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TEMPE -- The Arizona State University football team returns home this weekend to take on Colorado on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The game is slated to kickoff at 7 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks.
The Sun Devil football program is currently in its 101st season of competition in 2013. The Sun Devils are 572-364-24 (.609) all-time and have appeared in 26 bowl games, compiling a 13-12-1 record in such contests. Arizona State kicked off the 2013 campaign with a rout over Sacramento State in a rare Thursday night tilt, knocking off the Hornets 55-0 at Sun Devil Stadium, followed by a dramatic 32-30 victory over No. 20 Wisconsin and dropped their first game of the season to No. 5 Stanford in Palo Alto. ASU dispatched of USC this past weekend with a 62-41 offensive clinic to improve to 1-1 in Pac-12 play this season. The Sun Devils wrapped up their non-conference slate for the season with a tough 37-34 loss to Notre Dame as part of the Shamrock Series, which took place in Arlington, Texas.
ON THE AIR The MidFirst Bank Sun Devil-IMG Sports Network will carry all 12 of ASU’s football games live on its 10-station radio network, including flagship station Sports 620 KTAR AM. Tim Healey (play-by-play) and former Sun Devil quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst (color analyst) will call the action with Doug Franz reporting from the sidelines. This week’s game will be broadcast on 620 KTAR AM. Weekly radio coverage begins two hours prior to kickoff with the “Talking Stick Resort Sun Devil Tailgate Show,” hosted by Doug Franz. The game will also be broadcast on Sirius Channel 110 and XM Channel 198.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION Saturday’s contest will mark the second appearance for ASU on the Pac-12 Networks this season. ASU is 1-0 this season when playing on the Pac-12 Networks. The Sun Devils will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Arizona time. Kevin Calabro will be on the call for the broadcast with Yogi Roth alongside as analyst. Jill Savage will report from the sidelines.
ON THE BUFFALOES ASU is 4-0 all-time against Colorado with al four contests taking place this decade. ASU overcame a sluggish first half last seaso to knock of CU 51-17 in Boulder. The Sun Devils scored more points in last year’s contest than Colorado has in the entire series against ASU. ASU has won two games in Tempe and two in Boulder against CU and have outsored the Buffaloes 153-48 in those contests. Colorado is coming off a 57-16 defeat to No. 2 Oregon.
--Marion Grice found the end zone 19 times last year, tying him for third on ASU’s all-time single-season touchdown list with Woody Green (1972) behind just Wilford White (22/1950) and Terry Battle (20/1996). Grice is well on pace to demolish the single-season scoring record in 2013 as he already has 13 touchdowns through five games this season. In his last eight games dating back to last season, Grice has found the end zone 19 times (13 rushing, six receiving) - scoring at least one touchdown in each of those contests. In 2013, he is averaging a touchdown every 8.0 times he touches the ball (13 TDs on 104 touches/12.5 percent of touches).
--Jaelen Strong is off to one of the best starts for a receiver in school history, amassing 569 yards (113.8 ypg) on 39 receptions (7.8 rpg) in his first five games in a Sun Devil uniform. Of those 39 receptions this season, 25 have resulted in first downs. He has also drawn six pass interference penalties against him this season, four of which have results in first downs, giving him a tole in 29 of ASU’s 126 first downs this season (23.0 percent)
--In his his last eight games dating back to 2012, Taylor Kelly has thrown for 22 touchdowns with six interceptions, completing 181-of-276 of his passes (.656) for 2,426 yards (303.3 ypg). He has amassed an impressive 161.4 quarterback rating during that span.
--Taylor Kelly is one of just three FBS quarterbacks in 2013 to pass for over 300 yards in each of their starts this season (Sean Mannion of Oregon State and Keith Wenning of Ball State being the others). His eight career 300+ yard games are third among all quarterbacks in ASU history.
--There should be plenty of action through the air this weekend with Colorado ranked 121st nationally in passing defense (326.8) compared to ASU’s ninth-place rank in passing offense (359.4). Neither team has been particularly strong in the run this season with ASU entering the game ranked 86th nationally in rushing offense (130.0) while Colorado is 111th (110.3).
--ASU leads the nation in fourth-quarter scoring this season at 17.2 points per game and is third nationally with 27.5 second-half points per game against FBS opponents.
