How meaningless were this year’s football season openers for Arizona and Arizona State? As usual, that’s not a difficult question to answer.
Arizona State padded its season record with an opening win against a team that had been outscored 103-3 in season openers the previous two years.
University of Arizona, meanwhile, beat a team that hasn’t been able to put up a win against the Wildcats since 1932. And that lone win was by one point.
But, hey, a win’s a win. And it gets each team one step closer to enough victories to make them bowl eligible at the end of the season.
But you can’t take the results of these lopsided games to the bank.
The primary benefits in ASU’s 48-14 victory over University of California-Davis and UofA’s almost-identical 41-10 drubbing of Northern Arizona University came in various fashions.
Both teams got a chance to build a little confidence with a feel-good win in front of a home crowd, and the coaches were able to play a lot of bodies to determine whether they really have any depth this year.
Arizona State, which many expect to contend for the Pac-12 title this season, ran up more than 500 yards of offense against the Aggies, highlighted by a 98-yard kickoff return by Jamal Miles to open the second half.
So what did ASU learn from the blow-out?
The Devils know they have a passing combination that will help balance the offense this year, supporting a running game led by returning backs, Cameron Marshall and Deantre Lewis.
Brock Osweiler, the 6’8″ junior quarterback from Montana, threw for two scores, hitting Aaron Pflugrad both times. ‘Osweiler-to-Pflugrad’ is a mouthful, but expect to hear it often this season.
Lewis is still recovering from an off-season injury, but Marshall took care of business early and then retired to the sidelines. He pulled in an Osweiler pass on the first possession of the game and picked up an additional 47 yards, and then completed the drive a couple of plays later with a two-yard score. Later that quarter, he scored again from the two to give ASU a 14-0 lead.
Kyle Middlebrooks, a sophomore from California who stretches the tape measure to 5’8″, filled in for Lewis in impressive fashion, averaging six yards a carry on 10 tries.
Two other areas that gave head coach Dennis Erickson some comfort were the defensive effort and the kicking game.
The defense came up with five sacks, three of them attributed to linebacker Vontaze Burfict, an early consideration for national Defensive Player of the Year. And, perhaps just as important, Burfict, whose penchant for drawing penalties last season gave his coaches heartburn, escaped with zero flags for his first game in 2011.
The entire team picked up just four penalties in all. A big improvement for a team that was the most-penalized in the Pac-10 last year.
And Alex Garoutte, a redshirt freshman from Brophy Prep in Phoenix, brought some much-needed consistency to the kicking game, hitting both field-goal attempts and successfully adding all six points-after on the TDs.
And down in Tucson, the Wildcats coaching staff was seeing some good things, too.
The fans were getting to see it all up-close on the new super jumbo video board that was installed at one end of the field over the summer, while those who didn’t make it to the stadium got to enjoy the game on national television.
Down on the field, Nick Foles and Juron Criner were providing the entertainment for the video and TV screens. Foles, one of the top quarterbacks in the conference last year, threw the ball 42 times to amass 412 yards in the air. Six of his 34 completions went to Criner, who finished with 151 yards.
The Cats, which were ranked in the nation’s top 10 at one point last season, used this game to break a five-game losing streak from last season and hopefully re-set their compass for a new attempt at breaking the 8-5 mark they put up in two of the last three seasons.
A defense that was pretty dominant last night will help, but the ‘D’ unit took a while to get started. After allowing 10 points in the first half, the defense tightened and allowed just 25 yards in the third quarter and zero points for the second half.
But, in the final analysis, maybe NAU was the Arizona team that got the most out of the first game of the season. The Lumberjacks found they could play with a team like Arizona, even if just for one half.
The Jacks also found they could take a punch and get back on their feet. Arizona scored on its first possession of the game, but NAU marched back down the field to score on a Matt Myers field goal after keeping the ball for 13 plays.
One more score after an impressive nine-play, 91-yard drive left them just four points behind the Cats, 14-10, going into the locker room at halftime. Junior quarterback Cary Grossart finished off the drive, and a 16-for-17 performance in the half, by hitting Khalil Paden for a 12-yard scoring strike to give the visitors a huge spike in confidence.
Grossart finished with an impressive 20-of-26 completions for 179 yards. And Zach Bauman, the sophomore running back from Hamilton High in Chandler, proved he could move the ball against a major program as he finished just a yard short of 100 yards on 27 carries.
So, in a sense, each team went away with something positive from the season openers – except, perhaps, UC-Davis.
But, then, the Aggies have grown used to it
(Photo: ASU Athletics)