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October 10, 2012Looking down the Arizona State stat sheet, it's not hard to find who has been sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly's favorite target through five games.
Junior tight end Chris Coyle leads every other Sun Devil offensive player by at least 12 receptions with 26 on the season for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
But his contributions to ASU's unexpected hot start go much further than what numbers appear next to his name.
With opposing defenses keying in on the tight end, Coyle has opened up mismatches for his teammates by drawing in defenders to his routes.
"I notice guys are starting to spy me, they usually have a safety or linebacker sort of roaming around the flat to lock down the area I've been catching my passes in," Coyle said. "That's okay though, I don't mind catching a couple passes each game because with that guy coming down, it opens holes deeper in the secondary. We've been doing a good job of exploiting that."
Exploiting it indeed.
While Coyle only has nine receptions in the last two games, wide receivers like Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier and Jamal Miles have combined for 24 catches for three touchdowns over the same span.
"It's kind of like pick your poison, who do you want to stop?" Kelly said. "It's difficult to cover everyone."
In line with its "take what the defense gives you" mantra, the ASU coaching staff has worked to make other teams choose who they want to cover, eventually leaving someone open.
"The tight end is always moving and Chris does a great job," Graham said. "He's really smart in his route running. If they don't take him away, that makes it easy. Then it does opens things up, it forces one-on-one coverage on the outside."
Even though Coyle's unselfishness is apparent, the tight end knows the seesaw balance will gradually tilt back in his favor when opponents try to take away the outside routes, leaving him available again.
"When they start getting the treatment, they'll soften up for me again," Coyle said. "We build off each other. We won't change plays to get me open. We know they can't really stop everything, there's always going to be someone."
Graham hints at kicking change
Since the beginning of fall camp, Graham has consistently said the place kicking position for the Sun Devils has been an open competition.
But for whatever reason, it hasn't really felt like incumbent kicker Alex Garoutte's job has ever been in seriously jeopardy.
That may have changed Tuesday with a few simple words from the ASU coach after practice.
"I'll tell you if we kicked today, (Jon) Mora would probably kick," Graham said.
Garoutte is coming off a disappointing performance against California in which he missed two short field goals and had one blocked. The sophomore is 6-for-10 alogether for the season.
In the week and a half since the Cal game, Graham has been outspoken that the field goal conversation rate needs to improve or else it will bite ASU sooner or later.
"The kicking game is going to be a big part of what we're doing," Graham said. "It's something we've worked really hard on. I can't emphasize it anymore."
The ASU coach wouldn't commit to Mora getting the kicks Thursday against Colorado, but it appears it'll be a serious decision making progress with the other coaches.
"I'm going to have to look at it, right now, they are really close, a field goal or two apart," Graham said. "Mora was a little bit ahead. Alex has had a good week too, he hasn't conceded it. We have three guys that I think can do it, but we need one that can make them all the time. Hopefully we can find that."
Mora missed his only field goal attempt this season, a 40 yard try against Utah in the fourth quarter.
Such great heights
Playing in the high altitude of Colorado on Thursday night shouldn't be a problem for a handful of Sun Devil players familiar with the environment from their high school days.
ASU junior defensive end Junior Onyeali, senior offensive lineman Andrew Sampson, junior defensive tackle Jake Sheffield and freshman defensive back Ezekiel Bishop all played their prep ball in the Centennial State.
"It's an edge, I know all the tricks to do before the game," Onyeali said. "But when I go back home, it's always a little bit harder to breathe. You can't focus on it though, we'll just rotate more."
As for the rest of the ASU team not natives of Colorado, conditioning will be the biggest advantage they can bring with them to Boulder.
"There's nothing you can do to prepare for that, besides being in the best shape possible," Onyeali said. "Which I think we are, so it'll be a good thing."
Morrison could play 'D' Thursday, Holliday unlikely
Only a couple days after making the switch from running back to defensive lineman, ASU senior James Morrison could see his first action on the other side of the ball come Thursday in Colorado.
"Morrison might play a little on third down," Graham said after practice Tuesday. "He'll still play offense but he might rush third down."
Graham added that he'd only put Morrison in the game on defense if the scenario called for a passing situation, saying his strength this early in the process is still only rushing the passer.
On the other hand, J.J. Holliday, who took snaps as a defensive back this week as opposed to wide receiver, is not expected to be used in his new role against the Buffaloes.
"He is intriguing because he can run but I can't see him playing this week," Graham said. "We're seeing if they can do a really specific role."