IN THE RANKINGS Here’s a brief review of ASU team and individual national rankings through the first six weeks of the season:
-No. 8 nationally in fewest penalties per game (3.60)
-No. 17 nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (36.00)
-No. 17 nationally in fumbles lost (2)
-No. 26 nationally in passes intercepted (7)
-No. 9 nationally in passing offense (359.4)
-No. 16 nationally in scoring offense (42.2)
-No. 22 nationally in total offense (489.4)
-Marion Grice is No. 19 nationally in all purpose (150.60)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 8 nationally in completions per game (27.60)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 7 nationally in passing TDs (14)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 8 nationally in passing yards (1,732)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 5 nationally in passing yards per game (346.4)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 22 nationally in points responsible for (84)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 18 nationally in points responsible for per game (17.6)
-Marion Grice is No. 25 nationally in points responsible for per game (15.6)
-Marion Grice is No. 13 nationally in receiving TDs (5)
-Jaelen Strong is No. 14 nationally in receiving yards (569)
-Jaelen Strong is No. 15 nationally in receiving yards per game (113.8)
-Jaelen Strong is No. 9 nationally in receptions per game (7.8)
-Marion Grice is No. 5 nationally in rushing TDs (8)
-Marion Grice is No. 1 nationally in scoring (15.6)
-Zane Gonzalez is No. 18 nationally in scoring (9.8)
-Taylor Kelly is No. 4 nationally in total offense (372.2)
RECAP - ASU v. NOTRE DAME Kyle Brindza kicked a 25-yard field goal with 3:03 remaining in the game and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish held off No. 22 Arizona State, 37-34, to win the Shamrock Series contest on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. Taylor Kelly threw an interception to Dan Fox that was returned 14 yards for a touchdown with 1:08 remaining to seal the deal for the Irish. The Sun Devils scored a late touchdown on a 16-yard touchdown from Kelly to Marion Grice with 11 seconds left but it was too little, too late for ASU. Trailing 24-13 heading into the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) staged a late rally but fell shy in their comeback attempt against the Fighting Irish (4-2). Tommy Rees finished 17-of-38 for 279 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, outdueling ASU’s Kelly, who finished 33-of-47 for 362 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Notre Dame’s TJ Jones had eight catches for 135 yards and a touchdown as the Sun Devils struggled to hold back the Notre Dame offense, which finished with 425 total yards on the day.
OTHER NOTES - NOTRE DAME
-ASU has scored first in 15 of 18 games under head coach Todd Graham. The Devils took a 3-0 lead on a 40-yard field goal with 14:03 left in the second quarter. With the loss, ASU is now 10-5 when scoring first.
-The Sun Devils have recorded 50 explosive plays this season, which the Sun Devil coaching staff defines an explosive play as a 12-yard (or more) run or a 16-yard (or more) reception. The Sun Devils had 10 on Saturday against Notre Dame
-Taylor Kelly had his fifth game this season throwing for over 300 yards and now has eight such games in his career – good for sole possession of third on ASU’s all-time 300+ yard passer list. Entering the game, he was one of just three FBS quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards in each game this season.
- DJ Foster set a new career high with nine receptions in the game, and now has 31 receptions this season and 69 in his 18 career games.
- Field safety Damarious Randall made his first career start, and doubled his total tackles this season in the first eight minutes of the game and set a new career high in that category with 17 in the game – the most since Brandon Magee logged the same total against Arizona last season.
- Devil backer Carl Bradford set a new career high with two pass breakups.
- Cornerback Osahon Irabor recorded his first career interception return for a touchdown and his fifth career interception, including his second this season.
- Freshman wide receiver Cam Smith set a new career high with two catches.
- Marion Grice kept his consecutive games with a touchdown streak going – just barely – with a touchdown reception with 11 seconds left in the game. Grice now has a TD in eight straight games dating back to last season.
- On six of eight defensive timeouts that have been called on third down this season, the Devils have forced a fourth down - including three against Notre Dame.
- All four of De’Marieya Nelson’s catches this season have gone for a first down or touchdown following his 21-yard snag in the fourth quarter.
STRIKE FIRST The Sun Devils have scored first in 15 of the 18 games with Todd Graham at the helm, and is 3-1 in such contests this season following the loss to Notre Dame. The Sun Devils are now 10-5 in the Todd Graham era when getting on the scoreboard first.
STRIKE FAST ASU The quick-hitting offense has become a staple of the Todd Graham-coached Sun Devils, with 83 of ASU’s 108 offensive scoring drives under Graham coming in three minutes or less (76.9 percent). ASU had seven of their nine scoring drives against Sacramento State come in three minutes or less. Oddly enough, ASU survived on longer drives against Wisconsin with just two of its six scoring drives coming under three minutes. ASU had drives of 4:20 and 4:26 against Wisconsin, a feat made notable as the team had just THREE total scoring drives going longer than four minutes last season. That being said, ASU still has maintained a high number of quick scoring drives this season, scoring in three minutes or less on 25 of the team’s 33 scoring drives to date. While not overly glaring, ASU as fared better on faster drives this season, scoring 6.32 points per scoring drive on drives shorter than three minutes compared to 5.57 points per drive when the drive goes longer than three minutes. On four drives this season lasting longer than four minutes, ASU has scored just 16 points.
START STRONG...FINISH STRONG The Sun Devils have now outscored their opposition 169-89 in the first quarter under Todd Graham. Perhaps the more telling statistic, however, is the fact the Sun Devils are 9-0 under Graham when holding their opposition scoreless in the first and have done so in two of the team’s three wins this season. ASU does best when they get ahead early, improving to 10-0 when leading at halftime with Graham as coach following the USC contest. ASU also knows how to close out games, outscoring teams 203-101 in the fourth quarter of games under Graham.
WINNING BY WAY OF TKO (TAYLOR KELLY OFFENSE) After setting career highs in competions, attempts and yards against Wisconsin (29-of-51 for 352 yards), Taylor Kelly one-upped himself against Stanford, going 30-of-56 for 367 yards to reset his career highs in all three categories. The school record holder in completion percentage and efficiency after last season, Kelly has thrown for 22 touchdowns with six interceptions, completing 181-of-276 of his passes (.656) for 2,426 yards (303.3 ypg) in his last eight games dating back to last season. He has amassed an impressive 161.4 quarterback rating during that span. With five consecutive games of throwing for 300 or more passing yards this season, Kelly now has eight career games where he has accomplished the feat, moving him into sole possession for the third-most games with 300 or more passing yards behind only Andrew Walter (12) and Rudy Carpenter (11). Kelly is one of just three FBS quarterbacks this season to surpass 300 passing yards in each of their starts to date (Sean Mannion of Oregon State and Keith Wenning of Ball State being the others). Statistically, the team relies heavily on Kelly’s ball protection, however, as ASU is 2-7 with Kelly as the starter when he throws an interception, compared to an unblemished 9-0 record when he doesn’t.
GRICE, GRICE BABY Marion Grice proved to be one of the top junior college additions in the country last year after leading the team with 19 touchdowns (11 rushing, eight receiving) on the season - tied for the third-highest single season total in school history behind just Wilford White (1950, 22) and Terry Battle (1996, 20) on the all-time list. Grice’s knack for finding the end zone became commonplace, as he posted touchdowns on 19 of his 144 offensive touches last year (13.2 percent). In his last eight games dating back to last season, Grice has found the end zone 19 times (13 rushing, six receiving) - scoring at least one touchdown in each of those contests. The school record for most consecutive games with a touchdown is held by J.D. Hill, who had 13 back in 1969 and 1970. In 2013, he is averaging a touchdown every 8.0 times he touches the ball (13 TDs on 104 touches/12.5 percent of touches). He currently is second in the conference among players with at least 40 touches with a touchdown every 8.0 touches behind Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks (TD per 7.1 touches), It should be noted, however, that Grice has significantly more touches than any others in the top four, posting 104 touches to just 64 by Brandin Cooks, 45 by De’Anthony Thomas and 51 by B.J. Denker.
#LOOKGRICEBEFORECROSSING Marion Grice not only leads the nation in scoring this year at 15.6 points per game, but he is able to get it into the end zone in a variety of ways. Last season, Grice led the nation’s running backs with eight receiving touchdowns. He is on pace for that feat again in 2013 as he leads the nation’s running backs again with five receiving TDs this year. Grice is on pace to upend all manners of scoring records for ASU. He now has 32 career touchdowns, ranking him seventh all-time in ASU history, despite playing in just 18 games. It is highly unlikely Grice will track down the ASU career touchdown record of 48, held by Woody Green and Wilford White but at Grice’s current rate, Leon Burton’s third-place hold with 42 touchdowns is just within sight. White holds the record for points per game in a season, scoring 13.6 per game back in 1950. White’s touchdowns per game for a career record of 1.33 might also be in jeopardy with Grice currently averaging 1.78 per game. Entering this month, Grice became one of just four FBS players in the past decade to score 12 touchdowns before November. Michael Crabtree had 14 for Texas Tech in 2007 in five games while MSU’s Javon Ringer also had 12 in five games in 2008. Grice joined Tempe’s Bernard Pierce (2011) as the only two players to accomplish the feat in just four games. Additionally, Grice has been clutch on third downs, converting a team-leading 11 opportunities.
#DYNAMICDUO Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are two of just five FBS players that return this season that had both 400 yards on the ground AND through the air last year. and played a large part in a running-back-by-committee approach last season that accounted for a large chunk of ASU’s total yardage on the season. The pair combined for 158 of the team’s 427 total yards of offense against Notre Dame (37.0 percent) and thus far this season, the duo has combined for 937 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns. The 779 yards represents 38.3 percent of ASU’s TOTAL yards from scrimmage to date this season. The duo is key in the clutch as well, accounting for 47 of the team’s 112 non-penalty induced first downs this season (42.0 percent).
TWO IS BETTER THAN ONE Grice and Foster return 2,130 combined yards from last season (1,172 rushing, 958 receiving) and 25 touchdowns. Among Pac-12 programs returning dual backs where one back didn’t take over 75 percent of the touches between the two, only the Oregon squads returned numbers that came close to stacking up. Oregon State returns Storm Woods and Terron Ward, who combined for 1,747 yards (1,355 rushing, 392 receiving) and 19 touchdowns. Oregon, which lost Kenjon Barner to graduation, returns a tandem of De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall, who put up a combined 1,607 yards (1,148 rushing, 459 receiving) and 20 touchdowns.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE D.J. Foster came to ASU last season as what many considered the “gem” of the Sun Devil recruiting class and he lived up to the hype. Foster was second on the team in all-purpose yardage with 1,026 yards last year (493 on the ground and 533 by air). His ability to make what the ASU coaching staff calls “explosive plays” (rushes of 12 or more yards, receptions of 16 or more yards) helped him stand out amongst an offense full of talented players as he led the team in such plays with 31 total (18 receiving and 13 rushing). He has nine such plays already this season, currently third on the team. Foster has made his mark in the receiving game this season with 31 grabs for 329 yards (10.6 ypc) through four games, ranking second on the team in both categories. He has a knack for getting to the first down marker as he is currently third on the team with 18 first downs on 46 touches this season.
A STRONG START All told, 23 Sun Devils have made their debuts this season, but none are turning as many heads as Jaelen Strong. The junior college transfer leads the team in receptions and yards with 39 grabs for 569 yards (7.8 rpg/113.8 ypg) and three touchdowns this season. Through his first four games, Strong made his mark by posting the best four starts on any receiver in yards and receptions in school history. Prior to Strong, no Sun Devil wide receiver in history had posted more than one 100+ yard game in their first four spots. Strong accomplished the feat three times and has four 100+ yard games in a row through his first five games at ASU. Here’s a look at some of the top ASU wide receivers of all-time in their first four starts and how Strong stacks up.
THE FORCE IS STRONG Just as impressive as Jaelen Strong’s statsitics are, his ability to make catches when they count can’t be overlooked. A total of 25 of his receptions have gone for first downs while he has also drawn six pass interference penalties against opposing defenses (four of which resulted in first downs, two were declined), thus playing a role in 29 of ASU’s 126 total first downs this season (23.0 percent), easily leading the team in that category. His seven receptions for a first down on either third or fourth down currently lead the team and two of his three touchdown grabs this season have come on fourth down. Additionally, Strong leads the team in explosive plays (rushes over 12 yards and receptions over 16 yards) with 17 this season. Averaging just under eight receptions per game, Strong currently ranks ninth nationally in the nation in the category (7.8) and is 14th nationally in receiving yards per game at 113.8 yards per game. ASU has had just three wide receivers average over 100 yards per game in a season in history with Derek Hagan and Shaun McDonald doing it twice while Gerrell Robinson was the last to do it in 2011, posting a school record 107.5 yards per game.
