Tag: Taylor Kelly

Tempe Chamber of Commerce Hosts Kickoff Luncheon

Ray Sparky

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce hosted another legendary luncheon in anticipation of the 2014 Sun Devil Football season. Frank Kush was there, Rose Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst was there, the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham was there and so was DieHard Devil.

It was a veritable “Who’s Who” of Arizona State football at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from Sun Devil Stadium. The ballroom was packed, and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce sold out the event with 520 passionate Sun Devil football fans in attendance.

“We enjoy a wonderful relationship with the University, we’re partners on many different levels” Sean Donovan, Vice President of Media and Program Development told me prior to the event. “This is one opportunity to show our support very publicly and very visibly. We are happy to celebrate the start of the new season and bring the wonderful people and passionate players of Arizona State University to the community.”

Tempe ChamberThe “Voice of the Sun Devils,” Tim Healey, hosted the ceremony and incited the room of fervent Sun Devil football fans with talk of Arizona State truly having “unfinished business.” While it is always nice to say that the Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champion, there is so much more work to be done. The Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, and, yes, even the National Championship are goals for the 2014 Sun Devil football team.

The daughter of legendary Arizona State basketball and baseball coach, Bill Kajikawa, Dr. Christine Wilkinson spoke to the crowd on behalf of the ASU Alumni Association. Dr. Wilkinson, the President of the Alumni Association, has worn several hats at the University, including interim Athletic Director, and has more knowledge about the school and its history than even the most passionate alum.

Healey’s partner for the past 20+ years, Jeff Van Raaphorst joined him to discuss where the Devils have been and where they are going, and it’s evident that the Rose Bowl is only a step along the way. Van Raaphorst admitted that current ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly has the ability to eclipse his records and has the opportunity to join him among ASU’s elite quarterbacks.

Vice President of University Athletics, Ray Anderson joined the hosts on stage to talk about playing with class. “There will be no trash talking on this team,” Anderson told the crowd. “Sun Devils will play with class, honor and integrity. This will also be evident in how they live their lives off the field as well.”

With Jamil & The Cup

With Jamil & The Cup

I was hoping to see more unorthodox footwear from head football coach Todd Graham at the event. He has worn boots to flip-flops to address the media this year, but today was just a pair of smart, black dress shoes while he spoke with Healey and Van Raaphorst.

“We have unfinished business this year,” Graham said. “Our goal is not only to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but also the Rose Bowl and the National Championship. While those goals may be lofty, I believe in our guys. We are faster, smarter and more physical than previous years, so that is what’s expected.”

The Territorial Cup made its appearance when Kelly and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas joined the panel. Kelly and Douglas reinforced the “unfinished business” mantra and voiced their desire to take the Pac-12 and the nation by storm.

When Healey asked Douglas “What part of the Territorial Cup victory was most difficult for you?” He responded “Hoisting the cup after the game.”

“It was more taxing holding the cup up for so long than actually winning it.” Douglas said in closing.

Let’s hope they have no problem keeping the cup for years to come.

 

Arizona State Football: Third Down and Pac-12 Championship To Go

taylor

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.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

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.

Lame LaneArizona 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.

ASU Football: Updated Depth Chart, Spring Game and Fan Fest

ASU TheaterTEMPE, Ariz. — The 2014 Arizona State football team will kick off in earnest on Saturday, April 19 with the annual Fan Fest taking place at Sun Devil Stadium from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT with the Maroon and Gold spring game at 11 a.m. The game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks and will also be available online via the Pac-12 Now app.

The Pac-12 South champion Sun Devils led by senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham return to the gridiron with unfinished business after ending the 2013 season in disappointing fashion. The goals for the 2014 season, and every season moving forward, are Pac-12 Champions, Rose Bowl Champions and National Champions.

The walls of the football theater are emblazoned with these tenets.

New Athletic Director Ray Anderson has sparked interest in the football program and is spear-heading the North End Zone renovation project in a campaign entitled Momentum.

Rendering of new Sun Devil Stadium

Rendering of new Sun Devil Stadium

The proposed plan will completely renovate Sun Devil Stadium, while preserving Tillman Tunnel and retaining the stadium in its iconic setting between the Tempe and Hayden Buttes. Construction on the stadium is scheduled to begin in 2015, with the football team competing in Sun Devil Stadium throughout the renovation.

The scheduled removal of the north end zone began on Monday and is not part of the renovation project. The removal of the north end zone upper deck will reduce the seating capacity at Sun Devil Stadium by approximately 5,700 seats.

FAN FEST 2014

 

The pre-game festivities will begin at 9 a.m. at the southern end of the stadium and parking lots. Activities include an interactive Sun Devil Way Fan Fest where younger Sun Devil fans can enjoy the Kids Zone presented by the Junior Sun Devil Club and Shamrock Foods, a Social Media Command Center where fans can get their photos taken, pose with the Territorial Cup and win Sun Devil apparel, and an autograph session for fans 18 and under.

2014 FanFestFor those looking to show off their master tailgating skills, there is The Great Sun Devil Tailgate Competition which will pit the best and brightest tailgaters competing for prizes, trophies and all-important bragging rights.

All attendees of Fan Fest will have a chance to win a trip for two to the ASU vs. Washington game Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Husky Stadium. The giveaway includes hotel, airfare and tickets for two to the game.

BRING ON THE FOOTBALL

 

The Sun Devils return six All-Pac-12 performers, including the aforementioned Kelly, running back DJ Foster, wide receiver Jaelen Strong, tight end De’Marieya Nelson, left tackle Jamil Douglas and Lou Groza Award Semifinalist kicker Zane Gonzalez.

Along with Douglas, the starting offensive line is packed with veterans including junior center Nick Kelly, redshirt juniors Christian Westerman and Vi Teofilo at the guard slots and redshirt senior Tyler Sulka at right tackle. The veteran line will be heavily relied upon with Foster and a pair of redshirt seniors in Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks out of the backfield.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

The receiving corps will be quite different with Strong leading the way at the X slot. Redshirt junior Cameron Smith, who had only eight receptions for 129 yards in 2013 is the favorite at the Y position while redshirt sophomore Frederick Gammage will likely get the start at the Z. Gammage saw time in 13 games in 2013 yet only nabbed six receptions for 32 yards.

The defense is markedly changed with the departure of nine starters including two-time All Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton and Carl Bradford to graduation. The defensive line will be anchored by junior Jaxon Hood at the Tiger position with redshirt junior Mo Latu at the Nose and senior Marcus Hardison coming off the end.

Redshirt junior Eriquel Florence will be filling the Devil backer spot while redshirt sophomores Viliami Moeakiola and Salamo Fiso will most likely start at the Spur and Sam linebacker spots. Freshman DJ Calhoun and redshirt junior Antonio Longino are battling for the start at the Will position.

Marcus Hardison with big shoes to fill

Marcus Hardison with big shoes to fill

The secondary will be anchored by returning senior Damarious Randall at field safety. Redshirt sophomores Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood will fill the field corner and boundary corners respectively. Battling for the the boundary safety position will be redshirt freshman Marcus Ball and redshirt junior Jordan Simone.

Special teams will be relatively unchanged with sophomore punter Matt Haack coming into his own after losing punting responsibilities last season to kickoff specialist Alex Garoutte. New assistant coach Keith Patterson, a former punter has worked with not only Haack, but also with junior long snappers Donnie Shields and Easton Wahlstrom.

The pressure of punting took Garoutte’s focus of being a true kickoff specialist and this season he will be send more footballs into the end zone, nullifying any possible returns. Sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez is facing a concerning sophomore slump with a couple misses in practice, yet he is 7-of-10 inside Sun Devil Stadium this spring.

On the return side of the coin, speedy running back Kyle Middlebrooks and defensive leader Damarious Randall are listed as the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on both punt and kick coverage.

MOVING FORWARD

 

The spring game will bring to spring practice season to a close but there are still many other events on the horizon.

  • Early bird season ticket pricing ends April 30.
  • Spring Coaching Clinic April 4-5
  • Camp Tontozona August 12-16
  • Season Opener August 28 vs. Weber State

3 Games That Will Define the Future of the Sun Devil Program

Go Devils

The Arizona State Sun Devils were once again invited to the college football “adult table,” and this time they didn’t embarrass themselves. I guess the third time really is the charm.

The Sun Devils’ two prior trips under the national spotlight ended up in losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, and it looked as if they might continue that trend late in the game in the Rose Bowl Saturday night.

No. 17 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) traveled to Pasadena and defeated No. 17 UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) 38-33 on the back of a strong offensive showing in the first half and a consistent defensive presence throughout the game.

What lies ahead for the Sun Devils is destiny.

With the upset of the Oregon Ducks at the hands of their rival Arizona Wildcats, the Sun Devils now have the rare opportunity to not only exact revenge on the team that handed them their lone conference loss, but also against a team that spoiled their perfect season in the Rose Bowl 17 years ago.

November 30: Arizona Wildcats

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

One cup to rule them all.

The Territorial Cup is certified as college football’s oldest trophy awarded to Tempe Normal School on November 30, 1899. Now 114 years later, to the day, the teams will meet once again for the honor of the Cup.

After the initial victory for the “Normals,” the University of Arizona would dominate the series in the early years. The teams played sporadically until 1946, when it became an annual match. Arizona leads the series 47-38-1 on the backs of a 20-2 start to the series. Arizona was so dominant in the early years, it won by shutout in 12 of the first 22 meetings.

Arizona State would improve and later make the rivalry one-sided on its behalf, winning nine straight and 16 of 19 from 1963-1981. The rivalry then shifted back to Arizona as the Sun Devils would go winless for nine straight seasons including the Cup’s only tie in 1987.

Over the past two decades, the series is dead even with each team winning 10 games apiece, but the real story is that the home team is 8-12 in those matchups and only 4-9 in this century.

The Arizona Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) are looking to play spoiler once again riding the momentum of the upset of No. 5 Oregon Ducks. If the Sun Devils defeat the Wildcats at home, they will host the Pac-12 Championship Game in Tempe where they haven’t lost a game since October 27—of last year.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Arizona State 42

December 7: Pac-12 Championship Game

Arizona State v Stanford

The No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 7-2 Pac-12) have shown flashes of brilliance this year with two wins over top-10 ranked teams. They have also shown signs of weakness with two losses to unranked teams on the road.

The Cardinal embarrassed Arizona State in Week 4 of the regular season, taking a 29-0 halftime lead at “The Farm.” The Sun Devils would eventually wake up and score 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it would be too little, too late for Coach Graham’s Arizona State squad as they lost 42-28.

The lone blemish on Arizona State’s conference record stings, but that is an issue that will have to be addressed after the huge game against Arizona.

If the Sun Devils can prevail over Arizona, they will host their first ever Pac-12 Championship Game and welcome Stanford into their house, a daunting task for any team, but for a Stanford team that has lost two of their past three road games, it will be a near impossibility.

Prediction: Stanford 24, Arizona State 31

January 1: The Rose Bowl

The Granddaddy of Them All.

This is it, sports fans, what every Sun Devil football player dreams of. The ultimate goal, the pinnacle of perfection, the promised land.

NCAA Football: Colorado at UCLA

As of this writing, it is safe to say that No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State will be facing in the National Championship Game, at the Rose Bowl on January 6. Barring any setbacks against the Michigan schools in the next two weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) will return to Pasadena for their 15th Rose Bowl appearance.

The Sun Devils have considerably less experience in playing on New Year’s Day, sporting a 1-1 Rose Bowl record. That one loss is what is stuck in the craw of so many Sun Devil fans, players and coaches.

The 1996 Sun Devils (11-0) led by Jake Plummer and a defense anchored by Pat Tillman were the consensus No. 2 ranked team in the country and a victory in the Rose Bowl would secure the schools’ first National Championship due to No. 3 Florida defeating No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The only thing in their way was the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1).

The Sun Devils trailed 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter and stepped up big time by blocking a Buckeye field goal attempt in the final five minutes. Jake Plummer once again worked his late-game magic by scrambling 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Buckeyes’ final drive of the game led by Joe Germaine will forever be tainted in Sun Devil faithful minds by the two pass interference calls that led to the fateful pass to David Boston with 19 seconds left in the game. The Buckeyes’ 20-17 victory would dash the hopes and dreams of everybody in the Sun Devil family and Arizona State would return to mediocrity.

Could this game happen? Can the Sun Devils finally even the score with the Buckeyes and lay the 17-year-old loss to rest? Although it won’t be for a national championship, a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State will forever change the course of this football program, elevating the team into the elite of college football.

Comparing UW’s Keith Price and ASU’s Taylor Kelly

Kelly-CUArizona State and Washington haven’t met in the past three years, but it’s safe to say that they haven’t missed each other.

In the classic tale of two teams, one coming off a big win and the other reeling from a disappointing loss, both teams need a win this Saturday—but only one can have it.

The Arizona State Sun Devils (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) welcome the No. 20 Washington Huskies (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) to Tempe on Homecoming weekend. There will be plenty of pomp and circumstance along with reunions, floats and a parade down University Drive.

