2014 Arizona State Sun Devils Football Preview
The 2013 Arizona State Sun Devil football team came up just short of carrying out their goal last fall. Yes, they won the Pac 12 South and hosted the Pac-12 championship at Sun Devil Stadium, but winning the Pac-12 title game and going to the Rose Bowl was their goal and that came to an end in a loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game.
As we know, the 2014 Sun Devils are predicted to be explosive on offense. They should score quickly and could be better than last year’s offense, which scored an impressive 39.7 points per game, good enough for 10th in the country. And, last year’s offense totaled 457.3 yards per game.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly, who is entering his third year as the starter, is a complete signal caller. He should have no problem continuing to lead this offensive group, especially with talented skill position players like RB, D.J. Foster, and WR, Jaelen Strong. Kelly’s numbers this year could be even better than his 2013 season. Last year Kelly threw for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns, with a 62.4 passing percentage, while being intercepted only 12 times in 484 attempts. Kelly also ran for 608 yards and nine touchdowns.
D.J. Foster, with his ability to play on the edge or come out of the backfield, will be the featured player behind Kelly. He is quick off the ball and a natural runner between the tackles. He will certainly see more snaps as a running back now that Marion Grice has moved on to the NFL. Last season Foster received Honorable Mention All-Pac-12. He put together a good campaign as the second running back. He gained 501 yards and scored six touchdowns. He also ranked second on the team in receptions with 63 and 653 receiving yards, with four touchdowns. The key for Foster this year is to stay healthy.
The receiving group has a proven leader with Jaelen Strong, who is set to build on his impressive 2013 season. He had 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and scored seven touchdowns. That earned him Second-Team All-Pac-12 Honors. Strong will be Kelly’s go to guy and, with his speed, should have some big games. He has the size and strength of an elite receiver, but he also gets separation like few others in the league and should be considered a feared and respected player.
Although the receiving corps is dependent on Strong, the Sun Devils hope some other players will step up. One of those players is Eric Lauderdale. Lauderdale is one of the top overall junior college prospects in the country. He should be a dynamic playmaker, like he was at Junior-College, but we will have to see how he does in big time college football games.
De’Marieya Nelson has the difficult task of replacing the consistently sure-handed Chris Coyle at tight end. He is an excellent athlete with experience at the multiple positions he has played as a Sun Devil. He played in all fourteen games last season at both tight end and running back, on offense and as a special teams star. He even saw time at defensive end in a couple games.
The offensive line has three returning starters, with all-conference tackle Jamil Douglas being the leader. Guard Vi Teofilo and tackle Tyler Sulka are also back. But, this line has to do is protect Kelly. Last year they gave up a Pac-12 high 41 sacks, so they will have a lot to prove this year.
The defense, which was strong, last year in several areas, is essentially starting over. Linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Damarious Randall are the only starters returning for the Sun Devils. The biggest positions to be filled are up front, as they look to replace standouts Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, who have both moved on to the NFL.
Along the defensive line senior Marcus Hardison has a chance to step in and take on a much bigger role. Look for Mo Latu to be a possible starter. He played in eleven games last year. He will hopefully provide excellent run-stuffing tackles. Defensive tackle Jaxon Hood returned to the team in the middle of August. He has the most experience playing with seventeen games under his belt. He has been out for personal reasons and will need time to get into football shape.
Keith Patterson is the team’s new linebacker’s coach and he will have his hands full. He will have a new group of linebackers. The group features D.J. Calhoun, who enrolled early to be able to participate in spring camp, and redshirt sophomore Viliami Moeakiola, who played in ten games last year. They will be joined by Salamo Fiso. Last season Fiso finished with 71 tackles (tied for third on the team last year), including 5.5 tackles for a loss. As for defensive backs, they lost starting corners, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson and safety Alden Darby. Damarious Randall is back at free safety. Marcus Ball and Lloyd Carrington should see most of the playing time and they will be tested early to see if they can hold up and keep their positions. There are others who will see plenty of playing time, including Kweishi Brown, Jordan Simone, Solomon Means and James Johnson.
Special teams will play a big role in this year’s team. Last year Kicker Zane Gonzalez, who was first team All-Pac-12, made 25-of-30 field goal attempts, with a long of 44 yards. That should make the Sun Devils feel comfortable with using him when needed. Matt Haack takes over the punting position. He had 16 punts last year, and his average was 38.2 yards per punt.
The expectations for this year’s team are mixed. They are ranked in the preseason USA Today poll, but other preseason predictions have the Sun Devils anywhere from 3rd in the Pac-12 South, winning eight games, to 5th and winning six games. Most of the doubt comes down to their inexperience on the defensive side of the ball.
They won the Pac-12 last year, thanks to an offense that was able to outscore teams. The defense did play better down the stretch, but overall they really struggled to make the big plays. This year’s defense could be weaker than last year’s group. Do not expect the Sun Devils to be the Pac-12 South Division champs and it will more than likely be difficult to match last season’s ten wins. We do know that this team has plenty of talent and coaching to compete with any team and with a few breaks their way; you never know what the 2014 Sun Devils might do.
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