of course, I'd prefer if more success against the pass didn't necessarily mean that we get gashed on the ground. But since this defense has demonstarted early on that they are incapable of defending both the run and the pass, I'd say our safeties will hurt us agin in this game. Sad Bear.
STARTER- Chris Coyle, Junior - 6'3, 230 lbs
Coyle leads the Sun Devils in receiving, and is the currently leading all tight ends nationally in total receiving yards and receiving yards per game. FUCK. He's caught 22 passes for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year, with his biggest game coming in the week 2 blowout over Illinois when he caught 10 balls for 131 yards and 2 touchdowns. He's been plenty productive since then, though, as he caught 5 passes in both the Missouri and Utah games. ASU uses the tight end more like an H-Back, and they actually refer to the position as a "3-Back". Coyle can be lined up in the slot, as a fullback, or up on the line with his hand on the ground. Coyle can flourish in this role since he's a converted wide receiver who has some bulk, but is quicker than most traditional tight ends. At his many coaching stops, Graham's offenses have relied heavily on this position, and with Coyle's productivity thus far it appears they will be doing so again. FUCK. FUCKITY FUCK FUCK.
Upside: Mobility, utility, existence in this offense
What to Expect:
All the catches, for all the touchdowns. /pukes
LT- Brice Schwab, Senior - 6'7, 303 lbs
LG- Jamil Douglas, Sophomore - 6'4, 284 lbs
C- Kody Koebensky, Junior - 6'4, 294 lbs
RG- Andrew Sampson, Senior - 6'3, 304 lbs
RT- Evan Finkenberg, Junior - 6'6, 299 lbs
This is a unit that had to replace 3 starters from 2011, and they've done well. Schwab appeared in 9 games back in 2010, starting four before using a redshirt year in 2011. Now back and holding down the left tackle spot. Douglas is seeing his first starting duty this year after playing a reserve role in 2011. He's athletic and has shown some promising flashes. At center, Koebensky takes over for departed starter Garth Gerhart. He's seen game time, but this is also his first year as a starter. Sampson is one of just two returning starters, having held down the right guard spot in every game of 2011 and 8 of 12 games in 2010. He's a strong, versatile guy who can play tackle or center in addition to guard. Finkenberg is the other returning starter, having manned the right tackle spot in 10 of 13 games in the 2011 season. He also started 12 games in 2010. As a group, ASU's offensive line has surrendered 8 sacks against the 3 FCS opponents they've faced. I'm pretty sure that's almost the same number of sacks we gave up to SC just last week. Sad trombone.
Upside: Mobility, pass-blocking, quick pace of offense masks many deficiencies
Downside: Experience, depth, run-blocking
What to Expect:
This group has held their own against some very talented defensive fronts, specifically Utah's last week. Sure, they didn't generate much push in the run game, but they did keep Taylor Kelly clean and vertical. And that's pretty important in any offense. While I love our talent up front, I hate our inability to generate pressure. We have fewer sacks than ASU's three previous FBS opponents. We've got the guys, we're just not getting it done. And what we're doing defensively is an insult to Bob Gregory. Are we attacking? No. Are we containing? LOL NO. So what are we doing? Welp, besides missing assignments and not getting off the field on 3rd down... I'm not too sure! This would be a really good week to find our identity up front and execute accordingly. We have the horses to make life tough for this line. And we'll need to in order to win this game. So do we have it in us? Can't know.
This is a good offense, and it's going to take a really strong defensive effort to win this game. The kind of defensive effort we have yet to see this year. I don't doubt that we're capable of stringing together some defensive stops, but I have serious concerns as to whether we can do it for four quarters. With the way our offense performed last week and the fact that ASU has an aggressive defense, our defense will need to do its part on Saturday. Can we? Yes. Will we? No clue. It's been that kind of year thus far.
I see a young defense that's still in search of its identity. We've suffered some growing pains at every level, and as a result we haven't demonstrated any consistency when it comes to stopping the run, or being tough against the pass. A winning formula, that is not. Too many brainfarts or missed assignments that have really bitten us in the ass. This would be a really nice week to settle down and start playing the kind of good, smart and tough defense we've grown (mostly) accustomed to. We have the personnel to do it. We're entering a critical stretch of the season where any hopes of bowl eligibility can be firmed up or utterly lost. So come on. Win the game.