5 Thoughts Sun: Arizona State 36, Duke 31

    Dec. 27 Hyundai Sun Bowl Arizona State 36, Duke 31 And You Care Because … Arizona State avoided a collapse late as Kalen Ballage returned a kickoff 96

    December 27, 2014

    Dec. 27 Hyundai Sun Bowl
    Arizona State 36, Duke 31 

    And You Care Because … Arizona State avoided a collapse late as Kalen Ballage returned a kickoff 96 yards leading to a Demario Richard four-yard touchdown catch off a shovel pass for a 36-31 lead. The Sun Devils missed on the two-point conversion, and Duke roared down the field to get into position for the possible game-winning touchdown, but Kweishi Brown picked off an Anthony Boone pass in the end zone and the Sun Devils were able to run out the clock. ASU held a 20-3 lead in the first half on two Zane Gonzalez field goals and two short touchdown runs from Demario Richard, but Boone threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Shaquille Powell, and Jamison Crowder returned a punt 68 yards for a score to make it a game. Just when it seemed like the Sun Devils took control with an 11-yard touchdown catch from Richard and a third Gonzalez field goal, Boone was at it again with a 14-yard TD pass to Johnell Barnes and a trick play 12-yard scoring pass from Crowder to Issac Blakeney on the way to a 31-30 lead before Ballage’s big return. 
    What Else? Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly completed 24-of-34 passes for 240 yards and two scores, and ran nine times for 24 yards 
    – Duke QB Jamison Crowder completed 15-of-31 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns with a pick, and ran six times for 92 yards. Duke WR Jamison Crowder caught seven passes for 102 yards, returned a punt 68 yards for a score, and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass
    – Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong caught seven passes for 103 yards 
    – Fourth downs: Duke 4-of-4 – Arizona State 2-of-4 
    Game Rating: A- 

    By Pete Fiutak 
    1. Arizona State came up with a ten-win season under Todd Graham, and yet it seems like this is just the beginning of something terrific. 

    The Sun Devils might lose some key parts to their passing game, and Mike Bercovici has to prove he can be a steady quarterback in a full-time role, but they have lots and lots of playmakers. Kelly had a great game, Jaelen Strong was Jaelen Strong with seven catches for 103 yards, and Demario Richard scored three times, but when the game was on the line, it was a kick return from Kaelen Ballage and an interception from Kweishi Brown that led to the win. And that’s what Graham is building – a team full of difference-makers. Yeah, ASU has to be more physical at times, and the defense struggled in key parts this season, but something special is building. Some teams feed off the confidence of a bowl win, and ASU should do just that. 

    By Rich Cirminiello 
    2. Bedeviled once more. 

    Duke has made incredible progress in recent years under David Cutcliffe, particularly since 2012. But the inability to break through in the postseason is going to haunt this program until it finally wins its first bowl game since 1961. 

    The Blue Devils were so close … again. And fell short … again, losing to Arizona State, 36-31, when Sun Devil CB Kweishi Brown picked off an Anthony Boone pass in the end zone that was earmarked for WR Jamison Crowder. Cutcliffe called an excellent overall game, shaking off a slow start and the inconsistency of Boone to back the more talented ASU into a corner right until the final gun. 

    The Sun Devils were sloppy in El Paso, but a win’s a win, and that tenth win will build momentum for Todd Graham and his staff heading into Signing Day. Arizona State was able to showcase one its young stars, true freshman RB Demario Richard, who’ll combine with all-purpose star D.J. Foster and QB Mike Bercovici to give the 2015 squad the building blocks of another potent and diverse offense. 

    E-mail Phil Harrison
    Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFB
    3. Duke was unable to come all the way back, but it didn’t go quietly into the El Paso night because of the identity it takes from its head coach. Somewhere, somehow, David Cutcliffe is going to get a shot to run a bigger-time program. With all of the academic standards, lack of facilities, and lack of tradition, Duke is in the team picture for one of the hardest programs in college football to keep at a winning level. All Cutcliffe has done is make the Blue Devils relevant at the basketball rich school. They enjoyed a Coastal Division championship in 2013, and finished an eyelash away from one again this year. Bowl games have come an expectation rather than an outlandish dream, and a winning culture is set.

    For Arizona State, this caps off a very successful season, but the program needs to find a killer instinct with more explosive athletes to get to a level close to Oregon. The Sun Devils have always been somewhat of a quirky program in the Pac-12, but head coach Todd Graham is trying to change the perception of the Sun Devils from one that makes a splash every few years in the Pac-12, to one that contends on an annual basis. The Phoenix area is booming, and the weather is great, meaning there’s something to sell, it’s now up to Graham to keep the winning going. This year was a good start, but there’s still work to do. 

    4. What’s next for Arizona State 
    The offense should continue to explode despite the loss of QB Taylor Kelly and with star receiver Jaelen Strong going early to the NFL. The interior of the line is back, but tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are done. D.J. Foster and Damario Richard are explosive backs who should get between the tackles a bit more, but the O will still rely on the passing game – QB Mike Bercovici will have a huge year. 
    The defense gets just about everyone back. S Damarious Randall – the team’s leading tackler – and DE Marcus Hardison are gone, but that’s about it. Six of the top seven and 16 of the top 18 tacklers return including dangerous linebackers Salamo Fiso and Laiu Moeakiola. The punting game should be outstanding if Matt Haack can build on a good year, and Zane Gonzalez has the potential to be one of the Pac-12’s best placekickers. 

    5. What’s next for Duke 
    Anthony Boone might be gone, but the biggest offensive loss is at receiver with Jamison Crowder and Issac Blakeney gone. Guard Laken Tomlinson and tackle Takoby Cofield are finished, but three starters are back up front. Thomas Sirk will get the first look at quarterback, but he’s going to be challenged, and he needs consistent receivers. Shaun Wilson and Shaquille Powell are back at running back to take the pressure off. 

    The defense loses leading tackler David Helton from the linebacking corps but the next four top tacklers are back including most of the stars in the secondary. All five starters return in the defensive backfield, and they’ll need to be great with five starters done on the front six with only DT Carlos Wray back. Steady PK Ross Martin is back after a huge year, while P Will Monday returns after averaging over 43 yards per kick – Duke should have one of the nation’s best kicking games. 


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