No Huddle: A High Speed Preview of Arizona State Footballby Tyler Pollard on Aug. 19, 2013, under Arizona State Sun Devils
TEMPE, Ariz.– There is hope once again in the desert, as another week ending at Arizona State’s famous “Camp T” signals the beginning of a new season, with big expectations and extra national buzz for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has got his work cut out for him in his second season at ASU, opening the season with four of their first five games against ranked opponents. However, Graham’s Arizona State Sun Devils head into the 2013 football season riding high expectations. This is the result of finishing last year 8-5 under the first year head coach, the first winning season for the school since posting a 10-2 record in 2007.
The Sun Devils have sixteen starters returning on both sides of sides of the ball this year but more significantly have their biggest contributors from last year returning this year, including redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly.
The Sun Devils will once again feature a very high powered and fast paced offense. Heading this high-powered offense will be one of the most dynamic backfields in the country with senior Marion Grice and sophomore DJ Foster both returning. Grice, a junior college transfer in his first year at ASU, evolved into one of the most versatile backs in the country last year leading the team with a combined 19 touchdowns (11 rushing, eight receiving) to go along with 1,104 all-purpose yards. On the other hand DJ Foster, who in 2012 was one of the only six true freshmen in school history to start the season opener at ASU, is coming back after living up to hype his freshmen year as with 1,026 all-purpose yards. Grice and Foster rank third in the nation in combined all-purpose yards among returning pairs retuning this year with 2,130.
At the helm of the offense will be the redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, whom Graham has a lot of faith in running the offense. Kelly went into last year ranked third on the depth chart among quarterbacks, but after winning the job made sure that the coaching staff didn’t regret their decision. Kelly is a dual threat QB who has an exceptional ability to extend plays, evident in his 516 rushing yards last year. He also is a great decision maker on offense, throwing just nine interceptions last year to go along with 29 touchdown passes and setting a school record completing 67.1 percent of his passes.
Kelly also seems ready to take on a leadership role this year, according to senior tight end Chris Coyle.
“He’s kind of that quiet confident guy,” Coyle said. “Now that confidence is starting to be out a little bit more. People see it in him. He’s starting to lead people on the field, hold the team together.”
Kelly will have to overcome the lack of depth at the wide receiver position, as the team’s top three leaders in receiving yards weren’t wide receivers. However, despite the shaky receiving core, Kelly has one of the top tight ends in the nation to get the ball to in Coyle. Coyle broke the school’s record last year in receptions by a tight end with 57, and was third in the nation last year in tight end receptions per game with 4.38.
On the defensive side of the ball the Sun Devils are once again loaded with talent. It doesn’t get any better then the defensive duo the Sun Devils have up front in senior defensive tackle Will Sutton and junior linebacker Carl Bradford.
After what he did last year it’s hard to think Sutton could get any better, but Graham insists that the star defensive tackle has improved.
“I believe he is a lot better than he was last year,” Graham said. “He’s bigger at 305 pounds. As you watch practice he’s very, very explosive. He’s also been a great leader so he’s doing a great job in all areas.”
Sutton certainly looks to live up to hype this year as one of college footballs top defensive players and as the Sun Devil’s most talked about player. Sutton is coming off a monster season last year for the school posting team high 23.5 tackles for loss and 13.0 sacks. Sutton is the type of player who immediately impacts the game the minute he steps on the field.
In the shadow of Will Sutton it’s easy to forget about ASU’s star in the making on defense, linebacker Carol Bradford. Bradford finished out last season with 81 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks in his first full year as Sun Devil. Bradford was one of the big surprises on the defensive side of the ball and will look to be even better this year.
Sutton and Bradford create one of the most frightening defensive duos in the country for opposing quarterbacks. Between the two they will try and lead a defense that last year ranked first in the Pac-12 and third in nation last year in passing yards against with 105.4 per game and second in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed on defense.
How good this Arizona State team is will be tested early in the team’s very tough schedule to open out the season. After opening up against Sacramento State the Sun Devils will have to play Wisconsin, Stanford, Notre Dame, and USC in consecutive games, testing the team very early on.
The team will certainly try to carry the momentum from winning three straight games to end a season for the first time since 1978 last year, into this year. As a team, coming off a winning season, the fans have high expectations and a lot of optimism this year, something football fans in Tempe have longed for these past couple of years.
Reach the reporter, Tyler Pollard, via Twitter @tpollard3.