Don Hansen

Tuesday Morning Quarterback

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It has been three days since the Arizona State Sun Devils lost to the Stanford Cardinal at home 38-14 in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Even after those of days, the loss still stings dearly for Sun Devil nation, but with time and reflection comes the following “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” comments:

1. This has been a tremendous season for the Arizona State Sun Devils. The Sun Devils, who are the Pac-12 South and Territorial Cup champions, completed the regular season 10-3.  The Sun Devils finished 5-0 in the South defeating both USC and UCLA, as ASU technically owns LA, while demolishing rival University of Arizona Wildcats. The Sun Devils finished 14th in the BCS Poll, and they have a chance to get their 11th win at the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech.

2. This is not the Sun Devils of the Dennis Erickson era. Todd Graham’s Sun Devils display discipline and character as this season they finished with 3.8 penalties per game (7th in nation) for only 29.2 yards per game (4th in nation).

3. The Arizona State offense was a force this season under Mike Norvell as the Sun Devils  finishing 9th in the nation in scoring offense at 41.0 points per game. This balanced and efficient offense featured a 3500 yard passer in Taylor Kelly, not Tyler Perry Lee Corso, a 1000+ yard wide receiver in Jaelen Strong, and almost a 1000 yard rusher in Marion Grice, who finished with 996 yards rushing before his terrible lower leg injury. The offense could be even stronger next season as Kelly returns with Strong, and DJ Foster showed in the Territorial Cup game that he is ready to step into Grice’s footsteps. De’Marieya Nelson can replace Coyle at H-Back, and several young wide receivers are ready to contribute like Cameron Smith and Ellis Jefferson.

4. The Sun Devils must work on their red zone offense in the spring. Yes, the Sun Devils red zone SCORING percentage is 90.1% which is 14th in the nation, but the Sun Devils red zone TOUCHDOWN percentage is 63.4% which is a disappointing 58th in the country. Walking away with a field goal, or worse no points, is not acceptable in key big games. For example, the big game in Dallas against Notre Dame would have been different if the Sun Devils did not get stopped twice in the red zone by the Fighting Irish during the first half, forcing the Sun Devils to settle for two field goals. Also, in the Pac-12 Championship game, the Sun Devils were trying to fight back early in the 3rd quarter as they started out the second half with two long, grinding offensive drives against Stanford. These long drives are rare against Stanford and their defense, and a touchdown would have changed momentum in Tempe. However, Arizona State walked away with 0 points as Zane Gonzalez missed a field goal and the Michael Eubank package was stopped inside the 1 yard line twice. With so many offensive play makers, this team should have a much higher touchdown percentage in the red zone.

5. The Sun Devil defense, in its second year under the leadership of Todd Graham, Paul Randolph, and Chris Ball, continued to show the ability to get after the quarterback with sacks and tackles for loss. However, it was the secondary which came into its own this season. The four starters, Osahon Irabor, Robert Nelson, Alden Darby, and Damarious Randall, intercepted 16 passes and each member of the secondary had one interception return touchdown. The defense continues to be exciting and attack as the defense won games at Utah and at UCLA toward the end of the season.

6. The defense continues to struggle against pro-style offenses with big offensive lines. Against the Sun Devils this season, Wisconsin scored 30, USC scored 41, Notre Dame scored 37, and Stanford scored 42 and 38. Systematically and schematically Graham will always have an attacking-style of defense, but in the off-season, the defensive coaching minds must review their scheme to see how the defensive players could succeed more against the power-runs. Size and depth play a factor on which Graham is working as seen in his 2013 Recruiting Class which signed big defensive front-seven players 6’6″ Demetrius Cherry, 6’7″ Corey Smith, 6’4″ Marcus Hardison, 6’5″ Kisima Jagne, and 6’3″ Chans Cox. So far in 2014, Graham has secured a verbal commitment from 6’4″ Connor Humphreys and is actively pursuing 6’1″ Tashon Smallwood and 6’6″ Renell Wren.

7. The amount of time spent practicing special teams during the week has not shown up on game day this season.

8. In two seasons, Todd Graham’s passion for football, teamwork, and winning has carried over into Sun Devil Nation. The team has bought into the new organization and system. While there will always be those scorn fans full of pessimism and sometimes anger, the majority of fans were cheering loudly deep into the Championship Game even though the Sun Devils were losing. More fans are turning out for Spring Practice, Camp T, and road games. There is a new fire simmering in the fan base which is great to see and feel.

With those points,  the 2013 regular season has concluded. During December, the website will be full of new content as several new blog series will begin. First, a “2014 Look Ahead” series will review each Sun Devil position group for next season, and it will discuss how the 2014 Recruiting Class could combine with current Sun Devils. This new blog series actually started last week with the defensive line. Next, the “ASU’s 12 Plays of Christmas” will review the top 12 plays of the 2013 season. Finally, our interns have a special semester end blog series with a historical perspective. So even though the games are over, the ASU Devils Den will be working to fulfill your Sun Devil football fix.

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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