It’s fun to think of creative verbs about how ASU defeated Sacramento State 55-0 Thursday:
The Hornets got shellacked. Exterminated. Pulverized. Manhandled.
It’s only one game, but the Sun Devils looked like a team on a mission in their season opener.
“But wait, Josh,” you’re most likely thinking behind your computer screen. “It was only against an FCS team! ASU was supposed to win this game.”
Of course, it’s impossible to realistically gauge a team’s talent a win against an FCS school, and yes, the team still has a lot to work on heading into next Saturday’s showdown against Wisconsin.
If there is one thing to take away from ASU’s win, however, it’s that the Sun Devils were disciplined throughout almost the entire game. ASU didn’t really take its foot off the gas, even after the second team replaced the first unit following the opening drive of the second half.
Eight FCS teams last weekend couldn’t say the same about their performances, especially then-No. 25 Oregon State.
The Sun Devils usually go through a couple of lapses or expose several obvious kinks in their past season openers against FCS teams. For instance, consider last season’s opener against NAU, which finished one spot over Sacramento State in the Big Sky standings the past year. Sure, ASU blew out the Lumberjacks 63-6 but it wasn’t exactly a flawless performance. The Sun Devils gave up a fumble, had four penalties and allowed a touchdown.
On Thursday, ASU had no turnovers, just one measly false start penalty from the second-team offense and most importantly — zero points given up.
The last time ASU started off the season with a shutout, it beat Utah 38-0 on Sept. 4, 1993. I wrote in last night’s recap that the last time ASU completely shut down an opponent was almost three years ago against Washington State on Oct. 30, 2010.
Think about how many “cupcakes” the Sun Devils have played since 2010.
The first drive
The only time the game was in doubt was during the opening seven minutes.
Sacramento State had three first downs, crossed midfield into ASU territory and threatened to take the lead with a field goal. Hornets sophomore quarterback Garrett Safron had the Sun Devil defense guessing by completing passes particularly along the right sideline and keeping the ball on zone reads. Safron went for broke on one pass attempt to sophomore wide receiver in the front corner of the endzone that ended being nearly intercepted by a high leaping ASU senior safety Alden Darby.
Safron threw 6-for-9 for 58 yards in the Hornets’ 59-yard advance. Sacramento gained four first downs that were all converted on third down.
The Hornets offense were finally stopped with 7:32 left in the first quarter and set up a 33-yard kick at the middle of the field for junior kicker Jesse Aguilar.
Then came ASU redshirt senior defensive back Robert Nelson.
Nelson lined outside of Sacramento State’s line to the left, rushing to the kicker untouched and used his body to jump right in front of the kick.
That was the closest the Hornets came to scoring for the entire game.
I asked Graham during the postgame press conference on his thoughts about the drive that gave the Sun Devils the most concern.
“I was kind of mad,” he said. “I was trying to figure out a way to stop them, so that’s about it. We were supposed to be down, but we were off. It was little things like that that were giving them first downs that we don’t usually give up.”
Most inspiring play
Perhaps one of the game’s biggest surprises was when ASU redshirt senior linebacker Grandville Taylor jumped Safron’s pass in the beginning of the second half and returned the interception for 67 yards before being stopped two yards short of the endzone. The 6-foot, 224-pound linebacker carried the ball like a playmaking tight end and trucked a couple of defenders running along the right sideline.
For those unfamiliar with his story, Taylor is a three-year letterman who only earned a scholarship last season and tried to make ends meet before. He and redshirt senior wide receiver Kevin Ozier have become the walk-on poster children for Sun Devil football.
Taylor received the team honor of spiking Sparky’s pitchfork into the grass after Thursday’s game.
I’ll ask him about how he felt about what can be safely assumed as his second-biggest moment of his career when the team reconvenes for practice Sunday.
Until then, the Sun Devils can rest easy knowing that they got the job done.
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