HOLD ‘EM BACK ASU prided itself on its aggressive defense last season, forcing 117 tackles for a loss of 497 total yards - a 9.00 TFL per game mark that led the nation. As a whole, ASU had a combined 155 defensive plays that went for a loss or no gain out of 953 offensive plays the opposition ran and if you tack on incomplete passes to the mix, then ASU forced 341 plays that did not result in positive yardage (35.8 percent of opponent’s plays from scrimmage). ASU had four tackles for loss against Notre Dame and two stops at the line of scrimmage along with 21 incomplete passes (27 negative or zero-yardage plays out of 75 or 34.7 percent of plays from scrimmage. To date this season, the ASU defense has held offenses to 111 plays (out of 325 by the opposition) that have not earned positive yardage (includes incomplete passes) - a 34.2 percentage rate of plays run from the line of scrimmage.
BETTER SUITED FOR HANDKERCHIEFS The Sun Devils don’t give referees much reason to reach for their pockets under Todd Graham. Nine of ASU’s 12 least penalized games since 2006 have come under Todd Graham, including two of the three games played this season. Two of those games gave come during the current season.
MORE ON PENALTIES Todd Graham has had a knack for having some of the most disciplined teams in the nation when it comes to penalty yards. In each of his seven seasons as a head coach, Graham’s teams have been consistently ranked among in the top half of the least penalized teams in the country in both yards and penalties per game. In 2012, the Sun Devils finished 10th in fewest penalties (4.23) and eighth in fewest penalty yards per game (34.9). In 2013, ASU ranks eighth nationally in penalties per game (3.6) and is 17th in penalty yards per game at (36.0), leading the Pac-12 in the former and second in the latter.
LIGHT ‘EM UP Putting points on the scoreboard won’t typically be a problem with Mike Norvell heading the offense, as ASU 62 points against USC will show. ASU is averaging 45.0 points per game over the last eight games dating back to last season. ASU’s 118 combined points in the last two season openers (ASU defeated NAU 63-6 last season) are the highest in consecutive openers in program history and ASU’s 87 points through the first two games were the third most in ASU history behind last year’s team (108) and the 94 put up by Dirk Koetter’s squad in 2005. ASU’s 62 points against USC tied for the most any team has ever scored against the Trojans and marked the first time ASU had dropped 50+ on its Pac-12 South rival. It was the second most points ASU has ever scored in a conference matchup behind only the 65 scored against Stanford in 2002. ASU went 86 games without scoring 60 from 2005-2011. Under Coach Graham it has scored 60 3 times (63 NAU, 62 Navy, 62 USC). The Sun Devils currently rank 16th nationally at 42.2 points per game.
MAKE ‘EM PAY ASU put points on the board following all four of Sacramento State’s turnovers in the opener as well as capitalizing on all of USC’s four turnovers, continuing a trend that started last year when the Sun Devil offense put points in the bank on 70.0 of its conversion opportunities, scoring 18 touchdowns off of 30 turnovers forced. ASU outscored opponents 139-58 in points off turnovers over the course of last season, despite posting just a middling +6 number in the takeway category. Much of that came by way of the defense, which did an admirable job of limiting opponents following turnovers by the offense. Last, ASU’s opponents scored on just 41.7 percent of their drives following an ASU turnover and scored just seven touchdowns in that span on 24 turnovers. In 2013, ASU is outscoring it’s opponents 51-28 on points off turnovers despite hosting just a +3 advantage in turnover margin. ASU has put points on the board following 81.8 percent of oppponent turnovers compared to just the 50 percent clip ASU opponents are scoring off of Sun Devil turnovers. ASU has six touchdowns on 11 opponent turnovers, aided by two interception returns for touchdowns.
THE ALTERNATIVE DEFINITION OF “SCORING DEFENSE” Scoring defense is an official statistic credited to defenses based on how many points they allow per game. The ASU defense worked to re-write that definition with a defense that finds a way to directly lead to points on the board. Alden Darby’s interception return for a touchdown against USC was the first such instance this season, followed by Osahon Irabor’s against Notre Dame. Last year, ASU had three interceptions returned for touchdowns on the year (Alden Darby - 70 yards at USC, Anthony Jones - 36 yards vs Oregon and Brandon Magee - 45 yards vs NAU) and one fumble recovery for a touchdown (Junior Onyeali vs Oregon State). Considering points off turnovers that the ASU offense scored, the ASU defense had a hand in 165 of the 499 points (33.1 percent) scored for the Sun Devils last season and is off to a great start this year, having placed their stamp on 51 of ASU’s 211 points in 2013 (24.2 percent) of ASU’s points scored this year. ASU now has five interception returns for touchdowns under Graham, compared to posting just four total in the previous three seasons prior to 2012.
WINNING THE BATTLE FOR FIELD POSITION The Sun Devils were largely exceptional when it came to starting field position last season, and picked that up again in the opener. The Sun Devils started in USC territory three times against the Trojans while no USC drive started on ASU’s side of the field. The opposite was true against Notre Dame with ASU starting, on average, at its own 21-yard line compared to the Cardinal starting at their own 36-yard line on average. Under Todd Graham, ASU has had an average starting yard line of its own 37.4 in 11 victories compared to a starting yard line of the 23.7 for their opponents in such contests. Conversely, opponents have an average starting field position of the their own 34.8 yard line compared to ASU starting at its own 28.7 in ASU losses. Some of this year’s credit goes to placekicker Alex Garoutte, who has 20 touchbacks on 38 kickoffs - a 52.6 percent average that is notable as he only averaged a touchback 38.9 percent of the time last season. Last season, ASU posted an average starting spot of their own 33-yard line that ranked 10th in the nation. The Sun Devils also held their opponents to an average starting line of their own 28-yard-line, a total that ranked 24th nationally. The Sun Devils were impressive in turning bad field position into a positive against Wisconsin, having two scoring drives of 90+ yards, an impressive accomplishment as ASU had just two such drives in the entirety of 2012.
THE STREAK GROWS Seniors Evan Finkenberg and Osahon Irabor began 2013 as two of the most seasoned starters in the Pac-12. Only Oregon State’s Michael Philipp (40) has more starts than Finkenberg and Irabor, who each have 38. Irabor’s statistic is particularly notable as he has started all 38 of his games consecutively - a mark that paces the Pac-12 Conference ahead of Washington State’s John Fullington, who has 36.
GOLD ZONE One area that has seen improvement this season for the Sun Devils is red zone offense, with ASU putting points on the board 94.7 percent of the time - and a perfect 100 percent in the last three games - against FBS opponents, ranking 13th nationally in the category, as per TeamRankings.com. Last season, ASU scored just 76.1 percent of the time and ranked a lowly 93rd in the nation against FBS opponents. On the flip side, ASU is allowing its FBS opponents to score 93.8 percent of the time this season when entering the red zone (ranked 106th nationally), compared to an 80.5 percent figure last season that was 51st in the nation - a factor the Sun Devils are sure to want to address.
AIR RAID In 2012, the Sun Devil offense averaged 32.8 passing attempts per game in games amongst FBS opponents, a tally that ranked 68th nationally. Thus far in 2013 against FBS teams, ASU is averaging 47.2 passing attempts per game - a figure that sits eight in the country. The number is also notable as ASU is also averaging 29.0 completions per game this season against FBS opponents, nearly matching the total passing attempts per game from last season. While it’s possible to look at that as a bad statistic or a reflection of a weak running game, but ASU is still moving the ball admirably, averaging nearly 490 yards of total offense per game in four games this season - about 30 more yards than it averaged per game in 2012.
A SUTTON IMPACT ASU’s consensus All-American, senior Will Sutton, finally got an opportunity to leave his mark against USC, finishing the game with 2.0 tackles for loss and his first sack of the season on USC’s first snap of the game. Despite facing double teams nearly every snap this season, Sutton has 16.0 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks with a fumble recovery. While quarterback hurries aren’t an officially kept stat, a look through the game tape would show Sutton having his nose in more than a couple plays despite the lack of eye-popping numbers. Sutton posted 23.5 tackles for loss last season (fourth-most in ASU history) and 13.0 sacks (fourth in ASU history).
