September 1, 2008

Game Grades: NAU

The Sun Devils easily handled Northern Arizona 30-13 in a game that wasn't nearly that close. We've given a game grade to each position group on the ASU team.

Quarterback: This was a great performance by Rudy Carpenter. Not perfect (who plays a perfect game?), but certainly great. He managed his team extremely well, made good decisions almost without fail (we counted one forced throw), took advantage of what was given to him by NAU and showcased his improved mechanics. The Lumberjacks stacked the box and decided to make Carpenter beat them and he did it with ease. Of course, ASU's receivers completely out-classed the NAU defensive players in a lot of man coverage but if you don't have a capable quarterback it's not likely to matter. 13 straight completions by Carpenter tied a 56-year-old school record and he finished 22-of-28 for 388 yards and one touchdown. It should have been two scores but Jones fumbled at the one stretching for the end zone. If Carpenter plays the entire game, and ASU really had decided to open it up, he probably throws for 600 yards and another few touchdowns. Easily. This was about as conservative a game plan as ASU could have had. Carpenter gets an A+.

Carpenter's replacement, Danny Sullivan, didn't fare as well but it wasn't entirely his fault. He threw a beautiful pass downfield to T.J. Simpson, but inexplicably Simpson eased up on the route almost as soon as he had his defender behind him and the ball was already in the air. It landed a yard long, but if Simpson keeps running, that might be a touchdown. Certainly it should have been a big gain. ASU coaches let Simpson know about the mistake as he came off the field. There was also another downfield drop, and Sullivan was hurt by a generally lethargic group of players surrounding him. Still, he was just average, certainly. Overall Grade: A-

Running Back: Keegan Herring was held out with a right hamstring strain (he could have played if needed according to his head coach) and Shaun DeWitty was also out with a hamstring injury. So the bulk of the responsibility at the position fell to Dimitri Nance, and it was a particularly difficult task considering a) the Sun Devils kept it extremely basic with its play-calling and b) the Lumberjacks decided to regularly put eight and nine players in the box in order to stop the run (especially up the middle on halfback dive type plays, which is where Nance is at his best and what ASU primarily used).

A lot of people will probably look at the result -- 11 carries for 30 yards by Nance and 18 caries for 54 yards by ASU's running backs in total -- and come to the conclusion the run game was completely ineffective. But that's an oversimplification. NAU's strategy to take the run game away is what allowed Carpenter to throw for 388 yards in just 28 passing attempts in two and a half quarters. Most of those completions came as ASU receivers just overmatched defenders in single coverage. Last year ASU had a ball control offense and it's pretty safe to say it can play that type of football again this year when it wants to, but in this game, even though it led the entire way, NAU had 19 more rushing attempts than ASU's 23. And keep in mind, five of those carries were by Carpenter, none of which were designed runs. So ASU called 18 run plays in a game it was leading big throughout. Why? The answer should be relatively clear.

As a result of this, you can't really say Nance did poorly or Jarrell Woods did poorly with his five carries for 18 yards, or Ryan Bass did poorly with his two carries for six yards. There was no room to run on almost any play. We remember one big hole that Nance probably could have gotten up and into on the right, but beyond that, we don't really have any fault with the group's carries. Also, they had a lot of responsibility in the pass game with protections and held up relatively well. Overall Grade: Incomplete You can't really grade the backs fairly in a game like this.

Receivers: Very few games will ever be played where ASU's receivers have a better chance to make big gains and rack up huge yardage. Jones had six catches for 162 yards and did just about everything right except for his fumble at the one yard line. He had some beautiful grabs. Kerry Taylor made the most of his game reps in the first quarter, making a big play seemingly every time he was in the lineup, finishing with four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, his most impressive performance as a Sun Devil. Chris McGaha showed little to no negative effects from his toe inflammation. Nate Kimbrough got second-team reps and had two nice grabs for 19 yards, which was good to see for a player who has continuously worked hard despite suffering some tough luck in the last couple years. Simpson's mistake was one of very few glaring things to point out as negatives. Andrew Pettes had two catches for 13 yards, one of which was quite nice. He was also passed up by Carpenter on a route in the red zone that probably would have resulted in a touchdown, which clearly frustrated him because he raised his hands in the air after the play. A lot of people wanted to see Gerell Robinson get out there and make some plays, but with a lot of good receivers ahead of him, our expectations were more muted so that isn't really a negative. Grade: A-

