ASU football coach Todd Graham likes ‘big games’ more, but not overlooking Weber State

Junior running back DJ Foster runs through the line during 11 on 11 drills at Camp Tontozona. (Photo by Fabian Ardaya)

Junior running back D.J. Foster runs through the line during 11-on-11 drills at Camp Tontozona. (Photo by Fabian Ardaya)

College football is back. Rejoice!

With it, however, comes games such as ASU vs. Weber State, Oregon vs. South Dakota and Washington vs. Hawaii. ASU coach Todd Graham isn’t a fan of these early season mismatches, particularly because of how difficult it is to scout and prepare for teams like Weber State, which won two games last season in the FCS Big Sky conference.

“These are not my favorite games, just so you know,” Graham said. “I’d much rather play in the big games because there’s much less unknown.”

No matter the opponent, the ASU coaching staff is preparing like it would any game. The difficulty lies in finding film and scouting reports for a team that doesn’t have much of either. To make matters worse, Weber State overhauled its coaching staff over the offseason, so Graham and Co. haven’t even seen how the coaches prepare the Wildcats. Weber State coach Jay Hill was the tight ends coach at Utah last season and the special teams coordinator there since 2005, so the Sun Devils aren’t completely unfamiliar.

“We’ve researched where (Weber State’s) coordinators are from, so we’ve got a pretty good idea,” Graham said. “We’ve gone through every possible formation you can line up in, because that’s what our offense runs, so we’ll be able to get lined up, hopefully.”

Because Weber State doesn’t constitute a “big game,” there’s typically outside concern about the team not taking it seriously or coming out sluggish. Inside the team, though, there are no worries.

“I was … talking to our players today about how you compete,” Graham said. “The passion that it takes and the intensity that it takes, how we want you to compete once you walk through that tunnel. I’m telling you, we’re going to get after it. How we compete, and the intense focus that we have, that’s the foundation for the championships that are coming.”

The one thing Graham wants to see Thursday is a win. It being the first game of the season, though, there are some things that can only be evaluated once he watches his team in game action.

Graham named a laundry list of players and units he’s looking forward to seeing, but focused in on the secondary and special teams. The secondary, being the unit he coaches the closest, is also home to some of the most new faces on the defense.

“I can’t wait to watch (redshirt junior cornerback) Lloyd (Carrington), (redshirt junior cornerback) Solomon (Means), (freshman cornerback) Armand (Perry) — the guys I personally coach,” Graham said.

“The thing I’m probably the most anxious looking for is special teams. Obviously, that was probably the worst thing we did last year. We’ve work very, very, very hard, so I’m hoping to see — I don’t hope much — I’d better see results.”

Three things to watch for

1. Who complements D.J. Foster?

ASU has a slough of talented running backs behind junior D.J. Foster. Although coach Bo Graham said all will get significant playing time, there hasn’t been much in practice to indicate who will get the most playing time after Foster. The two talented freshmen, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, look to have earned it in fall camp, but redshirt senior Deantre Lewis has been working the most with the second-team and is still listed as the second-string tailback on the depth chart.

2. Where does Taylor Kelly throw the ball (other than Jaelen Strong)?

A not-so-bold prediction of mine is that the second-leading receiver on the team won’t be a wideout. Whether it’s Foster or one of the tight ends, De’Marieya Nelson and Kody Kohl, remains to be seen, but there is so little experience after Strong at receiver that Kelly might find his next-favorite target coming from another position. While the first-team is in the game, keep an eye on who Kelly finds a good connection with.

3. What’s the rotation at Devilbacker?

With Carl Bradford departed, there were — and still are — questions about who will take over for him. Redshirt sophomore Edmond Boateng will get the start, but De’Marieya Nelson is still expected to get about 20 snaps per game, and the coaches like the strides that redshirt junior Antonio Longino has made at the position. As of Sunday, both Graham and Devilbacker coach Paul Randolph said to “flip a coin” to determine who starts Thursday.

Expected starting lineups

ASU offense:

QB – Taylor Kelly, RB – D.J. Foster, WR 1 – Jaelen Strong, WR 2 – Gary Chambers, TE 1 – De’Marieya Nelson, TE 2 – Kody Kohl

ASU defense:

Nose – Jaxon Hood, Tiger – Tashon Smallwood, End – Marcus Hardison, Devil – Edmond Boateng, Spur – Viliami Moeakiola, Sam – Salamo Fiso, Will – DJ Calhoun, Boundary corner – Lloyd Carrington, Boundary safety – Damarious Randall, Field safety – Jordan Simone, Field corner – Solomon Means

Weber State offense:

QB – Billy Green, RB – Bo Bolen, WR 1 – Cameron Livingston, WR 2 – Shaydon Kehano, WR 3- Drew Batchelor, TE – Helam Heimuli

Weber State defense:

LE – Dustin Martin, DT – Connor Myers, DT – Jake Gallegos, RE – Obi Owah, Field LB – Felix Woods, Middle LB – Emmett Tela, Boundary LB – Luke King, Left corner – Deon’tae Florence, FS – Josh Burton, SS – Tre’von Johnson, Right corner – Cordero Dixon

TV/radio information

Kickoff: 7:40 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: 92.3 FM KTAR, 1330 AM The Blaze

 

Reach the reporter at ewebeck@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck