Archive for: September 2013

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Stanford Cardinal Complete Game Preview

ASU-StanArizona State (2-0) is nationally ranked at No. 23 after outlasting the Wisconsin Badgers last week in front of 66,155 fans. The “Men in Black” survived a final drive snafu and began their tough four-game stretch with a win.

Now comes the really hard part.

The Sun Devils travel to “The Farm” in Palo Alto to take on the defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (2-0). The Cardinal, along with the Sun Devils, had an odd Week 1 bye and return home to take on the upstart Devils.

The teams haven’t met since 2010 and Stanford has won the past two contests, however Arizona State leads the all-time series 16-11. “The Farm” seems to be kryptonite for the Devils as they have only won once in Palo Alto since 2000 and are 6-7 all time.

 

GAME DETAILS

  • Date: September 21, 2013
  • Time: 7:00 pm PT
  • Location: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
  • TV: FOX
  • Radio: 92.3 KTAR FM (Phoenix metro Area) Sirius 91 (Stanford broadcast)
  • Spread: Stanford by 6 (via vegasinsider.com)

Arizona State Keys to Victory

TK-GriceArizona State has achieved its first national ranking in over two years when they achieved a No. 20 ranking on Oct. 30, 2011.

Both Arizona State and Stanford make their Pac-12 debuts on Saturday and the Sun Devils are 6-3 in their last nine conference debuts and winners of their past two, defeating Utah and USC.

The Sun Devils high-octane, quick-attack offense will be put to the test against Stanford, but here are some areas where the Sun Devils should focus to take down a formidable Stanford squad.

 

Aerial Assault

Quarterback Taylor Kelly’s 358.5 yards per game ranks No. 8 nationally and fourth in the conference. Kelly set career bests last week against Wisconsin in attempts, completions and total yards but failed to notch a touchdown pass and was picked off. If the Devils hope to escape with a victory against Stanford, Kelly will need to come out throwing and maintain the level of excellence that head coach Todd Graham knows and loves. In the past five games, Kelly is 105-of-153 for 1,357 yards, while averaging 271.4 yards per game.

Smothering Defense

The Devils defense is giving up 15 points per game on average, good enough to be ranked No. 20 in the nation. Last season, the predatory defense led the league in tackles-for-loss with an average of 9.0 per game. Against Wisconsin, the defense notched six tackles-for-loss and three more that were stopped at the line of scrimmage. Osahon Irabor grabbed his first sack of the year while Grandville Taylor scooped up his second fumble of the season.

Defensive captain Will Sutton has been extremely quiet so far this season and has been slow to get up in both games this season. His three tackles, two of them solo, are a far cry to where he was at the same time last year.

Stanford Keys to Victory

Offensive Firepower

HoganStanford has looked less-than-stellar in its first two games against smaller programs San Jose St. and Army. The Cardinal led San Jose St. by only 11 at the half and finished 17-point victors. When they traveled to West Point to take on Army, they were only a touchdown ahead of the Black Knights at the half. The Cardinal, a 30-point favorite, eked out a 34-20 victory in which quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for only 188 yards through the air and running back Tyler Gaffney rushed for 132 yards.

Their passing average of 206 yards per game is 84th in the country and their rushing average of 197 yards per game isn’t much better at 47th nationally. The Sun Devil defense is tough and Stanford will need to attack if they hope to maintain their 10-game win streak intact.

Maintain Confidence

While Stanford has yet to face a ranked team so far this season, the fact that they are still ranked at No. 5 in both polls after less-than-convincing victories shows in the high regard in which this Stanford team is held. Their quarterback, Kevin Hogan is a perfect 7-0 since taking the helm last season and the Cardinal are winners of eight of their nine last home games versus ranked teams.

Although, Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor are no longer on the roster, Hogan and Gaffney have filled in admirably and head coach David Shaw needs to keep the team grounded and focused on one thing—winning.

Players to Watch: Arizona State

CB Osahon Irabor

Arizona v Arizona StateIrabor is having a stellar season through two games. Irabor led the Sun Devils in 2012 with 14 passes defended and zero pass interference penalties. He leads the team this year in tackles with 10 total, eight solo, one sack and three for-a-loss.

Irabor has taken on a leadership role in the secondary at the boundary corner position with senior Alden Darby at the boundary safety position. With the graduation of Keelan Johnson and Deveron Carr, Irabor is embracing the opportunity to shine.

WR Jaelen Strong

Redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer student from Pierce College in California, is a 4-star prospect by ESPN that was listed as the No. 15 overall and No. 5 JUCO wide receiver. With an opportunity to prove that he wasn’t over-hyped, Strong has excelled in Todd Graham’s high-octane offense.

He leads the team with 12 receptions for 162 yards and one touchdown. Much like his marquee teammate running back Marion Grice, he is playing with a chip on his shoulder showing other schools what they passed on. Strong is still working on his explosiveness off the snap while focusing on becoming a more polished route runner.

Players to Watch: Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan

The Stanford junior signal caller is undefeated.

NCAA Football: San Jose State at StanfordThe Cardinal are 7-0 since head coach David Shaw put Hogan under center against Colorado last year. In the final six games of 2012, including games against ranked teams in Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA on two occasions and Wisconsin, Hogan threw for eight touchdowns and ran two in for good measure.

This year, he hasn’t tripped the light fantastic but has completed 28-of-45 for 395 yards and five touchdowns.

RB Tyler Gaffney

The senior running back from San Diego is ready for his close-up. After featured running back Stepfan Taylor departed for the NFL, Gaffney has been electric. He has become the workhorse for the Cardinal offense, rushing 40 times for 236 yards and five touchdowns. He has also caught three receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown.

Arizona State’s run defense was exposed as a weak link last year and last weekend’s game against Wisconsin was no different, allowing running back Melvin Gordon to advance at will, averaging 12.9 yards per carry for 193 total yards and two touchdowns.

What They’re Saying

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham held his weekly press conference earlier this week and had the following to say about the upcoming matchup at Stanford:

We just beat the defending Big Ten champion, so I would say that is a pretty good win. As a team, we talk about our goal that we are trying to accomplish and that is trying to win every single game so we can check off that list. We do point towards conference, if you asked our players if this game’s more important than any other game no question.

On struggling against Wisconsin:

I was very confident and I think after watching that game at times we attempted to beat ourselves but we did preserve and win and I do firmly believe the best team won that game. Our guys have been very disciplined and I think we have been very disciplined on special teams and I am pleased where we are at there and need to continue to get better.

San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilmer calls Arizona State’s last opponent Wisconsin Stanford’s fraternal twin stating:

Like Stanford, the Badgers use a physical running game with heavyweight formations that emphasize fullbacks and tight ends. Both offenses are the antithesis of the spread option attack that dominates college football.

From the same article by Wilmer, he quotes Stanford head coach David Shaw:

“We’re watching film and we never see a tight end or fullback on the field and we don’t know how (opponents) will play us,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I know (the Sun Devils) will make changes, but at least we have a basis of how they will line up periodically.”

ESPN’s Kevin Gemmell believes the game will be won and lost between the lines:

The offensive and defensive schemes of the schools may differ, both are rooted in the same principal philosophies: run the football, stop the run, protect your quarterback and get to the other guy’s.

Prediction

Stanford v ArmyThere is just too much going against the Sun Devils to pull out the upset victory at “The Farm.”

Arizona State hasn’t won at Stanford in over a decade and it’s nearly impossible to fathom that this year’s Stanford team is going to be the team to see that streak broken. Add to the the mix a quarterback that doesn’t know how to lose, a running back that likes to grind play after play after play and a suspect Sun Devil run defense, it is all a recipe for Cardinal victory.

It will be a hard-fought game from both sides excelling in the respective offensive schemes; high-octane for Graham’s Devils and tough-nosed grinding from Shaw’s Cardinal.

The game will ultimately come down to Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney running roughshod against the Sun Devils.

Arizona State 24, Stanford 31 

Grading Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly Against Wisconsin

TK-Wisc

Arizona State’s quarterback Taylor Kelly had a monster night on Saturday, although he didn’t throw for a single touchdown.

While the media and everybody in the Midwest is talking about what Wisconsin’s quarterback Joel Stave may or may not have done in the waning seconds of the game, this article is about what Kelly did.

These are the facts and they are undisputed.

TK HuddleThe redshirt junior played every snap save for one and further cemented himself as the every down signal caller for head coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils.

Taylor Kelly had a career night on Saturday completing 29-of-51 passes for 352 yards, all career bests. As happy as anybody would be setting career bests in not only one, but three categories, Kelly’s 56.8 percent completion percentage is one his lowest performances.

Kelly owns the top two spots in Arizona State’s record books for best completion percentage in a game completing 17-of-19 against Navy and 20-of-23 against Washington State. His 2012 season completion percentage of 67.1 percent is also the highest for quarterbacks with 301 or more attempts. Although it is still early in his career, Kelly leads all Sun Devil quarterbacks at 67.5 percent in his career.

The real story of Saturday night was how Kelly would have finished if his receivers didn’t have a case of butterfingers. Starting receiver Richard Smith dropped three passes and a mind-numbing seven sure completions hit the Sun Devil turf.

The Arizona State run game was rather quiet against Wisconsin. The Badgers’ stud running back, Melvin Gordon, shredded the Sun Devils’ questionable run defense to the tune of 193 yards, averaging nearly 13 yards per carry. Gordon’s 477 yards is the 2nd most in the FBS so far this season.

TK AerialThe Devils only managed 116 rushing yards, but scored all their touchdowns on the ground. Marion Grice averaged 3.8 yards per carry for 88 yards on 22 attempts and four touchdowns.

Kelly once again felt the pressure of the world on him and rushed 11 times for 24 yards, the second most attempts on the team.

Taylor Kelly likes to air it out and last weekend was no exception.

In his past five games, Kelly has amassed some amazing numbers including 13 passing touchdowns to only one interception. Also of note, Arizona State was 0-5 coming into Saturday’s game when Kelly had thrown a pick. Maybe this is a new era where the Sun Devils can recover from adversity.

His 130 consecutive passes without an interception is a career best that he will look to improve upon—he stands at 23 passes heading into Palo Alto to take on No. 5 Stanford.

His numbers over the past five games are phenomenal; 105-of-153 for 1,357 yards, while averaging 271.4 yards per game. According to ESPN Stats and Info, his total QBR of 95 over that same stretch is second only to conference foe, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

This year, he is ranked at No. 8 for most passing yards per game with a 358.5 average.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Arizona StateTaylor Kelly has reason to be smiling. The Sun Devils are off to a 2-0 start and are back in the national rankings at No. 23 in both polls. They are owners of the nation’s 20th most prolific offense averaging 43.4 points per game and the 20th stingiest defense allowing only 15 points per game.

This is the 20/20 vision that head coach Todd Graham and Kelly need to focus on when they travel to take on the defending Pac-12 champion, No. 5 Stanford Cardinal. Stanford has had a pair of shaky games against lesser opponents so far this season—at home against San Jose St. and on the road at Army.

Kelly had some beautiful over the back shoulder passes last Saturday to newcomer Jaelen Strong and spread the love hitting 11 receivers in the first game and eight different receivers against Wisconsin. If Kelly continues to play like he has in the first two games, the Sun Devils could return to Tempe with a massive upset that would quell all the talk about the “phantom knee touch” against Wisconsin.

Grade: A-

2nd Annual Born & Brewed: Tucson’s Beer Cup

born brewed

The craft beer explosion is in full swing and not only is the metro Tucson area taking notice, beer lovers from across the state and region are visiting and loving local Tucson beers. Hotel Congress Beverage Director David Torkko is taking full advantage of this increased awareness and popularity by throwing Tucson’s only celebration of all local brews.

Connoisseurs of all shapes and sizes love the experimentation and tasty treats offered up by Tucson’s eight local breweries and this Friday, the plaza at Hotel Congress will be the epicenter of awesomeness replete with fresh hops and funky flavors.

Local favorite Dragoon Brewing Company won “Best Overall Beer” at last year’s inaugural event with their India Pale Ale offering. The true West-Coast IPA is pale in color and heavy on floral citrus hop aroma. The blend of Summit, Columbus, Zythos and Magnum hops added throughout the process finish the beer with the perfect combination of high alcohol content (7.4% A. B. V.) and bitterness (85 I.B.U.)

A couple blocks west of Hotel Congress is downtown favorite, Borderlands Brewing Company. Borderlands’ flagship beer, the Noche Dulce Moonlight Vanilla Porter was named “Best Specialty Beer” by festival goers, with good reason—it was specially delicious. Brewers Mike Mallozzi and Myles Stone describe the Noche Dulce as “dark beer for those that don’t like dark beer.” Flavors of cocoa, espresso and vanilla dominate the palate for a surprisingly easy-drinking beer considering it’s stout alcohol content weighing in at 7.1% A.B.V.

Tucson Beer CupBoth breweries will be back in attendance to defend their title as they compete for a year-long placement in Tucson’s funkiest bar, the Tap Room in the Hotel Congress, a trophy and the bragging rights of “Best Beer in Tucson.”

Looking to dethrone Dragoon and Borderlands will be returning breweries Barrio Brewing, Nimbus Brewing and Thunder Canyon Brewery. Joining the fray this year will be newcomers Ten Fifty-Five and Sentinel Peak Brewing. Special guests Four Peaks Brewery and Dave’s Electric will also be on hand offering up their suds but will not in the running for the Beer Cup.

The event will also feature live music and a pretzel buffet. House-made pretzels made exclusively for the event with all your favorite fixins and toppings.

For $30, this is the best deal for three hours of sheer craft beer enjoyment.

For those who are looking to make a night out of it, Hotel Congress is offering up some great packages including two festival tickets, a room and two day-after drink tickets for the low price of $179 for a double bed (or two twins) and $199 for two doubles. The Cup Cafe has earned statewide recognition for the “Best Bloody Mary” and everybody loves  juice in the morning.

Contact the Hotel Congress at (520) 622-8848 for tickets or purchase online here.

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Wisconsin Badgers Complete Game Preview

Burfict

It has been nearly three years, to the day, since the brisk September day in Madison, Wis., when the Arizona State Sun Devils special teams ruled Camp Randall. Omar Bolden returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Kyle Middlebrooks was tackled at the 1-yard line, as time expired in the first half.

Stop me if you have heard this before, “It was the Sun Devils’ kicking game that was their ultimate demise.” After Cameron Marshall scored from two yards out to bring the score to 20-19, Arizona State missed the point after touchdown.

This year, the matchup will, once again, pit two undefeated teams against each other, but unlike the last meeting, neither team has allowed a single point to be scored. Wisconsin (2-0) is currently ranked No. 18 in the USA Today Sports Coaches Poll and No. 20 in the AP poll. Arizona State (1-0) is ranked at No. 28 and No. 26, respectively.

Although the 45- and 48-point shutouts for Wisconsin and 55-point shutout for Arizona State look impressive. If you look at the opponents, they lose their lustre—Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech and Sacramento State are nowhere near the level of the Big Ten and Pac-12.

GAME DETAILS

  • Date: September 14, 2013
  • Time: 7:30 pm PT
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: 92.3 KTAR FM (Phoenix metro Area) Sirius 92, XM 192
  • Spread: ASU by 5

Arizona State Keys to Victory

Sacramento State v Arizona State

Must Eliminate or Limit Turnovers

Head coach Todd Graham has preached day in and day out about ball security. I am sure Graham was pleased not only with the fact that the Devils never turned the ball over but also capitalized on all four Sacramento State turnovers last week.

Maintain Discipline and Composure

Perhaps the most amazing feat in the season opener was that Arizona State was only penalized once against Sacramento State—for a whopping five yards. This is due largely in part to the new culture and discipline that Graham has instilled in the players.

The Sun Devils went from being one of the most penalized teams in the country to 10th for fewest penalties and eighth in fewest penalty yards in 2012. If the Devils hope to win at the highest level, this is a trend that must continue.

Play All 60 Minutes

Arizona State dominates their opponents in the first and fourth quarters, but need to focus on playing and scoring in all four quarters. Since Graham has taken the helm, the Devils have outscored their opponents, 159-69, in the first quarter and 129-62 in the fourth.

 

Wisconsin Keys to Victory

Tennessee Tech v Wisconsin

Run, Run, Run and Then Run Some More

The Arizona State run defense finished the 2012 season 10th in the Pac-12 and are making strides to remedy this. Although impressive on Thursday night, one game against a FCS school is not enough of a test to see if that has changed.

Wisconsin’s running game is ranked second in the nation, averaging 390 yards a game. Their trio of running backs in James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement have each broken the 100-yard mark—in both games.

Beef Up the Secondary

Arizona State quarterbacks like to throw the ball. The trio of Taylor Kelly, Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici threw for 365 yards, including bombs for 57 and 41 yards. They come in at No. 9 in the country for passing yards, and the Badger secondary must adjust for the deep threat and speedy receivers on the Arizona State roster.

Rattle the Kicker

Arizona State true freshman place-kicker Zane Gonzalez went a perfect 7-of-7 on PATs and made his first career field-goal attempt of 40 yards. He also missed from 33 and 49 yards late in the game. If the Badgers can get into the head of this young kicker and rattle him, we might see a repeat of the 2010 game when Wisconsin eked out a 20-19 victory on a blocked PAT.

 

Players to Watch: Arizona State

Sacramento State v Arizona State

QB Taylor Kelly

Kelly’s 300 yards passing and five touchdowns last week were achieved in just over two quarters. Over his past four games, he is 76-of-102 for 1,005 yards with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His efficiency over that time frame is a mind-blowing 207.6.

Saying that the team lives and dies with how well Kelly plays is not an understatement, Kelly’s accuracy and ability to find the open man is paramount to a big win over Wisconsin.

DT Will Sutton

When the consensus All-American decided to return to Arizona State for his senior season, he stated that there was “still work to be done.” Sutton played a big role in the revamped run defense against Sacramento State. In just over two quarters of play, Sutton had two tackles, a half tackle-for-loss and a fumble recovery.

Keep an eye out for the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year along with Devil backer Carl Bradford to have a big night against the Badgers. Sutton and Bradford combined to be the most dangerous duo in FBS.

The sack brothers are two of only 10 returning players who registered double-digit sacks last year and the only teammates. Their 24.5 combined sacks stat was better than 51 teams in the FBS.

RB Marion Grice

Grice picked up where he left off in the season opener, scoring two touchdowns, a six-yard rushing strike along with a 26-yard receiving score. Last year, Grice’s 19 touchdowns (11 rushing and eight receiving) placed him at No. 3 all time in school history, and his 114 points is fifth-best in single-season scoring.

Grice’s breakout season earned him accolades not only in school history but also at the national level. His eight receiving touchdowns were the best in the nation for running backs, and his total touchdowns ranked No. 15 in the country.

For a complete look at the Arizona State Depth Chart, click here.

 

Players to Watch: Wisconsin

Running Back Committee

Tennessee Tech v Wisconsin

Anybody who plays fantasy football hates those three words, but new Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen loves them.

The trio of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement have all averaged over 125 yards per game rushing and seven touchdowns between the three of them in the first two games.

Their 390 rushing yards-per-game stat is second-best in the country behind only Oregon. To put it in better perspective, the Badgers rushing trio averages 9.3 yards per carry, nearly a first down every time they touch the ball.

LB Chris Borland

The redshirt senior out of Kettering, Ohio, is already making a big impact on one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. The 2012 first-team All-Big Ten selection leads the team in tackles with 14, five of them solo, one-half for a loss.

Borland was selected to three preseason All-America teams(second and third) and three first-team All-Big Ten teams. He was also named to the Bednarik, Nagurski, Lombardi and Lott IMPACT Trophy watch lists.

