WVU-ASU grades: Smallwood makes limited carries count in Cactus Bowl
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Mountaineers’ 43-42 win against the Sun Devils in the Cactus Bowl.
West Virginia Mountaineers
– Although West Virginia’s Skyler Howard (+2.6) passed for 532 yards and five touchdowns, it was not all positive for the Mountaineer quarterback. Despite the impressive numbers, Howard was not very accurate, as he was on target on only 61.7 percent of his aimed passes. He actually even struggled when blitzed, as he completed only 39.1 percent of his passes on these dropbacks, and both of his interceptions occurred on these plays. As a result, he earned a PFF grade of -2.5 on plays when he was blitzed. Overall, Howard had a relatively good game, it just was not as great as the impressive numbers might suggest.
– On the other hand, while running back Wendell Smallwood (+4.1) rushed for only 72 yards, he did it in a very impressive way. Smallwood forced four missed tackles on only 13 carries. He was at his best when running to the right side, as he averaged 13.3 yards on carries that way. In addition, Smallwood was asked to pass block on 19 plays, and did not allow a single pressure on these snaps.
– As it can be assumed from the final score, a handful of West Virginia defenders struggled in this game, but no one more than cornerback Ricky Rumph III (-5.8). Rumph was targeted a team-high 14 times, and while he did defend one pass, he also allowed nine receptions, 163 yards, three touchdowns and an (NFL) passer rating of 143.8.
RB Wendell Smallwood +4.1
DE Noble Nwachukwu +3.8
OLB Shaq Petteway +3.5
DT Kyle Rose +3.4
TE Yodny Cajuste +2.8
Arizona State Sun Devils
– Despite the struggles of Rumph, the Mountaineers did not have the worst cornerback performance of the day, as that belonged to Arizona State’s Kweishi Brown (-7.1). The cornerback was targeted an incredible 17 times, and although he did defend two passes, he was beat on almost every other pass thrown his way. Overall, he allowed nine receptions, 313 yards, three touchdowns, and an (NFL) passer rating of 137.9. In addition, Brown was also fortunate to not get called for a clear pass interference penalty in the end zone.
– The Sun Devils also had a couple impressive performances on the defensive side of the football, including that of linebacker Salamo Fiso (+3.6). Fiso was truly all over the field in the Cactus Bowl, and graded positively in run defense, pass coverage, and pass rush. The linebacker led his team in tackles (eight) and defensive stops (six), as well. Furthermore, Fiso recorded a sack, a quarterback hit, and a quarterback hurry on his 10 pass rushing snaps.
– Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici (+0.9) had a very up-and-down day, despite throwing for 417 yards and four touchdowns. While he was lethal when blitzed and threw all four of his touchdown passes on plays when West Virginia brought extra men, he did struggle when the pressure got to him. On plays when he was under pressure, he completed only two of his six attempts, and gained only 7 yards on these passes. In addition, he was unable to stretch the field vertically in this game, since he completed only one of his eight attempts of 20+ yards downfield.
LB Salamo Fiso +3.6
LG Christian Westerman +3.2
WR Devin Lucien +2.2
LB Antonio Longino +2.2
TE Kody Kohl +1.9
DE Demetrius Cherry +1.9