Improved receivers looking to take ASU offense to another level

Credit Tim Nelson/ASUDevils.com
Credit Tim Nelson/ASUDevils.com

Sacramento State was a year late.

After watching film of Arizona State’s games last season it no doubt decided it would try the same recipe that worked so consistently by its opponents in 2012.

Oops.

After junior Taylor Kelly threw five touchdown passes in the first half en route to 42 first half points the Hornets no doubt realized they’d made a strategic mistake. They also realized there would be no third straight win over a Pac-12 school.

Last year Sun Devil opponents frequently jammed eight or even nine defenders near the line of scrimmage and dared ASU to throw the football against man coverage on the perimeter.

The tactic usually worked. None of ASU’s most successful receivers were actually wideouts, a bad sign to be sure. Instead, it was tight end Chris Coyle, and running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster who led the team in receptions. In fact, the three players had more catches than all of ASU’s wideouts combined.

This time around? The scoreboard lit up like a Christmas tree. Newly-remodeled Sparky probably needed to go to the bullpen due to push-up exhaustion — 299 to be exact. Starters mulled around the sweltering Sun Devil Stadium sidelines in the third quarter. Fans went home to watch ‘Law and Order’ re-runs. Or whatever.

>They’d seen what they needed to and so had ASU’s upcoming opponents.

A team-high six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown by 6-foot-4, 205 pound newcomer Jaelen Strong. Four catches for 31 yards by much improved sophomore Richard Smith, including a third and seven conversion in which the man coverage defender was left with his legs buckled on what should have been an obvious come-back route. Kevin Ozier running open through the teeth of the Sacramento State defense for a 41 yard touchdown.

Different year, different offensive capability.

“Jaelen is a big, physical guy who can go up and get the ball,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “He gives us a nice target out there. He’s learning, so he’s only going to get better. Obviously, Rick did some good things and Kevin is the leader of that group.”

Wisconsin will have to think twice about playing a game of chicken with Kelly this year. Stanford is going to have to wonder if its defensive backs can handle man coverage assignments on the edge. USC will have to decide if new coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s five and six man pressures leave it too vulnerable to explosive plays down the field.

Ever-diplomatic ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell didn’t want to draw a comparison between last year’s receiver group and this year’s.

That’s probably because there is no comparison. Not only do Strong and the improved Smith give ASU a much more well-rounded potency, the team should block better on the perimeter as well, which is crucial given the type of offense it runs.

Graham had no qualms being straightforward following the game.

“I think we’re a lot better at receiver,” he said.

Yes, they are.