For a complete listing of the Wisconsin depth chart, click here.

What They Are Saying

Graham EntryHead coach Todd Graham held his press conference earlier this week and had the following tidbits to offer up.

On facing Wisconsin:

This is as good a running team and as good a big play team as we are going to play. People sometimes don’t correlate that with Wisconsin. They were fourth in the country last year in 40-plus-yard plays. That is a lot of big plays. We will find out exactly where we are at when it comes to run defense.

His offensive philosophy is simple, “Our philosophy offensively is to focus on us.” Graham said. “Focus on taking care of the football and take what they give us.”

Wisconsin has had some issue facing the spread offense in the past and Arizona State has the style nearly perfected.  However, the Badgers don’t seemed too worried. Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes:

“I think it has gotten better every year,” fifth-year senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said of UW’s ability to keep pace with spread offenses. “The more you see it the better you’re going to be…they are going to test us and hopefully we’ll respond the right way.”

The receiving corps at Arizona State is impressive, one of the new standouts is wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Jeff Metcalfe of azcentral.com wrote about Strong:

Sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong had a team-high six catches in the 55-0 win over Sacramento State, one for a touchdown.

Sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong had a team-high six catches in the 55-0 win over Sacramento State, one for a touchdown.

“I feel like I can do a lot more,” Strong said. “The little mistakes I made could have let me get close to 100 yards (he had 58). I know what I can do to help me and our offense to do better, so I have to work on that.”

Prediction

NCAA Football: Sacramento State at Arizona State

This game is going to get crazy.

Over 71,000 people will pack into Sun Devil Stadium for another round of “How Hot Can it Get in Here?” Last week’s game-time temperature was 107, and the forecast for Saturday night is a balmy 102.

Although the Big Ten is a formidable conference with perennial champions, the visit by the defending Big Ten champions doesn’t strike fear into anybody in the desert. The Sun Devils have owned the Big Ten in Tempe—an amazing 8-0 outscoring opponents and 320-111 in those eight contests.

To make things even crazier, Arizona State is 9-1-1 all time in games following a shutout when both games are played at home.

This will mark the fourth matchup between the two teams which Arizona State leads 2-1. Overall, Arizona State is 16-14 against current Big Ten teams (Nebraska included) and 4-2 against Big Ten teams in bowl games.

Wisconsin’s running game will be tough to stop, but fortunately for the Sun Devil faithful, Taylor Kelly and his potent offensive arsenal will be even tougher for this Wisconsin team to stop.

Arizona State 42, Wisconsin 31 

5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Sun Devils

ASU SAC

Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium earned its nickname the “House of Heat” on Thursday night. Although the sun had set in the desert, the game time temperature hovered around Hades norms—107 degrees.

Roughly 55,743 were on hand to witness the Sun Devils’ season opener and most likely shed some pounds in the outdoor sauna. After a shaky start, the Devils settled into a scoring groove that included five consecutive trips to the end zone and six total touchdowns in the eight first-half drives.

Redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly had a monster first half, completing 19-of-24 for 256 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. Kelly played the opening drive of the second half and finished the game 23-of-31 for 300 yards before giving way to backups Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank.

The Sun Devils’ schedule takes a marked uptick in the coming weeks, welcoming the defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) to Tempe this weekend. The Badgers are currently ranked No. 18 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 18 in the AP Poll on the heels of two consecutive home shutouts over Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.

The first road game of the season for Arizona State will be at the home of the defending Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal (1-0). The Cardinal, like Arizona State, had an early Week 1 bye and had no problem dispatching the San Jose State Spartans. The Cardinal are currently ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 5 in the AP Poll.

The following two weeks welcome conference foe USC (1-1) and No. 21 Notre Dame (1-1) at Texas Stadium. Both teams are reeling after embarrassing losses on Saturday. Let’s take a closer look at the early season storylines for the Sun Devils.

Will the Defense Struggle Against FBS Teams?

