For about the first seven minutes of ASU’s season opener Thursday, the Sun Devils’ highly anticipated year was in doubt as Sacramento State marched 59 yards up the field on its first drive and was about to take the lead with a 33-yard field goal.
But the Hornets’ charge was vanquished when ASU redshirt senior defensive back Robert Nelson blocked junior kicker Jesse Aguilar’s field goal attempt.
Ultimately, Nelson’s block all but ruined Sacramento State’s chances of winning the game as well.
From there, the Sun Devils (1-0) turned on the jets and never looked back defeating the Hornets 55-0. It was ASU’s first shutout since Oct. 30, 2010 when the Sun Devils crushed Washington State.
“I was really proud of our team,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “I was really proud of our guys. … I think every one of our guys has gotten a lot better. It’s one game, but we need to stay focused and stay humble.”
The Sun Devils’ offensive barrage started when redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly connected with redshirt junior tight end De’Marieya Nelson for a 16-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
After ASU forced the Hornets (0-2) to punt on a three-and-out, Kelly threw a 41-yard strike to a wide-open redshirt senior wide receiver Kevin Ozier making the score 14-0 by the end of the first.
After a fumble and several other three-and-out drives from Sacramento State’s offense, Kelly threw touchdown passes to senior running back Marion Grice (who also ran a touchdown in), redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong and senior tight end Chris Coyle.
The Sun Devils ended the first half with a 42-0 lead over the Hornets.
Kelly finished the game 23-for-31 with 300 yards and five touchdowns, a performance that pleased Graham.
“I just think he’s just more mature and has a lot more of a mastery of what we’re doing,” Graham said. “I think it’s (because of ) his decision making and how he feels in the pocket and operating in our system.”
Last season, Kelly had a quarterback rating of 159.9 with 67 percent accuracy. So far this season, Kelly sports a 208.7 rating with 74 percent accuracy.
Kelly said he feels better under center this year because of the personnel around him.
“I felt a lot more comfortable with the offense and the players,” Kelly said. “The offensive line did a great job tonight, giving me the ability to get some time back there and get it to my playmakers.”
The first game of the season was also the return of ASU’s “high octane” offense. The Sun Devils had seven offensive drives that lasted less than two minutes, while their time of possession was 32:12 on 80 total plays. Sacramento State’s time of possession was 27:48 seconds on 54 plays.
Still, Graham was dissatisfied with ASU’s tempo and said it must improve.
“I thought we played slow,” Graham said. “I thought from what we’ve played in practice, I thought we were playing slow. I don’t know what it was, but we’ll figure it all out. I thought we were kind of sluggish. We’ve gone a lot faster than that in practice.”
ASU ended the game without any turnovers, which was on Graham’s short list of goals heading into the game.
The Sun Devils also almost went the whole game without committing a penalty. The offense was flagged for a false start in the third quarter during redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Eubank’s first drive under center. It was ASU’s only penalty of the game.
“We talked specifically about what we were trying to do: 100 percent ball security,” Graham said. “We wanted four takeaways and we wanted zero penalties. I think they did a real good job and obviously dominated a team we should dominate.”
The Sun Devils have eight days to prepare for No. 21 Wisconsin at home on Sept. 14. The game is the start of a rugged four-game stretch, which includes No. 5 Stanford, No. 25 USC and No. 14 Notre Dame.
“I’m fired up that we got the Big 10 champion coming in,” Graham said. “This place is going to be rocking next week and our guys are looking forward to it.”
- ASU redshirt senior defensive tackle Will Sutton went down with an apparent injury in the first quarter but returned and played with the first team defense until the second half.
- ASU senior linebacker Chris Young also suffered an apparent injury in the second quarter, and didn’t play for the rest of the game. Graham said Young should be fine for the Wisconsin game on Saturday.
- Hornets freshman defensive back Nick Crouch was ejected from the game on a kickoff in the second quarter because of the new targeting rules.
- According to media relations, 13,472 student tickets were sold for the game, the best in team history.
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