Following its dismantling of conference basement dweller Colorado, Arizona State faces its toughest challenge to date in the form of the Washington Huskies at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday.
But which Sun Devil offense will be taking the field?
The one that put up 55 points and looked unstoppable against USC or the one that was a turnover waiting to happen against Notre Dame?
The answers to these questions (and others) can be found in the stat line of quarterback Taylor Kelly. As a starter in games when he does not throw an interception, the Sun Devils are undefeated (10-0). In all four wins this season, Kelly has called his own number in the running game to the tune of 164 yards; with just one total yard on the ground in two losses. ASU is also 8-2 when Kelly completes 65% or more of his throws.
In his second season, Kelly needs to move from game manager to game changer to give the Devils a balanced attack. That means making smart decisions, accurate throws and correct calls under pressure, which he will see plenty of vs. UW, the number one pass defense in the Pac-12.
The offensive line has also been an issue at times. In their two losses, they struggled to open consistent running lanes and allowed a total of nine sacks and consistent pressure on Kelly, even when the opposition was not blitzing. With two new starters and a new position coach, there were going to be some growing pains, but the big boys up front need to be past that by now.
This unit has plenty of talent and natural ability, which they showed against USC and Wisconsin. If they can be more consistent against top shelf competition, they are going to pave the way to some big victories.
When Head Coach Todd Graham brought Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell to Tempe, he was touted as a young, innovative play-caller who could stretch the field and utilize the team’s talent to the best of each individual’s ability. While he showed that at times in 2012, the play-calling this season has failed to be up to par. Last season, Norvell utilized screens and draws very well to take pressure off the quarterback and offensive line, while 2013 has seen a significant drop in the frequency of those plays. He also tends to focus on one player or approach too often, going to a player on back-to-back plays and falling into the defense’s expectations. In addition, Norvell shies away from the run too often, relying on Kelly’s abilities as a thrower and allowing the opposition to anticipate rather than guess the coming play.
No one doubts Norvell’s abilities and he has shown himself to be a more than capable OC, but he needs to mix up his play-calling and shed some tendencies in his strategy that quality defensive coordinators can pick up on.
The thing to remember about all of these issues is that they are fixable. However, with ASU now moving into the most crucial portion of its schedule, these weaknesses must be shored up to keep this season’s expectations within the Sun Devils’ grasp.