The biggest draw of the weekend will be just north of the parade route in Sun Devil Stadium with two of the conference’s best quarterbacks providing the fireworks.

Who’s the better quarterback when all the chips are down, the game is on the line and myriad other idiomatic expressions?

Here is an in-depth analysis of the two signal callers.

Arm Strength

Oregon v WashingtonKeith Price

  • Height: 6’1″
  • Weight: 202
  • Year: Senior
  • Hometown: Compton, Calif.

Price has a rocket for an arm, he threw for over 3,000 yards his sophomore season, 2,728 last year and already has over 1,500 yards after six games. He averages 8.2 yards per attempt and has thrown 12 touchdowns including a 49-yard score in torrential rain against Arizona.

He averages 262.6 passing yards per game and anchors the No. 30 ranked passing offense in the nation with 278.8 passing yards per game. His 12 touchdown passes and four interceptions are tied for sixth-best in the conference with Brett Hundley of UCLA and Kevin Hogan of Stanford.

Notre Dame v Arizona StateTaylor Kelly

  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 203
  • Year: Junior
  • Hometown: Eagle, Idaho

Following the departure of Brock Osweiler after the 2011 season, the sophomore quarterback entered the 2012 spring and fall practices battling for the starting position. Head coach Todd Graham showed his eye for spotting talent and designated Kelly the starter over Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici.

Kelly has been electric since being named starter and hasn’t looked back. Through six games this season, he has already amassed 1,965 passing yards and averages 327.5 yards per games and 8.2 yards per attempt.

He is a fixture in the national rankings breaking the top 10 in several areas:

  • No. 6 in passing yards
  • No. 7 in total offensive yards
  • No. 8 in passing TDs
  • No. 8 in passing yards per game
  • No. 10 in total attempts
  • No. 10 in completions per game.

Advantage: Kelly

Mobility

Taylor Kelly is a prototypical dual-threat quarterback. Although he has myriad weapons in Jaelen Strong, D.J. Foster, Chris Coyle and Marion Grice, Kelly still manages to run the ball at a competitive pace.

He is second on the team in both rushing attempts (44) and rushing yards (165) and scored his first touchdown on the ground last week against Colorado scampering 17 yards prior at the end of the first half. Unfortunately for Kelly, as with all quarterbacks, sacks are subtracted from rushing yards which would make his rushing numbers look even better.

Kelly’s ability to extend plays and scramble make him a dangerous threat to any defensive scheme.

Keith Price hasn’t found much of a need to run the ball this season with the nation’s leading rusher in Bishop Sankey in the backfield. Sankey’s 899 rushing yards and 159 attempts are both tops in the country.

Price is only averaging 10 yards rushing per game and has finished on the negative side of the fence on two occasions. He has one rushing touchdown, a one-yard push against Idaho St. earlier in the month.

When needed, Price is a viable option to run for a couple yards, but Kelly is more of a threat in open-field situations.

Advantage: Kelly 

Decision Making

Arizona v WashingtonKeith Price is a seasoned veteran, the senior quarterback has thrown for 12 touchdowns and ony four interceptions this year. This places him at No. 4 in the conference with Marcus Mariota from Oregon, the only QB in the Pac-12 without a pick, leading the way.

Price’s ratio of completions to interceptions of 133:4 ranks third in the conference behind the aforementioned Mariota and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion.

Both Price and Kelly have taken 12 sacks this season, a number tied for 2nd most in the Pac-12 and 28th most in the nation. Taking sacks are often times unavoidable but other times are a last second decision to not throw it in possible interception situations.

Taylor Kelly has struggled recently with interceptions, including a game-deciding pick-six against Notre Dame in Dallas earlier in October.

His six interceptions is fourth most in the conference tied with Cal’s Jared Goff. The Cal football team is in shambles with only one victory this year—against a FCS opponent. Kelly’s interceptions have come in pairs this year in Sun Devil losses against Stanford and Notre Dame.

Kelly now holds a 2-7 record when he has thrown at least one interception and a perfect 10-0 record when he doesn’t. Suffice to say when Kelly makes good decisions, the Devils win—when he doesn’t, the Devils struggle mightily.

Advantage: Price

Accuracy

Colorado v Arizona StateTaylor Kelly’s name has become synonymous with accuracy in his short career at Arizona State. In his last nine games, Kelly has thrown for 24 touchdowns, completing 190-of-295 passes for 2,670 yards and a 64.4 percentage. He has averaged 296.7 passing yards over that span including starting this year with five straight games over 300 yards. It’s safe to assume it would have been six straight had he played the entire game against Colorado.

