(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)
The Arizona State football team has grinded its way through the murderers’ row portion of its 2014 schedule with resume-building wins over USC, Stanford, Utah and Notre Dame and a character-building win over Washington.
The fact is that the Sun Devils have set themselves up nicely for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game against the winner of the Pac-12 North. The problem is, such a showdown (that would presumably be against Oregon) is still nearly a month away. Three games sit between ASU and a showdown in Santa Clara, Calif., including a trip to Corvallis against an always-dangerous-in-November Oregon State team, a home matchup against Washington State and a Territorial Cup showdown against Arizona.
It is with those three remaining matchups in mind, and the Sun Devils’ past three contests (Washington, Utah and Notre Dame) as criteria, that has inspired the following “Stock Up, Stock Down” analysis for ten of ASU’s top and most noteworthy offensive players.
Taylor Kelly (QB), Stock: Up
Stats last three games: 49 for 85, 609 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 36 carries, 80 yards
All criticism of shaky performance subsides when a “W” appears in the win column. Any additional contributions after that is simply icing on the cake.
Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly has adhered to that style of play in his past three contests, delivering clutch performance after clutch performance to lead ASU to three straight wins since his return from a broken foot. The numbers he posted were not as awe-inspiring as Mike Bercovici’s were, but with the Sun Devils now ranked No. 7 in the nation, that is becoming unimportant. Also, Kelly has upped his passing yards, completion percentage and QBR in three straight games, which all indicate that he is poised to light up the stat sheet against the suspect defenses of Oregon State and Washington State.
Jaelen Strong (WR), Stock: Up
Stats last three games: 13 catches, 190 yards, 3 TDs
Head coach Todd Graham always heralds DJ Foster as the most prolific athlete on the Sun Devil offensive unit. While that may be true, it may also represent an under-appreciation of the Sun Devils’ most valuable piece on offense and undoubtedly their most NFL-ready talent. Strong is on pace to shatter his 75-reception, 1122-yard sophomore season production, as he already has posted 62 receptions and 879 yards through nine games in 2014 (last year, he had 52 receptions for 728 yards through nine games). More importantly and for the sake of adhering to the three-game criteria set above, Strong has notched three touchdowns in his last three games and has a five-game touchdown scoring streak. The redshirt junior wide receiver was hampered by an injury in Saturday’s win over Notre Dame and was thus forced to sit out for the entirety of the second half. The injury represents the closest any team has gotten to slowing him down.
DJ Foster (RB), Stock: Up
Stats last three games: 44 carries, 209 rushing yards, 11 catches, 90 yards, 0 TDs
DJ Foster’s season got off to a roaring start, hit a massive abyss when the running game disappeared in Taylor Kelly’s absence, and perhaps has normalized to mean in the last three games—he has now started to rack up the yards once again but has been held scoreless for the last three games.
No matter, he is still the most malleable offensive asset for the Sun Devils, in that he can line up anywhere on the field and continuously gash defenses. His most recent outburst came in a 21-carry, 120-yard outburst against Notre Dame in which he was featured as the clear workhorse in the ASU backfield. In other weeks, his services have been needed more in the passing game, where he routinely trumps Cameron Smith as Taylor Kelly’s second option in passing situations. Simply put, with an athlete as versatile as DJ Foster, it is hard to give anything other than a resounding “Stock Up.”
Demario Richard (RB), Stock: Up
Stats last three games: 36 carries, 220 yards, 3 catches, 51 yards, 2 TDs
Much like DJ Foster, Demario Richard was a forgotten cause during Mike Bercovici’s stint as the starting quarterback. Richard followed a zero-carry performance against USC with a measly two yards against Stanford. Over the past three games, however, Richard’s stock has skyrocketed thanks to 54, 116 and 50-yard rushing performances. Richard also found the end zone twice against Notre Dame—one of them a monumental catch and scamper to regain a 10-point lead for ASU. Given that he is only 17 years old, Demario Richard’s stock is not just “up” heading into the final stretch of the season, it is “up” for his next three years in a Sun Devil uniform.
Deantre Lewis (RB), Stock: Down
Stats last three games: 3 carries, 10 yards, 0 TDs
Deantre Lewis’s middle three games of the season looked somewhat like Richard’s last three games, as he rushed for 108 yards on 23 carries against UCLA, USC and Stanford. But the rise of the phenom Richard has spelled doom for the stock of the plodding Lewis. In fact, Lewis has now gone two games in a row without notching a carry out of the backfield. There are only so many carries to go around in the Sun Devil backfield, and with Foster and Richard garnering the vast majority of them, Lewis appears to be the odd man out.
Kalen Ballage (RB), Stock: Down
Stats last three games: 8 carries, 21 yards, 0 TDs
Well, Lewis and Kalen Ballage are the odd men out, that is. The same story rings true for Ballage as it does for Lewis. Ballage, however, has fared even more poorly this season from a timeshare in the ASU backfield, notching only one game above 30 yards on the ground. Thus, his stock is entirely dependent on his ability to vulture away touchdowns from the other ASU backs—something he has not done since week three of the season. With that being said, Ballage is only a true freshman and stands at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, so the backfield will assuredly be his for the taking in perhaps two years.
Cameron Smith (WR), Stock: Even
Stats last three games: 6 catches, 88 yards, 1 TD
Despite being limited to zero receptions against Washington (the first game on the three-game criteria for this article), Smith rebounded in a nice way this past week against Notre Dame with four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. DJ Foster has morphed into Taylor Kelly’s No. 2 receiver when needed, but Smith has remained in the mix throughout the season, especially as a deep threat. He will not put up the gaudy numbers that Strong or Foster will, but his stock comes in at “even” because he continues to be a serviceable complementary piece.
Gary Chambers (WR), Stock: Down
Stats last three games: 3 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD
Among an elite wide receiver in Jaelen Strong, a star running back in DJ Foster, a trending-upward running back in Demario Richard and a steady second-tier wide receiver in Cameron Smith, there are simply too many mouths to feed in the Sun Devils offense for Gary Chambers’ stock not to be extremely volatile. Though three catches and 67 yards in ASU’s last three games may not appear to merit a “Stock Down,” considering that half of those yards came on one reception and that he was held without a catch against Notre Dame, Chambers is a complete afterthought in the Sun Devils offense right now. Frankly, his stock should reflect that.
De’Marieya Nelson (TE), Stock: Down
Stats last three games: 1 catch, 9 yards, 0 TDs
Largely considered the athlete with the biggest ceiling at both Devilbacker and tight end, Nelson season-long stock was hindered by his switching between offense and defense early in the season. Though he has secured a more stable role in recent weeks, operating solely as a tight end and on special teams with minimal snaps on defense, his stats over his last three games show little has changed with his stock. His season-high is only 39 yards and he has yet to catch more than three passes in a game. It may simply be that Taylor Kelly has chosen to nix his tight ends from his radar, as Kody Kohl has not found much success either. Regardless, Nelson has been held without a catch in two of his last three games and merits nothing other than a “Stock Down.”
Mike Bercovici (QB), Stock: Down
Stats last three games: 0 for 1, 0 yards, 1 INT
The overwhelming support for Mike Bercovici has not died down in the slightest of ways—illustrated best by the roaring ovation he received when he entered against Utah to attempt a Hail Mary—but his stock has nevertheless taken a tumble in the last three games. Taylor Kelly’s worst performances of the season are seemingly behind him, and the coaching staff stayed loyal to the senior quarterback throughout the process. With Kelly yet to lose in 2014 and well-entrenched in leading the Sun Devils to a potentially historic season, Bercovici will have to wait until 2015 to recapture the hearts of Tempe.