(Photo: ASU Athletics)
The Arizona State Sun Devils capped an up-and-down season with a 10th victory on Saturday, dominating the Duke Blue Devils in the 81st Sun Bowl, but surviving a late scare to win, 36-31.
ASU’s offense looked like the one most expected all season with Taylor Kelly at the helm, as the senior finished his tremendous career with the Sun Devils with an efficient performance against Duke. Kelly completed 24-of-34 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, along with 24 rushing yards.
While Kelly’s career came to the close on a positive note, it was a pair of true freshman that really stole the show for the ASU offense. Running back Demario Richard was responsible for all four of the touchdowns for the Sun Devils, tallying two rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns, but a 96-yard return by Kalen Ballage was certainly the play of the game to set up the game-winning score for ASU.
The defense of the Sun Devils struggled at times to contain the rushing attack of Duke, but Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone just couldn’t quite take advantage of the openings provided by the ASU defense, completing just 15-of-31 passes in the game and spoiling a chance to take the lead by throwing an interception to Kweishi Brown with 45 seconds remaining.
Player of the game: Demario Richard
On the game that was supposed to be the going-away party for Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong, it was the 18-year-old running back that did all the scoring for ASU with the exception only of kicker Zane Gonzalez. He provided the highlight of the game in the first quarter when he bulldozed a Duke defensive back en route to his first touchdown of the game. Throughout the day he was difficult to bring down, although he finished with just 63 yards on 12 touches.
Biggest concern: Special teams hasn’t been fixed
ASU was scorched on special teams in the 2013 Holiday Bowl so badly that Todd Graham made a change on his coaching staff, handing the special teams reins over to Keith Patterson. Granted, the Duke special teams are a strong group, but things didn’t look that much different on special teams in the 2014 Sun Bowl with the exception of Ballage’s game-changing return in the final minutes of the game.
A 68-yard punt return touchdown for Duke’s Jamison Crowder was a big momentum swing that made the game closer than it needed to be and the ASU kickoff return unit was consistently unable to provide decent field position until the final chance of the season.
Unsung hero: Edmond Boateng
Among ASU players that received significant snaps on defense in 2014, Edmond Boateng was almost certainly the worst. That wasn’t the case on Saturday though, which saw the junior college transfer get an increased amount of snaps and play well. The curious decision to keep Demetrius Cherry on the sideline for most of the game didn’t seem to affect ASU too negatively with Boateng playing his best game of the year, although no ASU lineman was able to pressure Anthony Boone all game.
Stat of the game: 0 turnovers
Duke lived off of big momentum swings in the Sun Bowl and managed to keep things very close with trick plays and big plays on special teams. If either of Taylor Kelly’s two fumbles had been recovered by the Blue Devils or a second quarter interception not been overturned by a replay review, it could’ve spelled a lot of trouble for the Sun Devils. Instead the team avoided turnovers altogether while Duke turned the ball over twice.
The season is over for ASU and so are the careers of Taylor Kelly, Jaelen Strong, Jamil Douglas and Marcus Hardison. Those are some big shoes to fill for the future, but with only two departing seniors on the defense and the plenty-capable Mike Bercovici taking over at quarterback in 2015, the future is bright for the Sun Devils.
You can reach Adam Stites on Twitter @AdamStitesASU or by email email@example.com