DON’T FORGET BRADFORD With the incredible season posted by Will Sutton last year, it was almost easy to forget the phenomenal year put forth by Carl Bradford. Playing out of the Devilbacker position, Bradford finished the year with 81 tackles (fourth on team), 20.5 tackles for loss (second on team and 10th-most in school history) and 11.5 sacks. His three forced fumbles tied Sutton for most on the team and his two fumble recoveries tied Deveron Carr for the team lead as well. He also added an interception for good measure. Since sacks started being recording in 1978, only four sophomores in Sun Devil history have amassed 10 or more sacks and Bradford’s 11.5 were more than all of them - a list that includes Shante Carver (11/1991), Dexter Davis (10.5/2007) and Terrell Suggs (10/2001). Bradford was one of just five FBS players last season to total 80+ tackles, 20+ TFLs AND 10+ sacks on the year. After a quiet opener, Bradford seems to be back in the thick of things, posting 20 tackles in the last four contests with 5.0 coming for loss and 2.0 sacks in the process, both numbers leading the team.
#DYNAMICDUOPARTDEUX Between Bradford and Sutton, the Sun Devils have formidable a defense duo as any in the nation. Only 10 returning FBS players posted 10+ sacks in 2012. Sutton and Bradford are the only teammates on that list. There were a total of 51 FBS teams that had fewer sacks in 2012 than Sutton and Bradford had combined (24.5). Not since 1978 has ASU had a pair of players post 20+ TFLs and 10+ sacks in the same season (Al Harris 22 TFL/19 sacks and Bob Kohrs 20 TFL/14 sacks). As a team, Boston College only had one more TFL in 2012 than Sutton and Bradford had combined (44.0 TFL for Sutton and Bradford). Only 10 returning FBS players posted 10+ sacks in 2012. Sutton and Bradford are the only teammates on that list. 51 FBS teams had fewer sacks in 2012 than Sutton and Bradford had combined (24.5).
NOT PLAYING COY Chris Coyle put up one of the best seasons in tight end history at ASU in 2012. Coyle finished third in the nation in tight end receptions per game with 4.38. His 57 receptions led the Sun Devils and were a new single-season best all-time for ASU tight ends. Coyle finished with five touchdown catches on the year, one shy of the single-season tight end record set by Miller and Joe Petty. Coyle has 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns to date this season, averaging an solid 17.2 yards per catch. Coyle is seventh in the nation in yardage and receiving yards per game at tight end, averaging 54.8 yards per contest.
NOT IN IRABOR’S HOUSE Defensive back Osahon Irabor was a force last year with 14 passes defended on the season to lead the team. What’s more impressive is that he didn’t have a single pass interference called against him all season after having seven called against him in 2011 . The 14 pass breakups in 2012 were the most by a Sun Devil since Justin Tryon had 16 in 2007. Irabor was arguably the defensive player of the game against Wisconsin, leading the team with seven tackles and 2.5 TFLs along with a sack. Irabor current is fourth on the team with 23 tackles this season. He already has 4.5 tackles for loss this season, an impressive statistic considering he had ZERO in the previous two seasons. Irabor recorded his first interception of the season against USC and followed that up with his first career pick-six against Notre Dame - a 37-yard march to the house which was notable as it was Irabor’s fifth career interception but just the first to result in positive yardage after his return against USC was negated by a penalty.
INTERCEPTION DARBY Alden Darby has made a reputation as a ball-hawking safety during his four year’s at Arizona State, logging his seventh and eighth interception of his career against USC and recording his second pick-six in the process. He now has 238 all-time career interception return yards, which is the fourth-most interception return yards all-time and is slowly sneaking up on the all-time record of 324 career interception return yards, set by Nathan LaDuke back in 1987-90. Darby, a member of the Lott IMPACT Trophy Preseason Watchlist, was named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week for the performance and was also honored as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week as well for the effort.
