In the five years since Dennis Erickson took over as coach at Arizona State, watershed moments for the offense in intra-squad action have been much more literal than metaphoric: players shedding tears of frustration at being once again dominated by the defense.
Saturday, that changed with a torrent of touchdowns raining from the sky as junior quarterback Brock Osweiler threw for five scores and the maroon-clad offense piled up 601 yards from scrimmage in an 83-27 win in front of an estimated 6,400 at Sun Devil Stadium for ASU's Spring Game.
"We have a chance to be really good," Erickson said. "We have a lot of talent out there. We missed a lot of guys because of injuries on both sides of the football. If we just keep improving and we keep doing the things that we're supposed to over the summer, if we have a good fall camp, there is no reason we shouldn't have a good year. It is a group that has been through a lot together. It's their time. Getting this program turned around and in the right direction is their number one goal."
Erickson noted that ASU's defense used only its base formation with no blitz pressures throughout Saturday's contest, a reality which no doubt made it easier for Osweiler to make plays downfield, but one in which he capitalized on about as well as anyone could.
Osweiller led the first-team offense to scores on its first four possessions, finishing 17 of 22 for 237 yards to go with the five touchdowns, and had perhaps one bad throw in the game. Nine players had multiple catches for the Sun Devils, led by senior Gerell Robinson, with four catches for 65 yards and one touchdown, sophomore J.J. Holliday, with four catches for 60 yards, and senior Aaron Pflugrad, with three catches for 74 yards and one touchdown.
"I could list off about 10 playmakers and an offensive line and that's why [ASU played well]," Osweiler said. "I have more faith and trust in this football team than any other football team I've ever played for. It really makes my job easy when the offensive line plays the way they do and our receivers and backs make the plays they do. Our biggest thing is, don't turn the ball over and play fast. If we do those two things, like we did today, you see what happens."
All told, ASU had 446 yards through the air, with redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly completing 4 of 9 for 78 yards, freshman Michael Bercovici connecting on 9 of 13 for 87 yards, and junior hybrid running back/recever Jamal Miles on the first play of the game throwing a halfback pass for 44 yards to Pflugrad, which set the tone for the day.
With many key ASU defensive players out of action, including senior defensive end James Brooks, who missed the game with what Erickson described as "some issues" to take care of, junior tackle Corey Adams ankle), senior linebacker Brandon Magee (baseball), senior cornerback Omar Bolden (knee), sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali (knee), and safeties Eddie Elder (shoulder) and Keelan Johnson (shoulder) out of action, it was as good a time as any for the offense to show well.
"Defenses are going to have a lot of trouble this year," Osweiler said, making note of the fact the offense also was without several key weapons including senior receivers Mike Willie (shoulder) and T.J. Simpson (knee) and sophomore running back Deantre Lewis . "They can try to stop one guy or maybe two guys, but we have three or four more to throw at them. I couldn't be more happy with how the offense came out and performed today. It's a group that has worked their butt off the entire offseason and into spring ball. I'm so proud of those guys and I'm looking forward to the season."
ASU's offensive outburst wasn't only through the air, as sophomore running back Kyle Middlebrooks finished with four carries for 66 yards, including two very long runs outside the tackle box, where ASU has had limited success this spring due to the speed of the defense. Middlebrooks, who has had a strong spring, has been able to make players there due to his elite speed. He also had a 12-yard touchdown catch on a swing pass that was well blocked by Holliday and senior offensive guard Mike Marcisz.
Defensive not totally shut out
ASU's defensive effort wasn't completely devoid of playmaking. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Jones picked off an ill-advised Kelly pass and returned it for a touchdown. Sophomore tackle Will Sutton had a sack before aggravating a shoulder injury, and senior end Derrall Anderson, sophomore end Greg Smith and junior end Charles Beatty also had sacks.
Redshirt freshman corner Devan Spann partially separated a shoulder in the end zone when tangled with senior receiver George Bell, who made a nice looking 20-yard touchdown reception on the play. Spann said after the game it wasn't that bad and he doesn't expect to miss any significant training this offseason as a result.
Junior running back James Morrison put his head down to take on sophomore cornerback Osahon Irabor in an attempt to gain more yards or perhaps get into the end zone near the sideline and inside the 10-yard line, but took a while to get up after the vicious collision, suffering from a right knee sprain that isn't believed to be serious according to Erickson.
An estimated crowd of 6,400 was ASU's largest for a spring game in recent years, with Sparky's Stadium Shop having a strong sales day according to a school spokesperson. The shop received 12 different shirts with the team's new pitchfork logo, with over 1,000 individual units, earlier in the week. Another shipment is expected next week. Fans were also able to take pictures wearing the team's new black helmet prior to the game, and the new pitchfork was prominently displayed at midfield.