Sun Devils cap spring football with spring game, new twistsPosted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- To close out his third spring as Arizona State's head coach, Todd Graham went into his bag of tricks.
A program-record 8,462 fans came out to Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday to watch the Sun Devils compete in the annual spring game. Rather than use the same traditional format as he had in the prior two years, Graham shook things up.
Graham split up his coaching staff and conducted a player draft split up his team into two separate but mostly equal squads. The top pick was no surprise.
“I was hearing the coaches actually did a draft and I was told that I was the first pick taken, then the gold team got two picks," said safety Damarious Randall.
The game also included a unique scoring system that included a first half comprised of drills and situational scenarios. At the final whistle, the Maroon team topped the Gold by a score of 29-23 to secure not only the win, but a steak dinner. The Gold squad will be settling for tuna, per the stakes set by Graham.
The new format seemed to achieve its goal of raising the intensity from the players.
"It was a good day. I like the format that we did because it created more competition," Graham said.
"I loved it, I thought it was fun," junior running back D.J. Foster said. "It brought a lot of competitive spirit to the table. Our guys enjoyed it."
The day started off with the always physical Oklahoma, or W, drill, which features one ballcarrier with three blockers trying to fend off three defenders. Maroon won that round, as well as the next event, a redzone team running battle. Graham felt it set the tone fore the day.
"We started off with our Frank Kush drill, where we play a little smashmouth and get after it," Graham said. "Frank loves that drill. Then we put the ball at the nine yard line. You couldn't throw the ball, you had to run it. That mentality is the key for us to get better offensively, being able to run the ball straight ahead and downhill."
The Gold team won a pass rushing drill featuring offensive and defensive linemen, but Maroon was able to secure the win in a passing-only 7-on-7 drill, giving them a 9-3 lead heading into two quarters of traditional scrimmaging.
Maroon struck first, thanks to a 62-yard completion from Kelly to Jaelen Strong that set up a Deantre Lewis touchdown run. Maroon struck again. Randall earned his top pick status with an interception that set up a five-yard Kelly touchdown pass to De'Marieya Nelson.
"Offensively, we came out and hit a couple of shots," Kelly said. "De'Marieya and Jaelen had great catches to put it in for scores. Deantre Lewis played a great game today."
Lewis was the offensive star of the day, as he had three runs over 15 yards on the day, and finished with 88 on 12 carries. That gave the senior a strong finish to an uneven spring, but Graham was hoping for a more complete effort.
"Deantre showed a lot of good signs today," said Graham. "He has to be more consistent, it has to be every down. I liked how he ran through the two quarters, I didn't like how he ran in the overtime. That's when it counts."
A Mike Bercovici to Ellis Jefferson touchdown for the Gold team closed the gap to 26-16 in an otherwise defensively dominated second quarter. The action moved to an overtime format.
Marcus Washington, playing both tight end and SPUR linebacker, had a touchdown on Gold's first possession. The Gold defense forced Maroon into a 51-yard field goal attempt, but Zane Gonzalez's kick was just short, giving Gold a chance at the t-bone steaks.
However, the Maroon defense stopped Gold on a 4th and one attempt to secure the win.
"Gold was really down, they fought back and had a chance to win," Graham said. "Maroon team holds down with a fourth down, goal line stand."
While coaches and players praised the competitive aspect, there were a number of mistakes on the day, notably with drops and a sluggish pace that perhaps could have been somewhat attributed to the split squad.
"Way too many dropped balls. Tempo way too slow," Graham said. "We have lots of things we need to work on."
"We have to get our tempo going," Kelly said. "With the depth we had with splitting the running backs and receivers up, that had a bit to do with it. But we're going to have a great summer conditioning camp."
With spring ball behind them, the Sun Devils are now firmly focused on building upon their Pac-12 South championship winning season from a year ago. That's a message that all Sun Devils have received clearly.
"We went far, but we can go farther," Foster said. "We did a lot, but we can do more. We have a chip on our shoulder. We can do a lot more."
“It’s the National Championship. The Rose Bowl. Pac-12 Championship (game)," said Kelly of 2014's goals. "Host it, win it here. We want to be in the top-four with that new playoff race this year. Compete at every level during the summer and get rockin’ rolling in August.”
"We had a great spring, but our program is about one thing: winning championships," Graham said. "Anything less than Pac-12 champions is unacceptable."
SPRING GAME STATS
Kelly: 7/22, 92 yards, 1 TD
Bercovici: 11/24, 149 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Gammage: 1/1, 35 yards
Lewis: 12 carries, 88 yards, 1 TD
Middlebrooks: 6 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD
Foster: 3 carries, 8 yards
Brimhall, 2 carries, 5 yards
Foster: 3 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD
Strong: 1 catch, 62 yards
Washington: 2 catches, 24 yards, 1 TD
Chambers: 2 catches, 23 yards
Jefferson: 1 catch, 19 yards, 1 TD
Gammage: 3 catches, 18 yards
Smith: 2 catches, 8 yards
Nelson: 1 catch, 5 yards, 1 TD
Martinez: 1 catch, 5 yards
R. Lewis: 1 catch, 1 yard
Notable Defensive Stats:
Simone: 9 tackles
Calhoun: 2 tackles, sack
Randall: INT, blocked PAT
Fiso: 2 tackles, PD