Arizona State Football: Grading the Sun Devils' Game vs. Cal
So this is how it ends.
Once firmly in the driver's seat of the Pac-12 South, the Arizona State Sun Devils dropped their fourth straight game, this time to Cal by a score of 47-38, to end a horrific regular season that no one saw coming.
It was a loss that perfectly embodied the Dennis Erickson era in Tempe. Despite being the more talented team, the Sun Devils were unable to capitalize on that advantage and committed more than enough mistakes to ensure their doom.
The loss also ensured that ASU finishes its second straight regular season at a very pedestrian 6-6, including an 0-4 November record. Disappointment reigns supreme for the Devils.
Here now are the positional grades for Friday's game.
As the Devils slumped in a winless November, their star quarterback also faltered down the stretch.
For the third straight week, Brock Osweiler seemed "off." His accuracy, decision-making and pocket awareness were all well short of the standards he displayed through the season's first nine games, and the team suffered for it.
This isn't to say that Osweiler was bad at all, but rather that he wasn't what the team needed to win given the terrible play of the ASU defense.
He made a few nice throws, showing great touch on the touchdown passes to Aaron Pflugrad and Rashard Ross. But he also continued his recent trend of floating balls and forcing passes into coverage, and he tossed two interceptions for the second straight week.
For the game, he finished 21-of-37 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and the pair of picks.
Running Back: B+
It may have been Senior Night, but junior running back Cameron Marshall was the offensive star for the Sun Devils.
He carried 23 times for 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns, which gave him 18 on the season. That number ties him with Terry Battle and Woody Green for the single-season school record.
Marshall showed great quickness all night and was able to turn the corner repeatedly on a very good Cal defense. For the most part, it was his best game of the season...
And then there was the fumble.
Trailing by six with just under nine minutes left in the game, Marshall coughed up the ball, and it was recovered by Cal's Mustafa Jalil. The ensuing Bears drive ate up over five minutes of the clock and ended with a field goal, making the game a two-score affair and sealing ASU's fate.
Wide Receiver: B-
It was hoped that Senior Night would provide a tremendous sendoff to a trio of departing wide receivers—Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie and the scorching-hot Gerell Robinson.
All told, it was a disappointment.
Robinson was coming off a monster 11-catch, 199-yard game against Arizona, his fifth 100-yard game over his last six contests, but he was held in check, only making three receptions for 56 yards. Willie had a terrible night, dropping several passes and committing a costly offensive pass interference penalty.
Pflugrad had the best night of the three, making just two receptions but one of which was a 17-yard touchdown that was the result of a terrifically run route.
The breakout star of the game was junior Rashad Ross, who began the year as a converted defensive back. He made five grabs for 105 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown, and he also had a 37-yard catch, showing off great deep speed.
Offensive Line: A-
The Cal defense came into the game seventh in the nation with 87 tackles for loss, and given the recent play of ASU's offensive line, that number figured to increase dramatically.
It did not.
The line rebounded from two dreadful efforts with a sterling performance. In pass protection, Brock Osweiler was sacked just once and for the most part was given adequate time.
Where the line did its best work was in the running game, where it opened plenty of holes for Cameron Marshall to run for 157 yards and two touchdowns. The running game was only hit for a loss on three plays, totaling just five yards. That speaks to the line's ability to generate a consistent push off the ball.
Defensive Line: D-
Another game, another safe and secure pocket for an opposing quarterback.
Cal's Zach Maynard has had, at best, an uneven first season as a starter, but he looked plenty seasoned against ASU.
He completed 20 of 27 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown and was not sacked or really harassed by the defensive front for the Devils.
The defensive line's greatest crime was against the run. Cal's running attack was supremely effective and ran at will all night long.
Isi Sofele had 149 yards but more importantly averaged 6.9 yards per carry. C.J. Anderson scored two touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and Maynard posted an 8.0-yard average on his five carries. When Cal ran, ASU couldn't stop it.
The line only accounted for two tackles for loss for a measly six yards.
This was, in all likelihood, the final home game for Vontaze Burfict, and many fans seem happy to see the once heralded linebacker go.
He put on another listless game, filled with plays unmade and personal fouls collected. The defense actually seemed to play a little better when he was benched after another run-in with penalties in the second half.
Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker had solid games, with Aaron tallying a team-high eight tackles, two for loss, and Parker not far behind with seven and one. Shelly Lyons made six tackles, with one going for a short loss, but lost track of C.J. Anderson on a broken play and was burned for a 74-yard touchdown reception.
Overall, the unit was ineffective, with the Cal ball-carriers able to shift and juke past bad angles taken by the would-be tacklers. The corners and perimeter were owned by the Golden Bears, and while the tackling was better than last week, it was still under par.
The secondary's horrific stretch of play did not extend into this game, as Cal's dominant success on the ground meant there was not a need to pass much, but it still had its struggles.
Not a single pass breakup was registered all night by ASU defenders, and the quickness of Cal's wideouts posed problems for the Sun Devils all night. Overall, Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen combined for 11 catches for 119 yards; modest numbers for sure, but most of their receptions were uncontested.
The safety play did not stand out, and for once that is a good thing, as they had been abused over the last three weeks. Keelan Johnson did recover a fumble, which was ASU's lone turnover forced.
Special Teams: B
Punter Josh Hubner quietly has put together a great close to the season.
Once again he boomed his punts, averaging 51 yards, and his hang time prevented a single return for the second straight game.
Much-maligned kicker Alex Garoutte finished the regular season strong, connecting on a 47-yard field goal and was decent on his kickoffs.
The return game was solid, with Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross averaging 23.6 yards per return, highlighted by a 51-yard runback by Miles. The coverage teams were good, limiting Cal to just 17.5 yards per return on its six runbacks with a long of just 27 yards.
This is not the strong "F" that the coaching staff has deserved in recent weeks, but in a larger sense, this game embodied everything that has been wrong with Dennis Erickson's tenure here in Tempe.
There were no adjustments made to what Cal was doing offensively, and it ultimately cost the Sun Devils. The players seemed lifeless early on, and while some of that may have something to do with the Devils learning before kickoff they were no longer able to win the South, it is still on the coaching staff to make sure these players are ready for the game regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
The one good in-game move was the benching of Vontaze Burfict, but that was far too little and about three games too late.
In all likelihood, this was Erickson's final home game as the Sun Devils' head coach, and the tenure will be looked upon as a failure.
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