Kelly already holds the school record in career accuracy, passing greats Rudy Carpenter and Brock Osweiler. For quarterbacks with more than 300 attempts in a season, Kelly is also tops.

Additionally, Kelly holds records for most consecutive pass completions in a game; 18 vs. Washington St. last year as well as the top two places for highest completion percentage in a game; 89.5 percent against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and 87 percent against Washington St.

Keith Price is having his best year in terms of completion percentage through the first six games of the 2013 season. He has completed 133-of-192 attempts for 1,576 yards, an astounding 69.3 percent. That is good enough to rank him No.1 in the conference and 12th best in the country among starting quarterbacks.

Price struggled last week against a strong Oregon defense but lit up a Stanford defense that gave Kelly fits only weeks prior.

Advantage: Kelly (by a hair)

Intangibles

Jake Locker was under center for the Washington Huskies the last time time the two teams met and was intercepted by Arizona State’s Omar Bolden in the end zone on the final play of the game to give the Sun Devils a 24-14 victory in rainy Seattle.

Washington v Arizona StateLocker and Bolden went on to careers in the NFL due to hard work, perseverance and a long list of other intangibles that scouts and GMs saw in the combine and during preseason.

What intangibles do Kelly and Price hold?

Taylor Kelly is mastering the offense and taking command of the team. Kelly himself said (via Ted Miller on ESPN.com)

“When things would start to hit the fan last year, I would kind of panic and start forcing things. Or if we were down, I’d feel I had to make a play. After watching film, I realize I need to take the easy route and take what the defense gives me.”

Coach Graham agrees:

“He commands our team. He’s a guy with all the intangibles, a guy we completely trust,” Graham said. “We have a quarterback who is a championship-level quarterback. That gives you a chance.”

Keith Price is a senior that has been playing with an injured thumb on his throwing hand since midway through the Stanford game—his best performance of his career. Huskies’ coach Steve Sarkisian admired his tenacity in the game and said (via Adam Jude of the Seattle Times)

“(After) some of the shots he took, for him to continue to get back up to throw the football, to make really critical throws on third downs in the second half, I just thought was tremendous,” Sarkisian said.

Jeff Bell, featured columnist for the Oregon Ducks on Bleacher Report described Price as a bigger threat to the Ducks than running back Bishop Sankey due to his ability to “open up the entire playbook on second and third down,” Bell goes on to say:

“Price will have the ball on every offensive snap and will be able to distribute it to any number of offensive weapons. His toughness is unmatched, and he isn’t making the same mistakes from last season.”

Commanding the offense, opening the entire playbook, playing without panic and through adversity are all major intangibles held by the these two solid field generals.

Advantage: Push

Conclusion and Prediction

USC v Arizona StateAlthough Kelly’s accuracy has fallen off a bit this season, his rushing acumen is what make him a true dual threat in the backfield.

He is ranked No. 20 nationally in Total Quarterback Rating by ESPN which takes into account an entire slew of situations that are not reflected in the stats.

Dean Oliver explains the several areas that Total QBR captures:

“It accounts for down, distance, field position, as well as the clock and score. A 5-yard gain on third-and-4 is a good play, whereas a 5-yard gain on third-and-14 isn’t. A 20-yard touchdown pass when tied in the second quarter means more than a 20-yard touchdown pass when down 30 points late in the fourth quarter.”

Kelly’s Total QBR of 80.4 is 10 spots better than Price’s 75.9 and is the third-best rating in the conference.

All things considered; Price’s injury, Kelly playing dominant at home and the Sun Devils’ current seven-game win streak against the Huskies dating back to 2002, Kelly will prove that he is indeed the better quarterback.

Washington 31, Arizona State 42

Power Ranking the Sun Devils’ 5 Best NFL Prospects

asu nflThe sleeping giants of the Pac-12 woke up last weekend in Tempe, Ariz.

The Arizona State football team’s vaunted defense gave way to Coach Todd Graham’s high-octane offense. The defense was no slouch either—it registered nine tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and three interceptions including a 46-yard pick-six from Alden Darby.

The not-good-enough-for-Sunday players lit the gridiron ablaze and forced everybody to take notice of a team that single-handedly dismantled an elite football program and destroyed a coach’s career in one fell swoop.

After such an outing, will there be Heisman talk for the studs on the Sun Devils sidelines?