Offensive Line:One sack allowed (mental mistake according to Dennis Erickson -- looked like a line call issue to us when watching live but we can't be sure), one holding call (Adam Tello), and zero false start penalties. For a group working together for the first time, and including two players who have never played at this level at the left and right tackle position, that's a pretty good result. So much of the line play is synchronization and understanding one another and a lot of that is just game experience and nothing else. Again, some will point to the lack of huge holes being opened in the run game but that's not a reasonable expectation the way NAU was playing defensively. Tello maybe struggled a bit and he was replaced by Tom Njunge, who might be a better pass blocker right now on the edge, but really this was a good night. What was telling to us, was that the first group stayed in even when the skill position backups took the field in the second half. It's another indication of the depth issues here, especially with Matt Hustad and Garth Gerhart held out due to injury. Grade: B-

Defensive Line: Much like the offense, ASU kept things very plain on defense and that has a tendency to perhaps reflect most on the line play whether good or bad. For the most part, ASU played eight players along the line and there wasn't much drop off. David Smith, Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez were playmakers in this game. Smith consistently was disruptive on the interior and he had two tackles for loss. Davis had two sacks and Vasquez chased down numerous plays out of his area. Their backups, James Brooks and Lawrence Guy combined for seven tackles with Brooks sharing on a tackle for loss. Paul 'Unga had two tackles and a pass breakup. This group limited NAU to 3.3 yards per rush on a massive 42 rushing attempts. While there were only two sacks on the night, there was a consistent pass rush on NAU's quarterbacks, and they simply didn't have a lot of time to operate on a consistent basis, and that was even as ASU didn't really show much in the way of blitz pressure. Grade: B

Linebackers: Mike Nixon was the defensive player of the game and perhaps the overall player of the game. He was fantastic. Despite not earning the start and seeing fewer snaps than several other linebackers, he was the top playmaker with eight tackles, one of which was for loss and two pass breakups. Nixon's strength isn't lateral coverage ability but he was disruptive on just about every play where he was called upon to be. There were one or two plays where ASU was burned on rollouts, but on at least one of them, a play call or a mistake by another linebacker is what led to the gains. Nixon also tackled well in space and was instrumental in the team's nickel defense. We were also impressed by the play of Ryan McFoy who came up and made several big tackles in space, finishing with 1.5 tackles for loss and three total tackles. Travis Goethel had a solid performance with five tackles and Gerald Munns had four tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. The player who may have most impressed us behind Nixon was freshman Brandon Magee. He's a lightning fast athlete with size who can eventually become a standout at this level, and he was one of the few bright spots on the second team in terms of big energy, with five tackles. Grade: B

Secondary: NAU had 36 pass attempts and only 169 yards via the air, just 4.7 yards per attempt, which is extremely low. We thought the cornerback play was generally very solid, with Pierre Singfield starting and being picked on the most. Singfield bit on a play-action pump fake along the goal-line, leading to NAU's one touchdown, and he made another clear mistake that NAU failed to take advantage of, but for the most part he held up reasonable well. Omar Bolden wasn't particularly picked on and he didn't yield much. Josh Jordan was the first-team nickel and he made an early mistake with a receiver crossing him that he didn't pick up and he also picked up a personal foul for some action after one play, but generally speaking for a first game, he played pretty respectably and we feel like in the long run he's going to be an excellent defensive back. Terell Carr saw action late primarily and had three tackles.

At safety, Max Tabach actually spent a lot of time on the field with the first-group ahead of Rodney Cox and both players finished with five tackles, the vast majority of which were solo. Both tackled well and that was generally true of the entire ASU defense. Troy Nolan had a relatively quiet evening, with two tackles and not a heck of a lot doing in his area of the field for much of the night. Grade: B

Special Teams: New holder, new snapper in a new season for Thomas Weber, but no problems, at least not in game one. Thomas Ohmart did his job perfectly, with a seemingly good snap every time he was called upon and Weber made field goals of 34, 36 and 28 yards, every one pure. Weber also punted six times and averaged 43.2 yards with two inside the 20-yard line, a very respectable night. In the return game, Kyle Williams had a 31 yard punt return and three others that totaled 10 yards for 41 yards total. Chris McGaha had a 32 yard kickoff return. There were no serious issues with kick or punt coverage. Grade: A

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