ASU rewind: Kelly, defense dominant in big win

Dominant efforts from Kelly, defense among takeaways from Sun Devils' 55-0 rout in season opener.

As coach Todd Graham expected them too, the Sun Devils dismantled Sacramento State in their season opener Thursday night, leaving the field with a 55-0 shutout.

The story of the game was a redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly's dominant performance, in which he went 23 for 31 with 300 yards passing and five touchdowns. He looked every bit like a quarterback ready to top himself this season.

But, as with any game, there was plenty more to the story, from a stellar defensive effort to various statistical feats. To cover it all, here's a second take on Arizona State's big win.


This game turned early. After Sacramento State used 16 plays to drive 59 yards on the game's opening drive, the Hornets had to settle for a field goal attempt, which ASU cornerback Robert Nelson blocked. The block got a sluggish defense fired up and gave the offense momentum as it came on the field. ASU would score on that drive and the next four while Sacramento State did not gain more than nine yards on a drive the rest of the half.


Quarterback Taylor Kelly. A few others impressed on offense, but no one really came close to Kelly. Perhaps most promising of Kelly's performance was his ability to use so many targets. He connected with eight different receivers in the first half alone, throwing touchdowns to five of them. Newcomers De'Marieya Nelson and Jaelen Strong both had touchdowns, and Strong had a team-best six catches for 58 yards.


Linebacker Grandville Taylor. Besides tallying four tackles, tied for the team high, Taylor recovered a fumble and returned an interception 67 yards, getting taken down at the 2-yard line. The former walk-on earned a scholarship last season and has kept impressing since. He had a strong fall camp and an outstanding all-around season debut.


-- ASU's offense is more dynamic. It will have to translate to better competition, of course, but the offense displayed numerous new weapons and new wrinkles, such as the pistol formation. Between Nelson, Strong, an improved Richard Smith, tight end Chris Coyle and running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice, Kelly had plenty to work with.

"We had weapons all across the field," Kelly said. "And they find great windows for me."

One reason for Kelly's big performance: a minimized rushing attack. Sacramento State loaded the box, holding Grice to 49 first-half yards. But ASU showed that if the ground game isn't working, it has ample options -- and can get ample production -- in the air.

-- The defense should be dominant again. Again, it will have to go up against better competition to get a true gauge of where it's at, but the defense ended up looking as dominant as ever Thursday. After allowing 59 yards on the opening drive, the ASU defense held Sacramento State to nine or fewer yards on eight drives the rest of the half, with an average of just 4.6 yards per drive.

It was a surprise that no ASU player notched more than four tackles, although backups saw plenty of time in the second half. It was also surprising that only linebacker Antonio Longino recorded a sack, though Sacramento State limited opportunities by gameplanning to get rid of the ball quickly.

-- Youth may not be served. Only one true freshman saw the field Thursday night -- placekicker Zane Gonzalez -- compared to seven in ASU's season opener last year. Graham said after the game that's certain to change, but he also admitted a new sense of caution.

"We want to be smart about what we're doing," Graham said. "We've got a lot of quality players in that freshman class, and there's no way we’re going to redshirt all of them, but I don't want to play someone in a mop-up duty situation and then regret it."

Graham used Evan Goodman as an example, as the offensive lineman played as a true freshman in ASU's opener last year but only in limited duty after that. Playing Goodman was a decision Graham would like back. Now, he's being more careful when deciding whether to play the likes of receivers Ellis Jefferson, Cameron Smith and Ronald Lewis, safeties James Johnson and Jayme Otomewo, and linebackers Alani and Viliami Latu.


With all but four FBS teams having played at least one game this season, here's where the Sun Devils stand nationally:

-- Total offense: 26th with 523 yards per game
-- Total defense: 3rd with 167 yards allowed, behind Wake Forest (151) and Oklahoma (166)
-- Scoring offense: 11th with 55 points, trailing two Pac-12 teams (Oregon's 66, UCLA's 58)
-- Scoring defense: T-1st. Seven other teams shut out their opponent to open the season.
-- Rushing defense: T-9th with 51 rushing yards allowed, trailing only USC in the Pac-12
-- Passing defense: T-11th with 116 passing yards allowed
-- Fewest penalty yards per game: T-1st with five penalty yards on one penalty. Three other teams had just five penalty yards in their season openers.


-- Will/spur linebacker Chris Young limped off the field in the second quarter and headed to the locker room with about a minute left in the first half. He did not return to the game. Graham said after the game he thought Young would be fine and that it wasn't anything serious.

Young, seeming to have gotten good news, tweeted this Friday morning: "Thanks to God nothing seriously happened! Having faith goes a long way!! Next cant come any sooner."

-- ASU held out the following players with injuries Thursday: safety Damarious Randall (groin), wide receiver Joe Morris (foot) and linebacker Carlos Mendoza (knee).

-- ASU's one penalty for five yards matched its effort against Illinois last season. Like Thursday, the penalty in that contest was a delay of game. In 14 games under Todd Graham, ASU has committed 56 penalties for 459 yards, giving them averages of four penalties and 32.8 penalty yards per game.

-- Gonzalez went 2 for 4 on field goals in his debut, making kicks of 40 and 29 yards and missing from 33 and 39 yards. Slightly surprising was his taking over point-after duties from senior Alex Garoutte. Gonzalez went 7 for 7 in those attempts.

-- Walk-on junior Dom Vizzare appears to have won ASU's competition at punter over freshman Matt Haack. Vizzare punted twice with an average of 43 yards and a long of 45.

-- Sacramento State defensive back Nick Crouch became the first player ejected at Sun Devil Stadium under the NCAA's new, stricter penalty for targeting fouls. Crouch, disqualified in the second quarter for leading with the crown of his helmet, became the seventh player in Division I this season to be ejected for targeting, though one of those ejections was later overturned.

-- Nelson's blocked field goal was ASU's first since LeQuan Lewis blocked one against Cal on Oct. 23, 2010.

-- Thursday's shutout was ASU's first since Oct. 30, 2010, at home against Washington State.


ASU takes on Wisconsin next Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. The Badgers, who enter the weekend ranked No. 21, take on Tennessee Tech this Saturday. Wisconsin has not played in Tempe since 1968.

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