Arizona State Football: Midseason Awards for Players and Coaches
The Arizona State Sun Devils are in first place in the Pac-12 South and have played impressive football thus far in 2013.
Taylor Kelly leads an offensive unit averaging 45.4 points scored and almost 510 yards per game. ASU has showcased its ability to score at will this season and has put up more than 50 points in four of their seven games.
While Arizona State's defense struggled early in the year, it has rebounded quite well and just last week held one of nation's strongest rushing attacks to negative five yards overall.
While head coach Todd Graham's use of timeouts has caused some to scratch their heads, it's hard to argue with how well he's had his team prepared to play at home this year. The Sun Devils' real weakness has been their lack of production on the road.
At the turning point in the season, let's give out our midseason awards for Arizona State football.
The senior junior college transfer has been on a torrid scoring pace all season.
Grice currently leads the nation with 18 overall touchdowns and has excelled in making defenders miss in the open field. He's been a guy that Arizona State can turn to when they need a big play or third down conversion.
One of the main reasons Grice wins this award, though, is because he is just as dangerous as a receiver as he is at running back.
Grice is third on the team in receiving yards and averages almost 10 yards per catch.
He is the kind of guy who can score no matter what, as the picture above shows. This pass was well overthrown but Grice didn't care and went up to make a highlight-reel grab.
ASU's offense wouldn't be even half as good as it is if it didn't have Marion Grice.
Irabor wins the defensive MVP award for his ability to not only play lockdown coverage, but also to help stop the run.
The senior cornerback has made 28 tackles and has 4.5 tackles for a loss this year.
His ability to blitz from his corner position has allowed ASU to add another dimension to their defense and has also greatly helped with their run defense. Irabor has also been one of the surest tacklers on the team so far this season.
Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball told House of Sparky's Ben Haber just how much of an impact Irabor has on Arizona State's defense:
"Oh, very, very important. [Irabor] is one of our better players. In fact, if you start to looking at the plays he has made, he is one our better blitzers also...In order to do the things we want to do you got to have great corners, and he is one of them."
Irabor's solid play has helped the Sun Devils capture the early Pac-12 South lead and will play a major role down the stretch.
While this is actually one of the ugliest plays in all of college football this year, it made a profound impact on Arizona State's season.
The Wisconsin game is one that ASU typically loses.
Sun Devil fans know it all too well—get a late score to take the lead, then due to poor play down the stretch watch the other team win the game.
This time was different, though.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott did come out and reprimanded the game officials for how they handled the ending, but it didn't change the result. The Sun Devils got the win.
If Wisconsin kicks the field goal and wins that game, ASU falls to 1-1 heading to Stanford. A 1-2 Sun Devil team coming home to face USC would have been much different than the 2-1 team that beat the Trojans 62-41.
This referee flub may very well be the biggest play of ASU's season because of the momentum swing it gave the team.
Arizona State's running backs have been the strongest unit on the entire team this year and that's thanks to the coaching work of Bo Graham.
According to Graham's bio, he was the on-campus recruiting coordinator last season before being moved to running backs coach this offseason.
His group averages 177 yards on the ground per game and has racked up 19 touchdowns this year.
Now it certainly helps that he's coaching running backs like Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, but both backs have improved throughout this season and have played pivotal roles in ASU's offense thanks to Graham.
The Sun Devils like to run a quick pace offense that relies on strong running back play. Thanks to coach Graham, they're getting just that.
Most Improved Player
Coleman was an afterthought this offseason when it came to ASU's defense.
Carl Bradford, Will Sutton and plenty of other players were talked about before Coleman's name came up, but he's certainly in the conversation now.
Coleman has 2.5 sacks, 32 tackles and seven tackles for a loss this year and has more than impressed his coaches and Sun Devil fans.
Head coach Todd Graham told Doug Haller of azcentral.com just how impressed and surprised he's been by Coleman's play:
I don’t know what changed. He just … all of a sudden, his lights came on. I think, obviously, it means something to him and that’s why you keep pounding at it. And by no means do I mean he’s not a good person or nothing, but (my strict) philosophy and all that wasn’t a great fit at first. And even at that, he would do a good job, but not a great job. But (over the last couple weeks) he’s done a great job.
Arizona State's defensive line hasn't quite lived up to expectations so far this year, but that isn't because of Coleman.
Rookie of the Year
Sun Devil fans had high expectations for Strong, but few imagined he would be one of the best receivers in the country.
His big body allows him to play a physical game outside and he has the ability to attack the ball when it's in the air. His streak of 100-yard receiving games ended at five recently, but his play caught the eye of the nation as Strong has been added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
Strong and quarterback Taylor Kelly have developed a natural chemistry that allows them to complete difficult passes that ASU hasn't been able to pull off in a long time.
The JUCO transfer is by far ASU's best wide receiver and has made a huge impact on the program even though he's only played seven games.
Bradford got plenty of hype this offseason, but he was always in the shadow of defensive lineman Will Sutton.
Now the spotlight is on him.
The junior linebacker leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks and has accounted for 27 tackles this season.
He was an excellent pass rusher last year, but this season he is playing like a man possessed. Before the season, defensive coordinator Paul Randolph told House of Sparky's Ryan Bafaloukos he thought Bradford had all the tools to take his game to the next level.
He came onto the scene last year and nobody really knew about him and he just quietly had a really good season and his final stats sneak up on you. I think he was one of the most improved players in the offseason. He's going to have to bring all that to the football field and if he does I think he's going to be a dominant and impact player for us
He's done that and more, becoming the best Sun Devil defender this season.