No, but fret not, gentle reader. This football program thrives on being the underdog and going unnoticed by the media. Due to the extreme temperatures in the desert city of Tempe, Ariz., the Sun Devils rarely, if ever, play a home game before bedtime on the East Coast.

In the 2013 NFL draft, a record zero players were drafted, and although many were invited to training camp, only Brandon Magee was signed to an active NFL roster, signing with the Cleveland Browns.

Here are the power rankings of the Sun Devils’ best NFL prospects after the first month of the 2013 season.

Will Sutton: Defensive Tackle

Wisconsin v Arizona StateThe 2012 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American is still the Sun Devils’ most NFL-ready player despite reports of sluggishness and adding “bad weight.”

The 6’1″, 305-pound redshirt senior out of Corona, Calif., is out to prove his doubters wrong. Through four games, he has 13 tackles, nine of them solo and 2.5 for a loss of 10 yards. He also had a sack and a fumble recovery last weekend against USC.

It is safe to say that Sutton is just getting warmed up to dominate the Irish this weekend before going on to repeat his stellar junior season.

Draft Projection: Round 2

Marion Grice: Running Back

USC v Arizona StateMarion Grice has moved up this list—quickly.

Grice, one of the nation’s best junior college running backs out of Blinn Community College in Houston, Texas, committed to coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils and became a cornerstone of Graham’s “left lane, hammer down” offense.

He led all running backs with receiving touchdowns at the end of last season. In 2013, he not only leads all running backs with receiving touchdowns but leads all players with 12 total touchdowns, and that even includes a bye week.

Grice is the prototypical player in Graham’s offense and is breaking out of the three-headed running back committee that thrived last season. In his last seven games, Grice has scored an astounding 18 touchdowns, 13 rushing and five receiving.

In 2013, he is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 64 yards per game, but what is the most amazing statistic is that he scores a touchdown every 7.3 times he touches the ball.

Draft Projection: Round 3 (unless he maintains his three touchdowns per game average, in which he could go as high as the first round).

Alden Darby: Safety

Alden Darby loves playing USC.

He added his seventh and eighth career interceptions to his resume last weekend along with another pick-six; his last one was against USC last year.

Darby, a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist was named the Player of the Week after his seven tackles, forced fumble and recovery to go along with with two interceptions.

 

 

The 5’11”, 195-pound senior out of Long Beach, Calif., is undersized, but his heart, desire and drive are not. This year, he leads the team in interceptions, pass breakups and passes defended while his 19 tackles, 13 solo, are third-best on the team.

Draft Projection: Round 6 or 7

Taylor Kelly: Quarterback

USC v Arizona StateRedshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly out of Eagle, Idaho, is having a breakout season in just four games in 2013. He caught fire last year after losing at USC last November and hasn’t cooled off yet.

Since that chilly November day at the Coliseum, in his past seven games, Kelly has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He has averaged 296.4 yards per game over that span, completing 65.3 percent of his passes and flaunting a 159.92 quarterback rating.

This season, Kelly has thrown for 300-plus yards in every game, and his 11 passing touchdowns are tied for 11th in the FBS while his 1,370 total yards rank him at No. 8. He leads the No. 7-ranked passing offense, averaging 358.8 yards per game and the 12th-ranked overall offense averaging 44.3 points per game.

Oddly enough, last season, when Kelly threw an interception, a loss was guaranteed. However, this year, the Devils have only lost when Kelly has thrown two picks—on the road against No. 5 Stanford.

I highly doubt that Kelly will forego his final season at Arizona State unless he blows the doors off the competition from here on out.

Draft Projection (2014): Round 5 or 6

Draft Projection (2015): Round 2 or 3

Carl Bradford: Linebacker

Wisconsin v Arizona StateCarl Bradford, the 6’1″, 243-pound redshirt junior out of Norco, Calif., is having a devil of a season. Playing out of the “Devilbacker” position, Bradford and his crazy hair are getting noticed.

Bradford’s 2012 campaign was All-America-worthy with 81 tackles, including 20.5 for loss. That number alone broke the top 10 in school history. He tallied 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, two recoveries and even tacked on an interception.

Much like his counterpart, Will Sutton, Bradford started slow but is now in complete beast mode. He leads the team in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. His 14 solo tackles also place him at No. 3 on the team.

Bradford is yet another player who will only get better, not only through the remainder of this season, but also as team captain next year when Sutton is gone.

Draft Projection (2014): Round 6 or 7

Draft Projection (2015): Round 4 or 5

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-

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.