INFO-GRAHAM Over his four seasons prior to coming to ASU -- one at Pittsburgh and three at Tulsa -- Todd Graham’s teams rushed the ball on at least 53.4 percent of their total plays. In 2008, Tulsa rushed on 61.4 percent of its total plays. The 2012 Sun Devils rushed the ball on 59.1 percent of their total plays. In 2011, ASU rushed 44.5 percent of the time. Over the past seven seasons at Pitt, Tulsa, Rice and now ASU, only one Graham-coached team has ranked outside the top 50 nationally in sacks. In 2011, Pittsburgh averaged 3.31 sacks, which ranked third nationally. The Sun Devils averaged 4.0 sacks per game last year, the second-best mark in the nation. In seven seasons, Graham is 22-20 in true road games. ASU was 3-3 in such games in 2012. In the previous four seasons, ASU was 5-16. In six of the past seven years, Graham’s teams have ranked 39th or better nationally in fewest penalty yards per game. In 2008, Tulsa averaged just 37 penalty yards, which ranked 11th in the nation. In 2011, Pitt averaged 39.5, which ranked 18th. The Sun Devils averaged only 34.92 penalty yards per game in 2012 which was good for eighth in the nation.
HALFTIME PEP TALKS The Sun Devils struggled the post last season in the third quarter of games, scoring just 91 points in third quarters all season and holding only a 91-86 scoring edge over opponents over the course of the season compared to 145-69, 137-99 and 126-62 in the first, second and fourth quarters respectively. The difference a year makes as ASU has outscored opponents 51-34 in the third this season, a +17 scoring margin five games into the season that seems to have backed the trend of coming out slow in second halves. ASU is averaging 10.2 points per third quarter against FBS programs this season - a tally that ranks 18th nationally - compared to a 7.0 points per third quarter against FBS opponents tally in 2012 that was 50th nationally. ASU is outscoring opponents 123-79 in the second half of games this season and has outscored opponents 72-45 in the fourth quarter of this year’s contests. ASU leads the nation with 17.2 points per fourth quarter against FBS opposition this season, nearly doubling the 9.3 points per fourth the team tallied last season that was eighth nationally. ASU’s 27.5 second-half points per game against FBS squads is currently third nationally.
EXPLOSIVE You’d be hard-pressed to listen to a Todd Graham press conference that didn’t involve the word “explosive” at some point as the head coach makes no attempt to hide the fact that that’s what he wants his team to be. The Sun Devils have a classification of “explosive plays” that equal a run of 12 or more yards or a passing play of 16 or more yards. ASU has 59 such plays this season (44 passing, 15 rushing), showing a renewed emphasis on the skill of ASU’s passing attack after the Sun Devils had more balance with 90 passing explosive plays to 75 rushing explosions. Jaelen Strong already has 17 explosive plays as a wide receiver, notable for the fact that Rashad Ross and D.J. Foster each had 18 all season in 2012, the highest tally on the team.
USE THEM WISELY Todd Graham doesn’t hesitate to use his alotted three timeouts per half when his squad is on defense, a coaching technique that has plenty of detractors. A closer look at the result of the play following those timeouts might quiet some, however. ASU has used eight timeouts this season with its opponents facing first down. The Sun Devil defense has forced a fourth down on six of those occassions, doing so twice against Notre Dame.
IN-ZANE IN THE MEMBRANE True freshman placekicker Zane Gonzalez is quietly putting up one of the more impressive true freshman kicking campaigns in recent memory. Gonzalez leads the Pac-12 Conference in PATs with 25 (he’s 25-for-25). He is tied for first in the conference in PAT percentage (100.0) and he is No. 4 in the league in field goal percentage (72.7). He is No. 5 in field goals (1.60) and No. 18 nationally in field goals per game (1.6) and No. 18 nationally in scoring (9.8).
SCHOLAR-BALLERS The Sun Devil football team has not only showed impressive strides on the field of play, but also in the classroom. The Sun Devils had 51 student-athletes named “Scholar-Ballers” this past season, meaning they earned a 3.0 or higher GPA for the year. That is 21 more student-athletes than the 2010-11 campaign and 13 more than 2011-12.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY One of the more impressive numbers the Sun Devils lay claim to this season will be the eight graduates competing on the roster in 2013. Davon Coleman, Chris Coyle, Evan Finkenberg, Alex Garoutte, Osahon Orabor, Kody Koebensky, Shane McCullen and Marlon Pollard will all compete this season with Bachelor degrees in hand as they complete coursework toward their graduate degrees. More impressive, six of those student-athletes were starters or significant reserves in 2012 and will likely play a large role in things this season as well (Coleman, Coyle, Finkenberg, Koebensky, Garoutte and Irabor).