Unlike other teams with lofty expectations, ASU did not overlook an FCS opponent—in this case, Sacramento State. Coach Todd Graham’s Sun Devils played hard, disciplined and focused football. Overall, they looked sharp and took care of business. For evidence, you only need to see that ASU had one penalty, zero turnovers, four takeaways and, of course, a final score of 55-0.
2. The offensive line was solid, but not spectacular
The Arizona State coaching staff and many fans would have preferred to see more dominance up front from the offensive line. The Sacramento State front seven was physically outmatched in this game. However, the Sun Devils did not get outstanding rushing yards between the tackles. Rather, they got their best runs by attacking the edge.
To be fair, the offensive line doesn’t get to call the plays. If offensive coordinator Mike Norvell saw opportunities outside of the power game, it’s his job to exploit them. Plus, one of the sacks on ASU quarterbacks was a “coverage” sack and another was the fault of the QB. That being said, offensive line play needs to improve if ASU expects to run the ball against Wisconsin.
3. Wide receiver position still looking for a home run threat
The Sun Devil receivers had a solid game versus the Hornets: they ran good routes, made some great catches and blocked well on the perimeter. But no outside receivers emerged with the ability to stretch the field by outrunning the corners. Completions to outside receivers were mostly comeback routes and crossing patterns. ASU’s four long TD passes were to inside receivers/backs that lined up in the No. 3 position of various “trips” sets. In these formations, typically a linebacker or safety covers that receiver. Sacramento State LBs and safeties couldn’t run with ASU’s No. 3 receiver (i.e., Nelson, Coyle, Ozier, Grice). Future opponents will be able to match up better. This isn’t cause for panic, but it could be a limiting factor.
On a positive note, H-back De’Marieya Nelson is an impressive weapon. He can block big guys, block in space, run good routes and catch the ball. WR Jaelen Strong also appears to be everything he was cracked up to be. He’s tough to defend.
4. The ASU coaching staff is pushing this team
Arizona State fans should have been happy to see aggressive coaching throughout the game, even with a big lead. Mike Norvell could be seen laying into Taylor Kelly in the third quarter. Likewise, coach Graham ripped his offense and one of his linebackers when the score was 42-0. They clearly have high expectations and will not tolerate mental errors. This is a good sign.
5. First game syndrome
Most high school and college coaches know that the biggest growth spurt for a team occurs between game 1 and game 2—no matter who the opponent is or the outcome. For whatever reason, the first night under the lights, on TV and lined up against unfamiliar faces makes players tight. They’re nervous, excited and overly cautious. And they get winded faster than usual because of the over-stimulation. A good example is how Taylor Kelly’s first few passes sailed high. It’s also why Sacramento State was able to march on their first possession. Once everyone on the ASU side calmed down and started to gain their confidence, they began to focus and play better.