ASU-NAU Rivalry: Can the Small School From Flagstaff Steal a Victory?

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ASU-NAU Rivalry: Can the Small School From Flagstaff Steal a Victory?
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This Saturday night at Frank Kush Field, the ASU-NAU rivalry will be renewed once again. Of course, this is not the Territorial Cup versus U of A with a bowl game on the line, but don’t sell Northern Arizona short. The Lumberjacks are coming off of a 48-point shutout victory and nearly 500 yards of total offense. Do not think for a second that Dennis Erickson is unaware of the firepower present in the squad from Flagstaff. 

The first person that the Sun Devil defensive staff will be forced to gameplan for is quarterback Michael Herrick. I use the word forced, due to the fact that Herrick can flat out pass the football against anyone. Going back to the days of “Friday night lights” in the Los Angeles area, Herrick showed off his arm and exploded onto the scene at Valencia high school.

And sure enough, Herrick displayed the canon he had. 

By the time it was all said and done, Herrick ended his career for the Valencia Vikings with over 11,000 yards passing, which earned him the top spot in California high school football history (which he still holds today). Along with yardage, Herrick also is first in California history in completions and attempts. In three years as a starting quarterback for Valencia, he threw for 73 touchdowns and ran for 11 rushing touchdowns, good enough to earn a scholarship from Ole Miss in 2006. 

However, that is when Herrick left the spotlight. Through coaching staff changes and other quarterbacks transferring to Ole Miss, Herrick’s playing time diminished. From that point on, Herrick sat on the sidelines holding a clipboard for the better part of three years and eventually transferred to NAU in the Spring of 2008.

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To be honest, the coaches at Ole Miss must have thought that they had better talent in front of Herrick as his eligibility slowly dwindled. Although Herrick got his chance in 2008 earning two starts, he played in ten games recording a 65% completion percentage that placed him second in the Big Sky Conference that season. 

In 2009 Herrick started all 11 games for NAU and completed 270 of 407 passes for 3,356 yards and 22 touchdowns. By seasons end, Herrick ranked third in the Big Sky and 15th in the country in passing efficiency at 149.5. Plain and simple, Herrick is a stud. If the Lumberjacks are going to have any success running their spread passing attack, Herrick will have to have a monstrous game.   

NAU’s offense is very similar to ASU’s passing attack this fall. Both teams like to spread the defense out with four and five wide receivers; but similar to ASU, NAU will need a big game from the ground attack, if the Lumberjacks are going to give ASU and Dennis Erickson a run for their money.

Then again, Northern Arizona always plays their in-state rivals, ASU and U of A, very tough. Just last season, the Lumberjacks went down to Tucson and came up short in a 34-17 loss. Although, the score does not indicate it, but Wildcat fans were shaking in their boots late in the contest. Think back to 2006, when ASU was tied 14-14 with NAU entering the fourth quarter. That game turned out to be a 35-14 victory for ASU, far from the lofty forty-plus point victory most fans would expect in a game matching up a BCS conference team and a FCS school. 

But this is not your ordinary Division 1-AA school. Northern Arizona wants to be on the same level as ASU and U of A. Each and every time the Lumberjacks face-off against their in-state rivals, their mission is to take down goliath. 

In an attempt to do the unthinkable, virtually every aspect of the game would have to be slanted in the Lumberjacks’ favor. Then again Michael Herrick has passed for over 470 yards five times in his career, including a 574-yard performance just last season. Another intriguing scenario is starting NAU running back, Zach Bauman, was a Sun Devil less than a month ago. Bauman was in fall camp as a walk-on, but was unable to make the squad. So, revenge and respect might be at stake for the school from up north.

As Bauman made his debut last Saturday, and his performance made him seem like a man amongst boys. He finished with 22 carries for 170 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, Dennis Erickson’s backfield was already a little crowded, so a scholarship offer was not in the cards.

Northern Arizona might not fully believe they can win, and for ASU, the Sun Devils better believe that the Lumberjacks have no chance. Then again, Arizona State only leads the series 19-14-4 all time. So, a win is not totally out of the question.

Sometimes pride and discipline beats pure athleticism and talent. It would not be the first time an upset like this occurred. As fans of our beloved maroon and gold, we have lived these events firsthand. Just think back to as recent as 2008, when a visit from the Georgia Bulldogs was on the horizon. ASU first had to beat a middle of the road Mountain West Conference team.  Well, as we all know, the UNLV Rebels walked onto Frank Kush Field and stole a victory from Erickson and ASU, and the season was never the same.

This season, a similar schedule has unfolded. Once again two featherweight opponents open up ASU’s nonconference schedule, with a 12 round heavyweight fight scheduled for the third and final test before conference play.  In this contest, NAU will do anything and everything they can to play spoiler, just like UNLV two seasons ago. However, in 2010, the Sun Devils’ attitude has changed. It is evident in their performance on the field.

NAU will try to keep it close, and in years past the Lumberjacks would have been pretty successful. But in 2010, Erickson knows how much this NAU game means. Confidence needs to be at an all-time high heading in to ASU’s next game, if they want to come away victorious at Wisconsin. Nothing other than a huge victory will fulfill those demands.

Recent results in the series would indicate a score somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-17, but I think ASU will emerge as the dominant team once again. Armed with a high-flying quick strike offense that can stretch the field with the pass, and a ground attack that can pound the ball for nearly 250 yards sounds like another big victory for Arizona State.

ASU’s defense will be tested this week, Erickson and his staff are well aware. Herrick and Bauman are the real deal, but in big games, ASU’s defense has performed at its’ best. Last Saturday was not the maroon and gold’s best game on defense, and nine points was the limited damage. Although NAU is better offensively than Portland State, ASU’s defense will be forced to elevate their performance, and that will lead to takeaways and big plays for ASU to roll to a 41-6 victory.  Then, it is off to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Badgers. 

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