PAYSON, Ariz. -- All offseason long, the Arizona State defense has been hyped as the strength of a Sun Devil team that has eyes on making a Rose Bowl run. However, for one day at least, the offense stole the show.
A crowd of over 5,300 fans made the trek up to Camp Tontozona on Saturday to watch the team's scrimmage on their final day up north. What they witnessed in the unseasonably warm temperatures was a fine showing by the ASU offense, helped in part by short days by some of the team's top defenders.
Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Alden Darby were among five starters limited to just 20 of the 100 plays, and another defensive starter, cornerback Oshaon Irabor, was held out as a precautionary measure.
The secondary depth was further depleted when true freshman Marcus Ball, the current starter at field safety, injured his shoulder and left the scrimmage. He returned to the sideline with his right arm in a sling, and according to head coach Todd Graham will miss "a little bit". He will be evaluated further when the team arrives back in Tempe.
There was another major injury scare when running back D.J. Foster went down and needed to be helped off the field as with a left ankle injury. However, ASU fans can breath, as he was later moving well on the sidelines and Graham does not expect him to miss any time. During his brief time in the scrimmage, Foster reeled off a 50-yard kickoff return, a 35-yard run, and a 260yard reception.
The high-scoring pace was set early, as the first-team offense drove down the field on a drive that was capped by a Marion Grice touchdown on the first series.
"We were very explosive offensively, and did some great things", said Graham. "Today was dominated by the offense."
After some early camp shuffling, the offensive line group of Evan Finkenberg (LT), Jamil Douglas (LG), Kody Koebensky (C), Vi Teofilo (RG) and new starter Tyler Sulka (RT) have gelled well and earned much praise from their head coach.
"The offensive line was the shining group of the scrimmage," said Graham. "They flat got after it and dominated the line of scrimmage. They were the all star of today."
Another breakout player was tight end De'Marieya Nelson, who had four receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns today. He was able to cap a strong week in Payson with repeated displays of his size-and-speed skillset.
"De'Marieya Nelson is going to be a stud, no doubt about it," said Graham.
Another strong area was the play of the wide receivers, which was unquestionably the team's primary weakness last season. Graham labeled the group "markedly better", and highlighted the play of senior Alonzo Agwuenu today, who led the team with 129 yards receiving, including a 78-yard touchdown.
While he credited the efforts of returning wide receivers Rick Smith and Kevin Ozier, Graham stressed that he feels all five newcomers to the position will play in 2013.
"EJ Jefferson is not going to redshirt, he's going to play," said Graham. "Cameron Smith is going to play, not going to redshirt. Jaelen (Strong) is going to be a big factor for us. I think all five of the newcomer receivers will play."
Perhaps the most reassuring development has been the field goal kicking of Zane Gonzalez, who Graham said "looked great". The freshman hit on all eight of his kicks today, with a long of 49, and after an 0-for-3 showing by incumbent Jon Mora, Gonzalez has a safe hold on the job.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly shook off a less-than-stellar week of camp to return to his efficient ways, completing four of his six passes for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Mike Bercovici struggled, going seven of 17 for 187 yards and two touchdowns, and he committed the only turnover of the game with a fumble. Michael Eubank threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns and added 24 yards on the ground.
Graham was not pleased with the defense's effort, saying that they "were waiting to be done".
On several occasions, the defense received some stern yells from the coaching staff on keeping their assignments, and on once occasion after surrendering a touchdown, were made to do up-downs after they came off the field.
Cornerback Rashad Wadood had a tough day, seemingly being targeted (successfully) by all three ASU quarterbacks. Reserve linebacker Matt Rowe had a strong showing, picking up a pair of sacks and nearly had a interception that would have been returned for a touchdown.
After an amazing improvement with discipline last season, the team was sloppy in the penalty department on Saturday.
"Too many penalties," said Graham. "I think we had 11 penalties, and one that called back a touchdown. We had four defensive offsides. Just to give you an idea of how bad that is, we had four defensive offsides all season last year."
The team will have Sunday off before practices resume on Monday.
SCRIMMAGE STATS courtesy of ASU Media Relations
Kelly, Taylor – 4-6, 72 yards, 2 touchdowns (18-yard TD, 15-yard TD)
Bercovici, Mike -7-for-17, 187 yards, 2 touchdowns (33-yard TD, 28-yard TD)
Eubank, Michael – 10-15, 164 yards, 2 touchdowns (25-yard TD, 20-yard TD)
Cohan, Taylor – 1-5, 6 yards
Rushing – 285 total yards
Grice, Marion -11 carries, 53 yards, 15-yard touchdown (long)
Eubank, Michael– 8 carries, 24 yards (long of 12)
Robinson, R.J. – 4 carries, 21 yards (long of 8)
Kelly, Taylor – 4 carries, 15 yards (long of 10)
Washington, Marcus – 4 carries, 10 yards (long of 8)
Cohan, Taylor – 3 carries, -1 yards
Davis, Terrell – 2 carries, 41 yards, touchdown 26-yard touchdown (long)
Foster, D.J. - 2 carries, 36 yards (long of 35)
Lewis, Deantre – 2 carries, 31 yards (long of 28)
Bercovici, Mike – 2 carries, 24 yards (long of 17)
Davis, Billy – 1 carry, 15 yards
Gammage, Frederick – 1 carry, 6 yards
Receiving – 322 total yards
Nelson, De’Marieya – 4 receptions, 84 yards, 2 touchdown (long of 33-TD)
Agwuene, Alonzo – 3 receptions, 129 yards, 78-yard touchdown (long)
Jefferson, Ellis – 3 receptions, 29 yards (long of 13)
Foster, D.J. – 2 receptions, 41 yards (long of 26)
Lewis, Deantre – 2 receptions, 18 yards (long of 9)
Smith, Richard – 1 reception, 22 yards
Rogers, Darwin – 1 reception, 20 yards, touchdown
Coyle, Chris - 1 reception, 18 yards, touchdown
Lewis, Ronald – reception, 20 yards
Chambers, Gary – 2-point conversion
Rowe, Matthew – 2 sacks, -16 yards
Mendoza, Carlos – sack
Cherry, Demetrius – pass deflection
Gonzalez, Zane – 8-8, long of 49 (49, 45, 44, 42, 40, 39, 38, 32)
Mora, Jon – 0-3 (45, 45, 42)
Garoutte, Alex (extra points) - 6-6
Foster, D.J. – 50-yard return