It’s a new season, but it might not have looked much like it on offense Thursday night for ASU football, as it defeated Weber State 45-14.
The only three players involved in ASU’s first nine positive offensive plays were redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, junior running back D.J. Foster and redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
Kelly to Strong. Foster rush. Kelly to Strong. Kelly to Strong. Foster rush. Foster rush. Foster rush. Kelly to Foster. Kelly to Foster. Then, finally, freshman Kalen Ballage rushed for two yards. Then it’s more of the same. Foster rush.
The Sun Devils had the opportunity to expand their playbook and test their newcomers. Instead, Kelly, Foster and Strong stole the show. That wasn’t the plan going in, but coach Todd Graham did stick to his game plan in a way: attacking the opponent’s weak spot.
“You’ve just got to go out there and take what they give you,” Graham said. “You’ve got to run the ball to consistently win, but if people are just going to give us the pass, we’re going to take it — every down.”
When Strong left the game in the third quarter, he had caught 10 passes for 146 yards, just 22 yards shy of his career-high — and it all came in the first half.
Foster capped off his night, in front of a more-than-half empty Sun Devil Stadium, by spinning away from a Weber State defender and rushing 57 yards to the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. He finished with 15 attempts for 147 yards, as well as four receptions, second-most on the team.
On defense, it was another story. The newcomers were showcased, and they had to be. Freshman defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood’s name was called on the first defensive play of the game. For the wrong reasons, though: He jumped offsides.
“He’s not going to do that again,” Graham said, with a smirk.
Freshman linebacker DJ Calhoun, on the other hand, made a name for himself in all the right ways. After blowing up a rushing play for a loss of two yards, Calhoun almost came down with an interception. He finished his debut with five tackles.
“I was really pleased with the young guys,” Graham said. “DJ Calhoun … man, he made some mistakes, but he is tough. He is going to be a great player.”
It was Calhoun’s first game under the bright lights of Sun Devil Stadium. He could feel the nerves, but it evidently didn’t affect him.
“I was kind of nervous being out there in front of everybody,” Calhoun said. “I think I (played) to the best of my ability.”
While Graham saw positive things from his No. 1 defense, he wasn’t pleased with the way his backups tackled. The word “sloppy” was thrown around a lot by Graham, including to describe how special teams played.
That had been a focus of his, but he called out both sophomore punter Matt Haack and senior kicker Alex Garoutte for their poor punts and kickoffs. Weber State returned four kicks for 76 yards and two punts for 44. Graham again described the tackling as “sloppy.”
It’s to be expected in the first game of the season, and Graham is happy enough with the win, but it could have been better.
“We came out and dominated a team we should dominate,” Graham said. “We won 45-14, but it should have been that at halftime. And they probably shouldn’t have scored.”
— You may have heard fireworks after touchdowns but not seen them. That’s because ASU made a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration to only shoot off fireworks at three scheduled times because of heavy air travel over Labor Day Weekend. It did, however, play a soundtrack of fireworks after scores. The booms should return to normal against UCLA on Sept. 25.
— Redshirt freshman Marcus Ball and redshirt senior De’Marieya Nelson were announced as starters pregame but didn’t initially play with the first-team. In their places were redshirt junior Jordan Simone at boundary safety and redshirt sophomore Edmond Boateng at Devilbacker. Both did play at each respective position later in the game.
— In addition to Ballage, freshman running back Demario Richard and redshirt freshman wide receiver Gary Chambers made their debuts on offense Thursday. Ballage rushed 12 times for 37 yards and a touchdown. Richard added six yards on 25 carries on the ground, and Chambers caught an eight-yard touchdown as his first career reception. He added another catch for 38 yards.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck