Bill Slane

Devils’ offensive line must get better for team to improve

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The term “paper champions” is a favorite in my book. A team can look great on paper but when it comes to game day, it just doesn’t all come together for whatever reason. On paper, the Devils have an offense that should be able to match up with just about any team in the nation. A big, playmaking receiver, one of the best tight ends in the nation, and a 2-headed monster at running back; on paper that looks like a team that should have no problems moving the football. But for the past two weeks, the Devils have had trouble, specifically in the middle of the field, in the run game.

The Devils like to keep the tempo up. It’s a game plan that has worked very well in both the collegiate and pro levels. The problem with running an offense that is as fast-paced as Todd Graham and Mike Norvell like to run arises when you can’t get first downs. It can make for some very fast three-and-outs. The blame lies with the run game for the lack of ability to move the ball consistently; it’s crucial that the Devils establish the run to open up the field for players like Chris Coyle and Jaelen Strong through the air.

“Yeah, that’s been the biggest concern. We have not run the ball the way we need to run the football,” Coach Todd Graham said on Monday.

What’s curious is that the Devils have two very talented players at the running back position. Marion Grice has eight touchdowns (six rushing, two receiving), tied for the most in the nation. DJ Foster has made some great plays as a receiver coming out of the backfield. What’s the problem with the rushing attack then? The problem goes all the way back to camp.

Going in to camp, one of the major position battles was the offensive line. There were some key pieces that the Devils were going to have to replace. It became clear rather quickly though that they were comfortable with an offensive consisting of Evan Finkenberg, Jamil Douglas, Kody Koebensky, Vi Teofilo, and Tyler Sulka from left to right. Through three games though this group has not been all that impressive, and they had a particularly touch game against the Cardinal. There were nowhere for any of the Sun Devils to run the ball; the team totaled just 50 yards on the ground on Saturday against Stanford.

Of course the other job for an offensive line, other than run blocking, is pass protection. Unfortunately, the offensive line did not do a very good job at protecting Taylor Kelly against the Cardinal either. Kelly did not have much time to throw the ball in the 1st half on Saturday and saw far too much time on the ground.

To be fair to the offense, the Cardinal have a very good defensive unit. Led by senior linebacker Shayne Skov, the Cardinal defense boasts multiple players that project to the NFL. That being said, if the Devils want to play with the big boys of the Pac-12, then they have to play with the big boys. They need to improve their game to match the teams that they play against every week, because it doesn’t get easier from here on out.

If the Devils want to achieve the lofty goals they have set for themselves this season, their offensive line needs to improve. If they can do that then the running game can get going, and that will open the field for all of the other players on the offense that have the talent to make big plays.

 

 

 

 

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