Don Hansen

Sun Devil Study Hall – New Mexico

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A couple days have passed since the Sun Devils defeated the New Mexico Lobos 58-23 in their second game, first road contest, of the 2014 football season. With a defense now starting its third true freshman, Sun Devil nation felt some uneasiness during the second quarter, but ultimately, the Sun Devils emerged victorious on the road with an extremely solid second half.

As some time has passed and the game is watched again in the Digital Video Recorder (DVR), here are some things that stood out:

  • True freshman Armand Perry started at boundary corner, in place of Solomon Means. Perry joined defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood and linebacker DJ Calhoun as true freshman starters this season. Also, redshirt freshman James Johnson started at safety, ahead of Jordan Simone.
    • The new  young starters, Perry and Johnson, made some big plays and had some costly errors. Perry had some successful corner blitzes, but he lost containment on the edges several times. Johnson made some big tackles early on, but he missed a coverage that resulted in a big passing gain for New Mexico when Perry went in for another corner blitz. Jordan Simone and Kweishi Brown replaced Johnson and Perry for several drives and Simone became the defensive stability with his physical play.
  • The Sun Devils only committed four penalties for 30 yards, but the penalties were at extremely critical times and cost the team.
    • On the first New Mexico play, Smallwood jumped into the backfield to breakup a play and senior Marcus Hardison was there for a tackle for loss, but he committed a 15 yard face mask personal foul
    • Smallwood jumped offside to give New Mexico a first down
    • Right offensive tackle Tyler Sulka committed a false start on a critical red zone offensive play which turned a 3rd and 4 to 3rd and 9
    • Left guard Christian Westerman committed a false start on 4th and 1. With that five yard loss, place kicker Zane Gonzalez missed the 44 yard field goal attempt.
  • The Sun Devils converted on a two-point conversion. Another tiny bit of the game within the game as Todd Graham likes to show plays for which other teams must prepare in their limited time.
  • Special teams concern remain.
    • Matt Haack struggled in his two punts. A shank is a shank, no matter the wind.
    • Damarious Randall muffed a punt, but he was able to save it. When he did try to go for a return, there appeared to be four to seven defenders surrounding him.
    • Two blocked extra points is absolutely unacceptable.
    • Gonzalez missed a 44 yard field goal.
  • The offense is powerful, but it still isn’t clicking on all cylinders.
    • Three easy touchdowns in first three drives, but the fourth offensive drive stalled due to a Taylor Kelly overthrow on 1st down and a Jaelen Strong drop on a 3rd down slant.
    • DJ Foster is the key to this offense as he rushed for 217 yards on 19 carries and Foster pulled in three catches for 54 yards. The dual threat running back was tremendous once again. If the offensive line can get any hole opened, then Foster is going to chew up rushing yards blasting through it.
    • Cameron Smith is emerging as a wide receiver to help take pressure off of Strong. Smith led the Sun Devils with four catches for 77 yards and one touchdown.
    • This offense is going to continue to be powerful for years to come with Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard. The true freshmen combined for 10 carries for 78 yards and three touchdowns. Ballage is the big powerful running back who knows how to get the tough yards, and Richard is a dual threat rushing and receiving.
    • However, senior quarterback Kelly and true freshman Richard had an exchange issue on a read option which led to a fumble. With the young defense, the offense cannot turn the ball over and put the defense out there in a short field with little rest.
    • Offensive Statistic for Thought: No tight ends have caught a pass this season.
  • The defense went through a significant learning experience at New Mexico.
    • With the team up 22-0 and then 29-7, the young Sun Devil defense got too relaxed and started making mistakes. Those mistakes led to more mistakes and New Mexico came storming back in the second quarter.
    • On a 3rd and 15, the defense gave up a 32 yard touchdown pass, and as CBSSports pointed out, the Sun Devils had give up FIVE plays over 20 yards at eight minutes into the second quarter.
    • New Mexico exposes the Sun Devil inside linebackers in coverage. Salamo Fiso was beater for a touchdown reception on a running back wheel route, and Calhoun gave up a critical third down conversion.
    • Laiu Moeakiola, nine tackles, and Damarious Randall, ten tackles, had wonderful efforts for the Sun Devils. As the senior leader, Randall came up with a huge play in the third quarter. On the first New Mexico offensive drive, the Lobos converted their first third down attempt. On the very next play, Randall forced a fumble for the Sun Devil takeaway.
    • Viliami Latu saw significant time in the third and fourth quarters at the tiger spot. During one drive, Latu made critical stops on first, second, and third down to force a punt.
    • Will the coaches make a change at Devilbacker? Starting Devilbacker Edmond Boateng finally got on the stat sheet in 2014 by getting in on a single tackle. Antonio Longino was involved with five tackles.
    • Defensive Statistic for Thought: New Mexico and their triple option attack rushed for 207 yards with 3.6 yards per rush average. In the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy, the Sun Devil defense, with Will Sutton, Brandon Magee, Carl Bradford, Chris Young, Davon Coleman, Alden Darby and Keelan Johnson, allowed Navy to rush for 313 yards with a 5.7 yards per rush average.

So what did we learn from our time in Study Hall this week?

The 2014 Sun Devils won their first road game, and the Sun Devils overcame defensive breakdowns throughout the second quarter to do so. The Sun Devils played better against New Mexico than Weber State, so from Week 1 to Week 2 the team improved. Yet, a lot of areas for more improvement exist. The special teams are still extremely concerning, which is puzzling as one of the Sun Devils pillars is discipline. Offensively, Taylor Kelly needs to find his passing rhythm and the offensive line needs to continue to improve. Defensively, the entire unit needs to continue their development and raise their level of play. The improvements need to happen quickly as the Sun Devils start Pac-12 play at Colorado Saturday.

About Don Hansen

Don Hansen

Don is a 2003 graduate of Arizona State University where he spent four years sitting in the front rows of many ASU athletic events leading the rowdy student section. Now, Don co-hosts the "ASU Devils Den" podcast covering every detail of ASU football. Don works and resides in Gilbert, Arizona with his beautiful Sun Devil wife and their two beautiful daughters!

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