We are less than a month away from kickoff of the 2014 season, summer workouts are complete and the team returns to Camp Tontozona is less than two weeks. Pac-12 Media Day was a resounding success and the Sun Devils were predicted to finish third in the Pac-12 South by media members that cover the league.
There’s that number again…three. It must truly be a magical number.
Keeping in the context of the magical number three, let’s examine the all-important third down. In the perfect world, we would never need third downs as Taylor Kelly and his arsenal of weapons would nail a first down, every down.
This is a world where the University of Arizona still has a football team and the University of Southern California was predicted to finish above the Sun Devils in a preseason poll, so this world is far from perfect.
Third downs tell the story of how the offense responds under pressure and how it deals with adversity—will they extend the possession or will they fold?
In 2013, the Sun Devils third conversion rate was less than stellar, converting only 39 percent of the time. The bright side of the coin, however, is that Taylor Kelly will still be under center this year.
Kelly led the team last year with 30 rushes on third down. Half of those crucial runs netted the necessary yardage to extend the drive while six of the runs ended up in the end zone. The entire team totaled only three third down touchdowns all season…three.
Kelly’s 7.6 yards per carry on third down led the team and his six touchdowns on third down was second best in the country. If history tells us anything, the future looks bright on third down as long as Kelly is on the field.
The top teams in the country do well in their third down conversions so it’s no mystery that extending drives leads to winning games. National Champion Florida State finished third nationally with a 52.2 percent conversion rate while Pac-12 Champion, Stanford led all teams in the conference at 49.7 percent and tenth nationally.
Arizona State’s 39.1 percent conversion was quite pedestrian, finishing eighth in the conference and 77th nationally. Kelly has a multitude of weapons other than playmakers Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster.
The Sun Devils lit up opponents in 2013 with a record-breaking six games of 50 or more points including a stretch of four games against Pac-12 opponents and one opposing coach fired on the tarmac.
We know that the team can score early and often, but imagine if you will, how dominant the team would be if they could convert third down conversions half of the time like Pac-12 North foe, Stanford…they would be unbeatable.
This is the year that it all comes together, and after claiming victory in the brutal four-game stretch against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington, the nation will notice that Arizona State football is a legitimate contender for not only the Conference title but also the National Championship.