TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's hard to start off a season any better than Arizona State did last night.
Their 55-0 win over Sacramento State was dominant in every fashion, from an offense that gained 523 yards to a defense that surrendered the fewest of any ASU squad since 2009. Even the lone injury scare turned out to be nothing major. All in all, it was a good night for Sun Devil Nation.
Let's take a position-by-position look at how the Sun Devils performed on Thursday night.
As a quarterback, when you have more touchdown passes than incompletions midway through the game, you're doing something right. Taylor Kelly carried over his hot end to last season, and was sensational on Thursday. He showed poise in the pocket, improved command of the offense, and great accuracy throughout his half-plus-one-drive of work. He completed 23 of his 31 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns without an interception, and ran for 25 more. A team can't ask more of a quarterback than that. Backups Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici played most of the second half, with each mostly handing the ball off. Eubank did have a four-yard scoring scamper, and completed three of his four throws for 70 yards, although most of that was due to Deantre Lewis' run after the catch. Bercovici's lone completion resulted in a loss of five.
Running Back: B
Another game, another pair of touchdowns for Marion Grice. In limited work, Grice carried 14 times for 59 yards and a six-yard score, and led the team with 65 yards receiving on four catches, including a great 26-yard touchdown reception. D.J. Foster was held in check. Seeing more action as a receiver, he had five yards on the ground and 29 yards on four catches, and was unable to work his way into space. Perhaps the most positive sign was the play of Deantre Lewis, who took most of the work in the second half. He had 53 yards on eight carries, a great 6.6 yards-per-carry average, and had a 57-yard reception on which he showed the elusiveness and burst fans saw during his freshman year.
Wide Receiver & Tight End: B+
No group made bigger strides over than the offseason, and the upgraded talent was on full display on Thursday night. With Sac State's defense creeping up to stop the run, their secondary was unable to keep up with ASU's receivers, and as a result, the Sun Devil pass catchers had a field day on go and post routes in the middle of the field. All five touchdown catches came when the ASU player burned their defender between the hashes. Highly touted newcomer Jaelen Strong shrugged off a drop on the first ball thrown his way to led the team with six catches, and his 26-yard leaping touchdown grab with a defender draped over him was beautiful. Kevin Ozier's lone catch was a wide open 41-yard score, and Chris Coyle caught two passes for 48 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown. New 3-back De'Marieya Nelson scored ASU's first touchdown of the year, a 16-yarder after finding an open spot on the seam, and added a crushing tackle on kickoff coverage. Rick Smith caught four passes for 31 yards. All told, it was not a dominating performance, but one that bodes well for the team down the road.
Offensive Line: B
It was a steady, if underwhelming performance from ASU's offensive line. Breaking in two new starters, some development time is to be expected. The starting unit surrendered just one sack, when right tackle Tyler Sulka was beat off the edge, but for the most part, they gave Kelly more than enough time to pick apart the Hornet secondary. In the run game, they were able to create some holes, but not enough facing an undermanned FCS defense. ASU's average of 3.6 was concerning and nearly a yard below last year's average. Despite that, there were many things to like here, and as this group continues to gel, they will only improve.
Defensive Line: B
Outside of Sacramento State's first drive, the Sun Devil front line owned the point of attack, bottling up the Hornet ground game. Sacramento State managed just 51 yards on 31 carries, a paltry 1.6 yards-per-carry mark. Will Sutton gave fans a scare after staying down after one play, but soon returned to recover a fumble forced by Mo Latu. While they were a brick wall against the run, the unit did not show the explosiveness in making plays in the opponent's backfield like they did a year ago. The line had just 1.5 tackles-for-loss and no sacks, and did not apply the terrorizing pressure on the Hornet quarterbacks many expected.
With the news that Chris Young will be OK after leaving the game with a left leg injury, ASU fans can breath a sigh of relief. The unit's best player, Young was leading the team with three tackles in the first half when he left. Grandville Taylor took his spot and played very well, tying for the team lead with four tackles and making the defense's play of the night, a wild 67-yard interception return that ended just two yards shy of the end zone. Taylor also recovered a fumble. Other reserves played very well, including Antonio Longino, who registered the lone Sun Devil sack of the night, and Salamo Fiso, who had four tackles and showed good range. Starting SPUR backer Anthony Jones added an interception.
After being beat for some key third down completions on the Hornet's opening drive, the secondary buckled down and shut down the opposing passing attack. As was to be expected, seniors Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby played very well. Darby flew all over the field, making a key tackle-for-loss and then swatting away what would have been a sure touchdown. Robert Nelson was solid in coverage throughout the evening.
Special Teams: B-
It was a mixed bag for the Sun Devil special teams. All eyes were on new kicker Zane Gonzalez, who made two of his four kicks. He connected from 40 and 29 yards, but had a bad 33-yard miss. His miss from 49 yards is excusable. In a surprising move, Gonzalez handled the PATs instead of Alex Garoutte, and he made all seven. Garoutte remained the team's kickoff specialist, and blasted nine touchbacks on his 10 kicks. That lone return was snuffed out after just 15 yards by a great tackle by De'Marieya Nelson. The Sun Devil return game did nothing of note, with Robert Nelson's 14-yard punt return being the best of the night. Nelson, however, made arguably the most important play of the night, blocking the Hornets' field goal attempt on their opening drive, marking the closest Sac State got to the scoreboard all night.