Sacramento State v Arizona StateThe opening drive for the Sacramento State Hornets started at their own 25 yard line and quarterback Garrett Safron engineered an impressive 16-play, 59-yard drive, including four first downs and completions of 15 and 11 yards. After driving to the Arizona State 26, Safron’s lone touchdown attempt was knocked down by Alden Darby in the end zone. The Hornets then attempted a 33-yard field goal which Robert Nelson ceremoniously blocked.

Sacramento State would only enter Arizona State territory once more in the game and redshirt senior Grandville Taylor took offense to that, intercepting Safron and returning the ball 67 yards to the 2-yard line.

One of the biggest concerns coming into this season for Arizona State was stopping the run, and we saw the Devils’ weak side or WILL linebacker, Chris Young, need help off the field and never returned. If they hope to improve their abysmal run defense, senior linebacker Chris Young will be the key.

I’m chalking the horrible opening drive up to nerves. Afterwards, the defense only surrendered two first downs and 108 total yards for the remainder of the game.

The upcoming game against Wisconsin will tell volumes about the state of the defense, so stay tuned.

Which Wide Receiver Will Step Up for the Sun Devils?

NCAA Football: Sacramento State at Arizona StateIt was a refreshing change to see that a wide receiver, not a running back or tight end, led the team in receiving. Granted, running back Deantre Lewis had a beautiful 57-yard reception and three of Taylor Kelly’s five touchdowns were to non-receivers, but Thursday night was a coming out party for redshirt sophomore and transfer student Jaelen Strong.

Strong led all receivers with six receptions for 58 yards and one touchdown. While 58 yards doesn’t really stand out as an amazing number, consider the fact that Kelly spread out his passes to eleven different targets.

In a lineup with several returning players, Strong receiving 26 percent of the passes was a big vote of confidence. Look for plenty more from Jaelen Strong in the future.

Will D.J. Foster or Deantre Lewis Backup Marion Grice?

Redshirt junior Deantre Lewis is back in the backfield for the Sun Devils. After a phenomenal freshman season, Lewis was sidelined the following year recovering from a gunshot wound. In 2012, he was converted to a defensive back due to a crowded backfield.

After moving back to the offense, Lewis made a big impact out of the backfield. He finished the game with eight rushes for 53 yards including a 13-yard scamper in the fourth quarter. Lewis also caught two passes out of the backfield for 52 yards.

Sophomore D.J. Foster only saw one carry for five yards and four receptions for 29 yards and was kept out of the end zone. It was a bit odd to see Foster have only one carry all game so we will definitely keep an eye on him in future matchups.

Is Zane Gonzalez the Real Deal?

NCAA Football: Sacramento State at Arizona StateTo say that the Arizona State’s kicking game was iffy at best was a compliment. The Depth Chart coming into the season listed Alex Garoutte as the kicker for kickoffs and PATs. However, after the first touchdown, it was true freshman Zane Gonzalez who trotted out for the extra point, not Garoutte. Gonzalez was a perfect 7-of-7 on PATs and completed his first field goal attempt from 40 yards out.

All was right again with the kicking game as Garoutte booted 10 kickoffs for 649 yards with nine touchbacks.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Gonzalez missed his second field goal attempt wide right from only 33 yards out. He would finish the game 2-of-4 hitting from 29 and missing from 49. Was it first game jitters for Gonzalez? Can he recover moving forward or will we see Jon Mora again this year?

Will Taylor Kelly Top His Breakout Sophomore Season?

Sacramento State v Arizona StateGoing into the spring and fall practices in 2012, a pair of junior quarterbacks were battling for the starting spot in Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank.

Kelly won out and put on a clinic setting the school record for most consecutive completions in a game with 18 against Washington State on November 17. He finished second in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency with 159.88, besting Rudy Carpenter’s previous school record of 145.09. His completion percentage of 67.1 percent is also a school record, while his 29 passing touchdowns last season earned him second place in the record books behind Andrew Walter’s 30.

If Thursday night’s game was any clue of what he can do in the future, not only will Kelly be the best quarterback in school history, but also one of the best in the country. If only the Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Pac-12 defenses are as porous as Sacramento State.

Doubtful, but hopeful.