In last season’s 63-6 season-opening win over NAU, Taylor Kelly threw for 247 yards and a touchdown.
Fast forward to tonight’s season-opening 55-0 win versus Sacramento State and Kelly, a redshirt junior, threw for 262 yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone.
The difference for Kelly, in his second year as starter, and the offense was simple: He had the weapons he so desperately needed last season.
Ten Sun Devil receivers, including seven in the first half, caught passes, led by redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong’s six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Strong, the most hyped of the newcomers, impressed coach Todd Graham in his first appearance donning the Sun Devil uniform.
“Jaelen is a big, physical guy that can go up and get the ball,” Graham said. “He gives us a nice target out there. He’s also a guy who on third down and nine can post up and get the ball.”
Strong proved he can go up and get the ball on his touchdown grab, fighting off a Hornets defender the entire way to soar above and catch Kelly’s 24-yard strike.
“He had a nice touchdown catch,” Graham said. “He’s learning so he’s only going to get better.”
Graham didn’t limit his praise to Strong, noting the entire receiving corps had a good opening game.
“I was very pleased with Rick (Smith), he did some good things,” Graham said. “Kevin (Ozier) is the leader of that group. DJ (Foster) is very versatile so we’ve got a lot of weapons and we need to continue to get better.”
All five of Kelly’s touchdown passes were to different receivers (Strong, Ozier, Chris Coyle, De’Marieya Nelson, Marion Grice) and he echoed Graham’s sentiments on the refreshing depth at receiver.
“We had weapons all across the field that were getting open,” Kelly said. “Chris and Rick Smith and Jaelen and DJ and all those guys are great playmakers in what they see and they find great windows for me.”
Graham also praised the performance of Kelly, who finished 23-31 for 300 yards and the five touchdowns, which tied his career high.
“There were a lot more people to spread that ball around to and like I said, I know we have a very good offense and I know we have a chance to win a championship because we have a championship-caliber quarterback,” Graham said.
Graham noted this was only one game, but was pleased with his receiving corps’ progress heading into the Wisconsin game next Saturday.
“I think our receiving corps is what I thought it was. It’s a lot better than what it was last year,” Graham said.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @DsShapi