On paper, the Arizona State-Sacramento State game promises to be a lopsided contest. Arizona State is 71-27-2 (.717) all-time in season openers, including victories in the last 10 straight, all coming at home.
Regardless of prior achievements, ASU should enter Thursday evening’s game with a sense of caution. The following are five keys to a Sun Devil victory over the Hornets:
1) Remember your History
Sacramento State might be an FCS opponent, but they are no sacrificial lamb. They beat Oregon State two years ago and Colorado last season. These guys can play. Undoubtedly, the Beavers and the Buffaloes let Sacramento State “sneak up” on them. The Hornets are the underdogs and they know it. This gives them the mental freedom to play without pressure. It’s an advantage. ASU has to be mature enough to see them as a “faceless opponent” and go out and execute.
2) Stop the Run
ASU football needs to stop the run in order to make Sacramento State one-dimensional. The Hornets, indeed, do have a talented quarterback and decent receivers. But taking away a legitimate threat to run the ball will limit their options. It will also extend the game and give more snaps to the high-tempo Sun Devil offense. ASU has the talent to do this; they just have to get it done.
3) Pressure the Quarterback Without Blitzing
This is more important than people think. Getting to the QB with only four rushers causes problems for the offense. Dropping seven defenders into coverage instead of six makes the passing game difficult. Specifically, it allows the defense to double-cover a dangerous receiver and/or cover backs out of the backfield.
4) Sustain Drives on Offense
There is nothing wrong with big plays. They are exciting. Plus, touchdowns are always welcomed. But football players and coaches know that there is nothing more demoralizing than an 8-12 play touchdown drive. It’s a helpless feeling for the whole team when your opponent lines up and gets 4-6 yards every play and there’s nothing you can do about it. It also physically wears down your defense, while letting the opponent’s defense rest. It’s okay to take occasional shots down the field, but ASU shouldn’t get greedy and focus on that too much. Modest gains by running the ball and short passes that move the chains will establish dominance up front and build confidence for the entire team.
5) Focus on Special Teams
Field position is a huge weapon for the home team. Excellent kicks/punts accompanied by good coverage will put ASU at an advantage. Additionally, underdog teams such as Sacramento State typically pull out “all the stops” to try to pull off an upset. ASU needs to be vigilant about watching for onside kicks and fake punts/field goals.