ASU game grades for the win over Wisconsin

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The debate over Arizona State's 32-30 win over the Wisconsin Badgers will continue for quite some time, but one fact remains set in stone: ASU is now 2-0 on the year.

It was far from the prettiest game of the Todd Graham era, but it does represent his biggest win since taking over in Tempe.

We take a look back and hand out some grades to the Sun Devils.

Quarterback: B

It finally happened. The Sun Devils won a game in which Taylor Kelly threw an interception, breaking a five-game losing streak. More importantly, Kelly was finally able to rally from early struggles and put on a winning performance. 

Through the first three quarters, Kelly struggled in the face of Badger pressure and surprisingly good downfield coverage. However, he battled through and saved his best for last, engineering two fourth quarter scoring drives led by his sharp passing to the sidelines. Although he didn't throw a touchdown, he did complete 29 of his 51 passes for a career-high 352 yards, and was clutch when his team needed it the most.

Running Back: A

Just how good is Marion Grice? Really, really good.

The senior rushed for four touchdowns on the night, three in the second half, giving him 23 in his 15 games as a Sun Devil. He didn't posted a huge rushing total—84 yards on 22 carries—but he ran hard and determined all night long despite a fierce defense and no major holes to run through. He also proved to be his usual sure-handed self on a night where the team needed it, catching five passes for 50 yards. He also made a few key blitz pickups that allowed Kelly to find receivers downfield.

Once again, D.J. Foster wasn't much of a factor on the ground—five carries for 27 yards—but continued to see lots of time at receiver. He led the team with seven catches on the night, and he continues to be one of Kelly's top targets.

Deantre Lewis caught a 23-yard pass and added 13 yards on a pair of carries.

Wide Receiver/Tight End: C

Where would this group be without budding star Jaelen Strong? It may be best not to think about that.

Strong had some struggles separating early in the game, but turned it on in the fourth quarter. Three of his six catches and 63 of his 104 yards came on ASU's fourth quarter scoring drives. His size, speed, and sure hands were on full display in the game's final minutes. 

Beyond that...ick.

Rick Smith was benched after a trio of bad drops, and was replaced by non-scholarship player Frederick Gammage, who made the first two catches of his career for seven yards. Kevin Ozier had a drop, but did contribute a pair of grabs, including one for 34 yards that set up ASU's first touchdown of the second half.

Chris Coyle was quiet, but sure-handed, catching three passes for 33 yards.

Offensive Line: C

Facing the burly and aggressive front seven of the Badgers' 3-4 defense, the ASU offensive line had their share of challenges, but never became a liability. 

The Sun Devils were never able to generate a consistent push off the ball, and that resulted in a lack of big runs. On the flip side, they didn't give up much ground either, as the Badgers only generated three tackles-for-loss.

ASU's pass protection only gave up a single sack, but early in the game, the Badgers were able to pressure Kelly frequently, contributing to his sluggish start. Once the Sun Devils adjusted by calling quicker passes in the second half, the Badger pass rush was mostly neutralized.

Defensive Line: B+

Wisconsin is a team that doesn't fool anyone offensively. They try to pound teams into submission, but the ASU defensive line did not allow that to happen.

A quick glance at the stat sheet would indicate they, did, as the Badgers ran for 231 yards and averaged 7.1 yards-per-carry. However, most of those yards by Melvin Gordon came on sweeps around the end, while most of the Wisconsin efforts up the middle were shut down by the solid play of the ASU defensive line. 

Jaxon Hood had a fantastic game, clogging up the middle and batting down two passes at the line. Will Sutton, despite a paltry stat sheet of just single tackle, continues to be a difference maker in holding down two blockers on most plays.

Linebackers: C-

It was a rough night for the Sun Devil linebackers.

With the middle of the field held down by the defensive line, the Badgers adjusted their gameplan to run to the outside, and they found plenty of room. Bad angles and missed tackles plagued the unit, allowing a good chunk of the Badgers' 231 yards. Melvin Gordon opened the second half with an untouched 80-yard scoring run. Chris Young was also beat by Badger tight end Jacob Pederson on his touchdown catch.

The bright spot was the play of Carl Bradford, who made several key stops and open-field tackles, while also knocking down a pass at the line.

Secondary: B+

For years, Osahon Irabor has been underrated in the conference, but that needs to come to an end. The senior was outstanding on Saturday, leading the team with seven tackles. He was also the most explosive player on the defense, as ASU brought him on blitzes several times throughout the night to great affect, notching the team's only sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Safety Alden Darby was also outstanding, swatting away a pair of passes and helping keep the passing game in check.

The other members of the starting secondary had some rough moments. Robert Nelson missed a tackle on Jeff Duckworth on the game's final drive that led to a critical 51-yard gain. Field safety Laiu Moeakiola had a rough night in coverage, and also took some bad angles on Badger runs. 

Special Teams: D

In close games, special teams are often the difference, and they nearly were for the Sun Devils, albeit in a negative way.

A bad snap on an ASU punt rolled past punter Dom Vizzare towards the goal line, and instead of kicking it away for a safety to limit the damage, he remained on his feet to try to pick it up. That allowed the Badgers' Beau Allen to pounce on it for a touchdown just 54 seconds after Wisconsin took a 7-3 lead. Vizzare averaged just over 37 yards on his punts, with a long of 41. The team's best punt of the night came from Taylor Kelly, who pooched punted for the ninth time in his career, and for the eighth time, it was pinned inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Kicker Zane Gonzalez did not miss on the night, making a pair of easy field goals from 19 and 34 yards and both of his extra points. Alex Garoutte continued his strong start, launching four of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks.

It was an average night in the return game for ASU. Grice had three returns, none longer than 23 yards, with Darby taking one 26 yards. Nelson took two punts back for a total of 12 yards. On coverage, ASU was able to recover a muffed Badger punt, and did not give up any big returns.