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ASU Football: What to watch out for in the opening game against NAU

More than 40 new players mean just as many new stories for Arizona State football. Thursday’s season opener against Northern Arizona will give us a glimpse of just how far this team has come since the spring, and how his game plan will change with two new coordinators and a flashy new quarterback. increase.

On the other side, the Lumberjacks are looking for their second state upset since beating Arizona 21-19 last September. In addition to the possibility of running an FCS tournament, ASU’s matchup will be the Super Bowl.

“We can play Thursday night at home against NAU, who are really good opponents,” head coach Herm Edwards said. Offensively and defensively, (head) coach (Chris) Ball did a good job there and as you know, they beat Arizona last year and I’m excited for them to play against the Sun Devils. I know.”

Grab your notebook, because there’s a lot to catch up on. In addition to the action of the game, we introduce five notable stories.

Run/pass balance under Glenn Thomas

When Glenn Thomas arrived in Tempe in January, the players lit up with an offensive opportunity that relied on quick passes. During the Spring Showcase and Media Day, Thomas and other coaches established the team’s fun-first mindset while applauding Wyoming-transferred Zazabian Varaday and third-year Daniel Ngata.

Unsurprisingly, this is from quarterback-minded coaches: Valladay is the active FBS leader in rushing yards (3,274) and Ngata is a former four-star recruit.

How far has the offense developed with Jones down center? How balanced?

The Sun Devils’ offensive talent is centered around running backs, tight ends and Jones. Multiple factors point to Edwards and Thomas taking a conservative approach to his NAU. It’s the season opener, with quarterback Emory his Jones arriving on campus just four months ahead of him next week against No. 12 Oklahoma State is the best non-conference matchup of the season. It might be in ASU’s best interest to keep his hard-hitting plays and plans on the shelf for another week.

The offensive line also dictates part of the game plan. A move to Penn State and right tackle Des Holmes is the new lineman leader and will be out Thursday’s game, so ASU will be short his hand up front, even though coaches won’t say so. . Another right guard starting candidate, Joey Ramos, will fill in at right tackle.

Expect a lot of running. If the line doesn’t hold up, a simple, short play action pass can give Jones space and space. Jones said he won’t throw the ball more than 25 times on Thursday.

offensive target share

Everyone wants to know who the receiver is next. ASU sent three wide receivers (N’Keal Harry, Brandon Aiyuk, and Frank Darby) to the NFL from 2018-2020, but in 2021 the team’s primary receiver, Ricky Pearsall, moved to Florida. When I did, the room was hit hard.

“The veteran guy is obviously[Sr. Brian Thompson]but there are a lot of young talent out there who haven’t played much,” Edwards said. “I think it will be interesting for me to see[Glenn Thomas]call the game. Obviously, how are you going to communicate with him, how is he going to call the game? Got some interesting stuff, how he decides who gets what is going to be interesting and I think getting hot players is like any other thing.

This year could be the tight end with either Jarin Conyers or Messiah Swinson leading the team and entertaining. Or are you going to be a running back?

Keep an eye on Elijah Badger. Badger is widely regarded as Tempe’s most talented receiver, but his off-field problems early in his career and lack of consistency led to the former 4-star native of Folsom, Calif. His breakout was hampered.

“It’s just a matter of (Badger) being consistent in the game, right?” Edwards said. “I see flashes. Definitely. We saw it when we first got him. He’s matured quite a bit since then, too.”

The Flash showed up last season playing some gadgets and was a true receiver in camp, but Badger is becoming a memorable name in the conference.

Emory Jones is under pressure, will he ever face adversity?

Edwards has been vocal about his expectations of Jaden Daniels scoring four first downs every game on unscheduled plays. Emory Jones shares a very similar skill set with Daniels and has the ability to extend his play with his feet. Jones also surpassed Daniels in most statistical categories for 2021. This includes passing touchdowns (Jones: 19, Daniels: 10), passing yards (Jones: 2734, Daniels: 2380) and rushing yards (Jones: 759, Daniels: 710).

When his pocket collapsed at ASU, Daniels ran quickly. While Jones is under pressure, it will be interesting to see if he has his sights downfield or if he keeps his head down and fights for the first down marker.

The program and its fans want a passing game upgrade from Daniels’ 2021 performance, but that will depend on many factors, including pass protection and pass catcher production.

defensive rotation

The first 11 defensive players Edwards and defensive coordinator Donny Henderson will send to the field probably come as no surprise. What is newsworthy is the turnover and its frequency.

On Thursday night, we got to see eight different defensive linemen, four different linebackers and nine to ten defensive backs all rotated. Snap Count is what coaches rely on on the battlefield for positions such as defensive ends (Joe Moore, Traves Moore, Anthony Cooper) cornerbacks (Law Torrence, Ed Woods, Masen Williams) and safety (Cory Besley, Chris Edmonds). reflect the location. , Kejuan Markham, DJ Taylor, Alijah Gammage).

Players like BJ Green and TJ Pesefea made a name for themselves with three downs last season, so it will be interesting to see this year’s group. It will also be interesting to see if Henderson and his line coach Robert Rodriguez organize a platoon of players to keep their feet fresh.

small battle

Discipline issues plagued last year’s ASU, with drops, mental mistakes, and painstaking penalties. They finished 128th (131 total) on FBS in penalty yards per game.

Had the disease been a mild case, the Sun Devils could have had an extra win last year.

“We can’t do that. We can’t go back to where we were last year. We need to change this team,” said captain Case Hatch. It’s an inspirational quote that the Sun Devil can apply to many aspects of his football.

More generally, special teams success and third-down wins are often a recipe for strong performances in football. Last year footballoutsiders.com ranked his ASU #1. Also suitable for the end of his FBS 119 team, the Pac-12 of Special Teams.

On third down, the Sun Devils had more success. Their 44.93% conversion rate was good for np. 23 people nationwide. Oddly enough, this was only his 6th best rate on the Pac-12.

Will NAU’s matchups be third downs and special teams? Probably not, but Edwards and company have struggled to fix these issues in the past. Week 1 in smaller fights poor health can be a sign of upcoming problems.

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