ASU football tunes up for Wisconsin with 55-0 opener

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                </div>Sacramento State had the right idea.  The Hornets came into last night’s football game with Arizona State with a game plan that called for ball control and keeping the potent […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Sacramento State had the right idea.  The Hornets came into last night’s football game with Arizona State with a game plan that called for ball control and keeping the potent Sun Devil offense off the field as long as possible.

The plan worked for almost half of the first quarter, as the visitors from California marched down the field following the kick-off, completing short passes that continued to stack up first downs, with all but a couple of plays going for fewer than eight yards.

They ran 15 plays and gained four first downs on that drive, before coming up short of scoring when ASU’s defensive corner Robert Nelson blocked the field-goal attempt at the 20-yard line.

Sacramento State looked like a worthy opponent up to that point.  But that turned out to be pretty much just smoke and mirrors as ASU coasted to a 55-0 season-opening win in front of 55,743 fans that were interested enough to show up for a game against an FCS opponent from the Big Sky Conference.

Arizona State scored just minutes after getting its turn with the ball, on a 16-yard pass from Taylor Kelly to tight end De’Marieya Nelson to begin the scoring – and went on to put up 42 points by halftime to put the game away early.

The Devils got another score just 39 seconds before the period ended on a 41-yard reception by wide receiver Kevin Ozier and then, on the Hornets’ first play from scrimmage, Will Sutton, the 305-pound defensive tackle, covered a fumble by the quarterback to give his team the ball back on the ASU 29-yard line.

There was just enough time left in the first quarter for one play, so the Devils had to wait for the second quarter to begin before scoring again, with Marion Grice carrying the score in from the six and it was 21-zip with 13 minutes yet to play in the half.

Kelly went on to complete three more touchdown passes to make it five in the first half alone.  Jaelan Strong pulled in a 24-yard catch just 3 1/2 minutes after Grice’s score, followed by a 33-yard Chris Coyle TD reception two minutes later, and then Grice came back to add a score off a 26-yard catch with just 2:16 to go in the half.

Grice, the senior running back from Texas, picked up a lot of short-yardage gains and finished the night with 14 carries for 59 yards.

The five TD passes in one half tied a career high for Taylor, as he picked up 262 yards before heading to the locker room.  He finished the night 23-of-31 for 300 yards and kept alive his streak of consecutive passes thrown without an interception to 102.

About the only thing the redshirt junior from Idaho didn’t do during the first half of play was call a huddle, as the hurry-up ASU offense marched up and down the field with machine-like precision.

And it was a disciplined machine that was penalty-free in the first half and managed to get flagged for just one penalty in the second half, that one for five yards.

Perhaps the only one who wasn’t surprised by the first-half performance was the second-year head coach Todd Graham, who told a sideline reporter after the first half:  “We played about like I thought we would.”

ASU picked up 13 more points in the second half on a four-yard run by Michael Eubank, who had stepped in at quarterback for the mop-up work, and a pair of field goals by Zane Gonzales, a 40-yarder in the third quarter and one from the 29 in the final frame.

The Sun Devils opened last season with a beat-down of another Big Sky opponent, Northern Arizona University, winning that one, 63-6.  Last night’s domination of Sacramento State by the bigger, faster Pac-12 team was just as impressive – and that win was the start of what would be an 8-5 season and a bowl victory.

ASU gained 523 yards of total offense on the night, compared to 167 by Sac State, and gobbled up 27 first downs to six by the Hornets.  And the Sacramento State effort to keep the Sun Devil offense off the field as much as possible also failed; the time of possession favored ASU, 32:12 to 27:48.

But, so much for pushing around the little guys.  Next week the real schedule starts, and ASU will be faced with a gauntlet of challenges for the next four weeks.

No. 21 Wisconsin, last year’s Big Ten Conference champion, is up first and will be a home game.  That will be followed by a road game at Stanford, the Pac-12 champion.  Then, after USC visits, it really ramps up when the Devils travel to Arlington, Texas, for a neutral-site game with Notre Dame, which played for the national championship last year.

Graham keeps telling the media he’s up for the challenge and is looking forward to playing some of the best teams in the country.  The challenge begins eight days from now when the Badgers arrive in Tempe.

“I’m fired up that we got the Big 10 champion coming in,” said Graham after last night’s win.  “This place is going to be rocking next week and our guys are looking forward to it.”

(Photo: ASU Athletics)