Bowl rout gives Arizona State springboard into offseason
Just about everything went Arizona State's way Saturday afternoon in their 62-28 victory over Navy in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Todd Graham's team enjoyed its most complete game of the season. The Sun Devils scored touchdowns on their first nine possessions, which took less than 2:45 off the clock. Against the overmatched Navy Midshipmen, Graham's vision of a "high octane" offense was realized in grand fashion that saw them set a new school and Pac-12 record for points scored in a bowl. The defense limited Navy's option attack and was disruptive nearly every down they tried to pass.
Punter Josh Hubner didn't see any action but doubt he minded, given the score and being able to tag along for a nice trip to San Francisco.
[Related video: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl highlights]
The defense was sharp, the offense was rollin' -- it was a terrific glimpse at what this team was capable of. ASU enters the offseason on a three-game winning streak. Given who comes back for 2013, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl could be a nice springboard into next year too.
The entire defensive line, depending on what Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton does regarding the NFL, should return to Tempe next season. Linebacker Carl Bradford and Sutton both topped the 20-tackles-for-loss mark on the year and would form a tough duo to scheme around. A number of others on the back seven should have experience heading into fall camp.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly, who emerged early in the season and wound up being one of the Pac-12's most efficient passers, moved into second on the school's single-season passing touchdown list after tossing four scores in the bowl game and rushing for another. He was nearly perfect throwing the ball too, with just two drops to mar his 272 yard, 17-for-19 day. Junior tight end Chris Coye became a go-to in the offense and set a school record for receptions at his position.
The team averaged a hair under eight yards per carry behind a number of solid rushing efforts as well.
The best story to come out of the game however, was undoubtedly running back Marion Grice's big day. The junior college transfer had 155 yards on 13 carries for two touchdowns just over a week after he flew home to Texas to be with his family after his brother was killed in an attempted robbery. The uplifting story undoubtedly brought a tear to the eyes of those on the coaching staff, who had made Grice feel at home with whatever he needed through the difficult time. His final touchdown was the 19th on the year for him, good for third on the school's single-season list as well.
[Related video: Graham awards game ball to grieving Grice]
It's a feel-good ending for Graham, who instilled a sense of discipline right away for a program that was severely lacking it. He changed everything from the wallpaper in the football offices to the uniforms and it paid off in ASU's first eight-win season since 2007. The Sun Devils committed only two penalties in the game Saturday, further underscoring their turnaround from dead last in penalties per game last year to 15th in 2012.
If you're looking for the most encouraging sign from Graham's rookie campaign in Tempe, that's probably it.
But based on the way the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl went, there were plenty of other good things for Sun Devils fans to take away as the team heads into the offseason.
Ashley Adamson's recap: