As the Sun Devils finish off of what Todd Graham refers to it as an “extra week” on his program’s schedule, we have broken down each and every position group on the football team giving a recap of performance with an GIF to match.
While the “final chapter has not been written” on the 2015 season according to Graham, special teams has helped both win and lose games through the first seven games of the season.
The Utah game provided a perfect example of the current state of ASU special teams. For three quarters the specialists, coverage teams, and returns held their own against one of the best special teams units in the country. Tim White and De’Chavon Hayes sprung big returns, Zane Gonzalez was perfect on field goal attempts and kickoffs, and the coverage units kept Ute returners in check. Through 45 minutes it seemed as if Shawn Slocum was in line for a raise at season’s end.
And then the fourth quarter happened.
A mental error by Hayes in fair catching the ball inside the 5 yard line early fourth quarter, two poor punts by Matt Haack, and a penalty by Das Tautalatasi sabotaged what could have been one of the biggest road victories in Sun Devils history.
If left all to wonder, how could this group progress so quickly from the embarrassments of the Texas A&M game during the first week of the season, and then fall apart just as fast?
Haack followed suit with many of his Sun Devil teammates playing perhaps the best game of his career against UCLA, landing Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week awards as a result. His ability to pin opponents and back them up to their goal line has been second to none in the conference this year with Haack leading the Pac-12 in punts inside the 20-yard line. The junior has come a long way and should only develop further under the tutelage of Slocum, but must get over the shanks that have crippled the ASU defense at times during his career.
Gonzalez for the most part has relished in his role as being one of the most active field goal kickers in the Pac-12. After a breakout freshman campaign, his field goal percentage has taken a nosedive to where it stands currently at 71-percent, eighth in the conference. Coinciding with the field goal kicking has been Gonzalez’s remarkable improvement on kickoffs. After years of watching opposing kick returners field the ball and mount impact returns, Gonzalez has all but squashed team’s impact in this phase of the game. He leads all Pac-12 kickers in touchback percentage and has yet to allow an opposing returner to return a kick for a touchdown.
And then there is the improvement in the ASU return game itself. In terms of average starting field position, this year’s squad pales in comparison to last year. Average field position doesn’t just isolate the return game however. Regarding 2015, much of it has to do with the offense’s propensity for three-and-outs.
Tim White and De’Chavon Hayes have become an explosive pairing as returners go. White leads the Pac-12 in kick return average and is the only player to return a kickoff for a touchdown in 2015.