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Monday, January 13, 2014
Season review: Arizona State

By Kevin Gemmell

We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Arizona State.

Offense: With 63 total touchdowns and an average of 39.7 points per game, the Sun Devils were one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They eclipsed at least 50 points in half of their games and were very balanced, ranking in the top half of the league in rushing and passing offense. A lot of that has to do with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who really came into his own in his second season as a starter. His numbers weren’t as great as 2012, but from a leadership and control standpoint, you could see him making this “his team.” His adjusted QBR was seven points higher than last season -- which speaks volumes because the schedule in 2013 was much tougher than in 2012. Chris Coyle was the league’s first-team all-conference tight end and Kelly, Marion Grice and Jaelen Strong all earned second-team honors. And offensive coordinator Mike Norvell was one of the most sought-after assistants in college football. The name of the game is scoring points and the Sun Devils were 11th nationally and second only to the Ducks in the Pac-12. Grade: A

Defense: The one area the Sun Devils really wanted to improve in 2013 was their rushing defense. And they did. After allowing 182.8 yards per game in 2012, they cut the yards allowed to 137.6. But they allowed more points per game and had fewer sacks and fewer tackles for a loss per game than in 2012. The change in scoring defense wasn’t dramatic, they went from 24.3 ppg in 2012 to 26.6 ppg in 2013. But it was still right in the middle of the national average. Where they did excel, however, was in the turnover department. ASU boasted a plus-15 turnover ratio, including a league-high 21 interceptions. They were aggressive and opportunistic, landing three players on the first-team all-league squad (Will Sutton, Alden Darby, Robert Nelson) and three more on the second team (Carl Bradford, Chris Young and Osahon Irabor). Plus Sutton was the league’s defensive player of the year for the second straight season. Head coach Todd Graham personally oversees the defense and in some aspects there was legitimate improvement. In others, minor setbacks. But not enough to really ding them for a pretty good year. Grade: B

Special teams: Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez was a very solid 83.3 percent on his field goals, converting 25 of 30 kicks -- including 4 of 6 from beyond 40 yards. The punt team was a mess and the Sun Devils were last in the league in net punting. They didn’t return any punts or kickoffs for touchdowns and they allowed one kick off returned for a score -- in the bowl game against Texas Tech. They were middle of the road in terms of coverage, though Grice was one of the better kick returners in the league with an average of 24.1. But Gonzalez was really the strength and Graham went out of his way to note that special teams are an area of concern moving forward. Grade: C-

Overall: The loss to Texas Tech -- particularly the way the Sun Devils lost -- naturally leaves a sour taste on what should otherwise be viewed as a very good season. The Sun Devils started the year outside of the top 25 and finished 21st. They did win 10 games, won their division and had the best record in Pac-12 league play. If you’re able to look beyond the disappointment of the bowl game, it was a very strong season given the schedule they played. Graham, rightfully, shouldered all of the blame for the Holiday debacle. But he was also named the league’s coach of the year for the job he did. Perhaps the Sun Devils didn’t achieve their full potential. But they didn’t collapse down the stretch, either, and they proved they deserved to be a top 25 team. Grade: B+