Last season, the collective blood pressure of ASU football fans rose substantially as the Sun Devils had to win coming from behind nearly every game.
Saturday night, the No. 15 Sun Devils took strides to reverse that trend.
It took ASU (1-0) just five plays to score when sophomore wide receiver Kerry Taylor hauled in a 52-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter en route to a 30-13 season-opening victory over visiting NAU.
The game was not as close as the score indicated.
Carpenter dissected the Lumberjack defense, completing 22 of 28 passes for 388 yards and a touchdown in front of 62,707 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
The oft-scrutinized offensive line gave Carpenter plenty of time to make throws Saturday night, yielding just one sack in the game as they began their campaign to erase people’s memory of the 55 sacks given up a year ago.
ASU coach Dennis Erickson said a fast start was a key part of the game plan.
“Our theme all week was to come out early and play well against them and we did,” Erickson said.
The first of three field goals from sophomore kicker Thomas Weber towards the end of the first quarter gave ASU a 10-0 lead.
The Sun Devils started the second quarter with their best drive of the game, going 99 yards on 10 plays in just under five minutes.
The drive was capped off by a Dimitri Nance 3-yard touchdown run that put ASU ahead 17-0.
The junior running back, who received the bulk of the carries in place of injured senior Keegan Herring, scored two touchdowns on the night for the Sun Devils.
“His hamstring was not ready,” Erickson said of his decision to hold out Herring. “There was no sense in him playing; he might have re-hurt it.”
On their next offensive possession, the Sun Devils needed only four plays to reach the end zone. The drive featured an acrobatic 28-yard reception from senior wide receiver Michael Jones who led ASU with six receptions for 162 yards.
Nance finished the drive with a 6-yard plunge for a touchdown that put the Sun Devils up 24-0 and erased any doubt as to the outcome of the game.
On the Sun Devils’ following drive, Jones took a 52-yard pass from Carpenter down to the one-yard line, but he fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone as he reached for the goal line.
The fumble resulted in ASU’s only turnover of the game.
Despite the two rushing touchdowns, the Sun Devils had some trouble gaining yardage on the ground.
“The NAU defense did a pretty good job of covering gaps,” Nance said, “But I think we can get a lot better.”
Defensively, the Sun Devils could not have played much better than they did in the first half, allowing only five first downs and 98 yards of total offense.
“I thought we played very well defensively in the first three quarters of the game,” Erickson said. “We ran around and made some good plays in the secondary.”
Junior defensive end Dexter Davis, who led the Sun Devils with 10.5 sacks last season, had two sacks on Saturday.
Junior linebacker Mike Nixon also played well, leading the Sun Devils with eight tackles (four solo).
“We thought we played a real good first half,” Nixon said. “We got out there and were able to do what we wanted.”
Nixon was not as pleased with the defensive effort in the last quarter and half, as NAU scored 13 unanswered to end the game.
“We didn’t step up like we needed to [at the end of the game],” Nixon said. With what Stanford did at Oregon State, we are going to need a better effort next week.”
ASU goes to practice this week before opening Pac-10 Conference play against Stanford Sept. 6.
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