Long-timers at The Ranch will remember the origination of Gaddabout's Grades a few years ago: We were trying to determine if there was true forward motion in the program. More than a few years back I did a little study of modern-era college football teams, and the teams that were consistently ranked tended to do well in efficiency categories. It was not 100 percent accurate every year, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a team that had extended success that didn't do well in efficiency categories.
Since the advent of the Top 25 (as opposed to the original Top 20), ranked teams tended to have the following qualities: better than 38 percent offensive 3rd-down conversion; less than 38 percent defensive 3rd-down conversion; 6.5 penalties a game or less; a season's turnover margin better than approximately +8. ASU consistently failed in Gaddabout's Grades under Koetter, and actually regressed the last two seasons. The penalty situation was exacerbated by the kind of penalties ASU received -- the kind of 10 yards or more. It is no stretch to state that Koetter's unemotional approach to game prep had no impact on ASU's execution during the game. In fact, it was some of ASU's least efficient years in memory.
I did not expect ASU to make any dramatic improvements in these categories under Erickson. His teams tend to draw a lot of penalties from aggressive play. I did expect improvement in 3rd down efficiency on both sides of the ball. I think turnovers always will depend on the strength of the running game and experience at quarterback.
3rd Down Efficiency
Off. 13-of-17, 76.4%; Def. 28.5%: Total domination by ASU in this category. This is a direct relationship to ASU's line play. When it counted -- in the first half -- ASU was 6-of-7 to SJSU's 3-of-7.
Maybe ASU didn't get a lot of pressure on the QB, but the line held their gaps. On the other side, this is the product of strong running and a line blowing holes open. When you're constantly facing 3rd-and-short on offense, you tend to score more touchdowns and attempt less field goals. It's a sign of many other things going right.
+1: Nothing dynamite here, but ASU got two interceptions by forcing SJSU to do what it didn't want to do -- throw the ball. I'm giving a little extra credit here because the fumble came from Brent Miller, a typically reliable tight end, rather than from a quarterback or running back. Danny Sullivan also fumbled but got it back -- and credit to him for not losing his head in what was a very efficient game for him.
5-for-40: Not bad. The intensity was high as it should be in the season opener. I would have been forgiving if ASU picked up a few more considering the intensity and a coach who lets his teams have fun on the field, but 5 penalties a game for the season is conference champion-type numbers. Both USC and Cal have averaged about 5.5 penalties a game the past 5 seasons.
What was also interesting was SJSU's 3 penalties. Not only was ASU heavily penalized last year, they seemed to draw the other team into drawing a lot of penalties, too. The number of the opponent usually does drop when the better team executes well. It tends to raise the level of execution for both teams. I suspect that's what we saw here.
I cannot imagine the season starting better for ASU. They didn't just destroy the opponent, they avoided the kinds of execution pitfalls that suggested red flags for the future. For now I will ring this up as what we should have expected from a mostly veteran staff who knows how to get a team ready for a season opener.
The greater challenge is maintaining this kind of execution throughout the season. One cannot expect ASU to maintain a 75% third-down conversion percentage for an entire season, but 60+% for the month of September would be reason to get excited for this team heading into conference play. It would be much better if ASU clocked a +2 or better in turnovers, but if the 3rd-down conversion ratios remain strong and penalties continue to stay at a minimum, ASU won't need to collect so many turnovers to beat good teams. They will, however, need to hold on to the ball.
Overall grade: A-