So Sun Devil fans, did you witness the performance that you expected Saturday night? The offseason talk was heavy and constant regarding ASU’s switch from a bland one running back offense of years past, to the new quick strike no huddle passing attack installed this year. Well, Sun Devil Stadium received a breath of fresh air, because the offense was all it was hyped up to be, and more.
Complete with motions, deep passes, nearly automatic completions, and a dominant presence in the running game, the Portland State Vikings were over-matched in ASU’s 54-9 victory. Fans came to be entertained, and certainly Noel Mazzone’s offensive style coupled with ASU’s hard-hitting defense put on a top-notch show.
In regards to the game, over-matched is a good word to describe Arizona State University’s 2010 home opener. The first couple minutes of the game might have reminded ASU fans of the past two seasons with three quick passes and a subsequent punt, as well as a big run allowed by the defense to flip field position. However, that is when the light turned on for Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils.
With Portland State threatening to draw first blood and score an early touchdown, the Sun Devil defense stood strong, pushed the Vikings back and forced a routine field goal. For the rest of the game, ASU’s defense certainly looked the part while only relinquishing two more field goals.
After a poor showing offensively on their opening drive, the Sun Devils put an end to any “here we go again” talk. Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils were in control the rest of the way. Armed with an offense that seemed to catch Portland State off guard all night, utilizing a powerful running game, both up the middle and outside, a passing attack conducted by Steven Threet who looked sharp and confident finding multiple receivers for completions all over the field. Fans were expecting a change to the offense, and in the first game, Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone put on a showcase of his play calling with a grand total of 553 yards and 23 first downs.
In seasons past under Erickson, the talk out of Fall Camp was cheap, the preseason hype was strong, and the results on the field were pretty weak. So far, it seems like Erickson has made all the right moves to improve this football team. The offense was a disaster the past two seasons; no one was blind to that. The offense has an identity now with fresh faces and talent we have not seen before. Steven Threet (14-21 239 yards 2 TD),was solid in his first start at ASU and clearly performed well enough to earn a second against Northern Arizona. Wide Receiver Aaron Pflugrad looks to be a big improvement at slot receiver, and both Mike Willie and George Bell looked good but no highlight reel catches as of yet, but those plays will come with time.
However, the offense would have looked awful, if it was not for the offensive line. I am still withholding judgment on this group because Portland State’s defensive line is not filled with All-American type talent like USC, or even a team like Wisconsin. Brice Schwab is in fact a beast with his 6 foot 7 inch 340 pound frame. With the addition of Dan Knapp at left tackle, that move somehow brought a new rough, tough, “beat you up” anyway possible attitude that was missing in 2009. Knapp’s athleticism kept Threet's blind side safe all night, as well as paving the way for 242 yards rushing.
The continuity and overall talent seems to be there, but as Erickson said, “We need to find the right five guys to play, and plug them in”. In recruiting, Erickson found the right guys to fill the holes from graduation, while making major improvements at the same time. So, with time and seasoning the offensive line will be the finishing touch to complete this football team.
To be a complete football team the offense is going to have to match the same ferocious intensity that the defense plays with. Consistency will be a factor, but it is obvious that the speed and athletic ability is there, at all levels of the defense. There were questions about the secondary, and how the loss of two safeties would hurt, but I think that Erickson’s Junior College transfer Eddie Elder gives this defense even another step up from 2009 to this Fall.
In his debut, Elder made a spectacular diving interception down the sideline, as well as causing a safety on back to back possessions in the first half. With these two plays and the offense doing their job, ASU took command of the game. To be frank, Elder was a difference maker against Portland State, as he will throughout the season, and it is clear that Erickson vastly upgraded the secondary with his talent.
In terms of a major upgrade, how about ASU's freshman running back Deantre Lewis. Not only did Lewis run for 2,383 yards 31 touchdowns as a high school senior for Norco (CA), but the phennominal back looks to have a very fruitful career ahead of him in Tempe. In Lewis' first game, he carried the ball 5 times for 24 yards and a touchdown, but his playmaking ability was evident in the passing game. Lewis hauled in 3 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Not too bad for debut.
What about the linebackers you ask? Well, they are fast, really, really fast. Not to mention seeing their jersey numbers in sequence 6, 7, and 8 on the field chasing you, it’s a pretty sight to see for Sun Devil fans. With that speed, the toughness and physicality are both still there. Vontaze Burfict and Gerald Munns will rip your head off to make a tackle, and Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will chase you down before you get to the line of scrimmage. The linebackers will be just fine folks.
In reality, the only real surprise of the game was Thomas Weber’s missed field goal in the first half. Coming off of a major muscle tear in your kicking leg, the unknown is always feared, and many felt confident with a healthy Weber. If he is healthy and confident, Weber is up with the best in the country as 2007 proved. During Fall camp, Weber was not restricted while kicking and was on target all Summer, so I guess this miss will be “blamed” on the hold. Plus Weber's 52 yard kick in the fourth quarter made up for the miss.
By the final whistle, smiles, high-fives, and hugs blanketed Sun Devil Stadium, as fans across the valley began to ponder and predict how the rest of the season will unfold. However, just a gentle reminder that a big win versus Portland State, is a good building block for confidence, but the Vikings are nowhere near the level of Pacific Ten Conference competition. Take this game for what it was: a non-conference opener versus a lower tier Big Sky Conference team. A good win nonetheless, and in dominating fashion. With Northern Arizona up next for the Sun Devils, more of the same home cooking is expected next week.