Kicking game one of ASU's few question marks after changes against Colorado; Grice making big impact.
By TYLER LOCKMAN FS Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. -- After making some changes during a 51-17 win over Colorado on Thursday night, Arizona State coach Todd Graham said Friday the
Sun Devils' kicking game remains unsettled.
While redshirt sophomore Alex Garoutte's kickoff duties have not been in question, his field-goal duties have. He missed two field goals and had one blocked against Cal, making him 6 for 10 on the season and prompting Graham to switch to walk-on junior Jon Mora against Colorado.
Mora came out for the point-after attempt on
ASU's first touchdown Thursday, but it was low and blocked, and Garoutte kicked extra points thereafter. Mora, however, kicked the game's only field goal, a 38-yard make in the fourth quarter.
Meeting briefly with local media Friday, Graham said Garoutte would continue kicking after touchdowns but field-goal duties would remain fluid.
"We'll see how they do throughout the week," Graham said. "Mora did have a nice field goal that he made, but I've got a lot of confidence in Alex. We just can't come off a game where we miss three field goals.
"We've got to score points when we have the opportunity. The games were coming into now are going to be decided by a point or so."
Given the tough stretch Graham referenced -- No. 2 Oregon, at UCLA, No. 10 Oregon State and at No. 11 USC -- the kicking-game upheaval comes at an inopportune time, and Graham would like to settle the situation quickly.
"We don’t need to have a kicking controversy right in the middle of the season," Graham said. "We just need some consistency there. We've got confidence in both those guys."
There could me another special teams shakeup in the works too, as Graham said senior Rashad Ross will likely see more action on kickoff returns.
"We'll figure that out as we go through, but I think Ross earned himself a spot on there," Graham said.
Ross took the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards for a touchdown Thursday night, giving him two touchdowns in his last four kickoff returns, the first coming in the Las Vegas Bowl last season. That was ASU's last return touchdown before Thursday, as primary returner Jamal Miles has not notched a special-teams touchdown since last Nov. 12.
WHAT WE LEARNED
• Todd Graham's overhaul is still in progress. In the first half Thursday, ASU looked much like the ASU teams of the past few seasons, missing opportunities and committing costly mistakes. It all led to a narrow 20-17 halftime lead, one that should have probably been much larger. The difference this time, though, was the Sun Devils' response. Graham got his team to rally in the locker room and come out strong, shutting out Colorado 31-0 in the second half. Graham admitted afterward that his players might have been looking ahead a little bit to the Oregon game, but it didn't end up being an issue because the Sun Devils overcame it and took control en route to a blowout win. The first half may have conjured images of past ASU disasters, but the second half was a true display of the changes Graham has made: no penalties, total discipline and focus, few mistakes.
• Running back Marion Grice is the real deal. There was some uncertainty surrounding the junior-college transfer at the start of the season given the challenges of transitioning to Division I, but Grice has shown already that he can hang at this level. While five receptions, 101 receiving yards and three touchdowns aren't huge numbers considering the opponent, Grice had already impressed before perhaps his best game as a Sun Devil. Graham this week said Grice was "just scratching the surface" of his talent and noted his ability as a receiver. While Grice also had three touchdowns and 107 rushing yards in ASU's season opener against Northern Arizona, Thursday's performance came against a conference opponent. Graham loves Grice's explosive ability and will likely look to get him on the field more in the second half of the season.
• ASU's defense is a proud one. The defense could not have been happy about giving up 10 points in the final 24 seconds of the first half, even if the last three were hardly its fault. Thanks to a handful of breakdowns and blown coverages, the unit allowed 166 first-half yards -- not terrible but not a total ASU's defense should be giving up to Colorado. The defense must have regrouped at halftime, because it shut Colorado out in the second half, allowing just 89 total yards while also collecting three sacks and an interception. Senior linebacker Brandon Magee said leading up to this game that the defense wanted to make a statement on national TV. ASU made a statement in the second half, but the challenge gets much greater against Oregon next week.
• Senior running back Cameron Marshall had his best game of the season Thursday, rushing 13 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. With the touchdown, Marshall moved into a tie for second in school history in career rushing touchdowns at 34 with Leon Burton (1955-58).
• While Marshall had his best night of the season, he also lost his third fumble of the season early in the fourth quarter. Marshall did not have a single fumble through ASU's first 11 games last year and only lost two fumbles all year, with the first coming in ASU's last regular-season game and the second in the Las Vegas Bowl.
• Junior defensive tackle Will Sutton padded his team sacks lead Thursday, notching two to give him 8.5 on the season. Linebacker Carl Bradford is next with 4.5 sacks. Sutton also leads the team with 13 tackles for loss. Last season, ASU's leader in tackles for loss, Oliver Aaron, had eight. At the halfway point this year, Sutton and linebackers Chris Young (10.5) and Carl Bradford (8.5) have already surpassed that mark -- a testament to the success of ASU's aggressive defense.
• Junior safety Alden Darby collected his first career sack Thursday, getting to Colorado junior quarterback Jordan Webb for a loss of five yards.
• After tallying nine tackles Thursday, senior linebacker Brandon Magee leads ASU in total tackles (41), topping linebacker Chris Young by one and Sutton by two. Magee also notched two sacks Thursday.
• Graham said more than once after Thursday's game that the Buffaloes were taking part in some "extracurricular activity," implying that Colorado's players were trash-talking and shoving ASU's players after the whistle. Graham has made it a point of emphasis not to acknowledge such displays, but he felt his the Devils do so in the first half Thursday and made sure they didn't in the second half.
• Redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly made a few mistakes early on but ended up having a huge night, going 20 of 28 passing for 308 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressive, Kelly boosted his already-Pac-12-best 166.3 pass efficiency to 175.98.