Most prognosticators felt that the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks would give Arizona State a much better test on the field than previous opponent Portland State, and for the most part, predictions were dead on. However, NAU showed their explosiveness in their spread offense attack, with both Michael Herrick and former Sun Devil Chasen Stangel calling the signals. NAU pushed the Sun Devils to the limit, and put forth a complete effort, and when it was all said and done, the score did not indicate just how competitive this in-state rivalry contest truly was.
With the scoreboard reading 41-20 in favor of the Sun Devils, another win was earned by the maroon and gold, as well as yet another building block for confidence heading into the Wisconsin game next Saturday. A 2-0 record will look good on paper, but on the field, the performance of Dennis Erickson’s squad left fans wondering if a win on the road is achievable?
Make no mistake; NAU and Portland State are in no way shape or form in the same ballpark as a Big Ten Conference opponent such as Wisconsin. Although the Badgers are the team next up on ASU’s schedule, after Saturday night’s showing against the Lumberjacks Dennis Erickson might be hoping he had a bye week before this affair.
After the season opener against Portland State, fans across the valley had taken note of the dominating performance the Sun Devils displayed, however, that same dominating attitude was missing against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. ASU had a slow start against Portland State a week ago, but that only lasted for the first drive of the game. Northern Arizona seemed to put ASU’s team in a funk for nearly the entire game.
Arizona State’s defense has been tabbed as the best defense in the Pacific Ten Conference, but Northern Arizona made the Sun Devils look foolish at times. The Sun Devils’ defense reverted to their old form and gave up momentum shifting big plays in their pedestrian effort to shutdown the NAU Lumberjacks. “Three-and-outs” have been a rallying cry for this Sun Devil defense, yet ASU did not force a quick possession by NAU until three minutes remaining before halftime.
NAU only totaled 238 yards for the entire game, but once again, ASU found themselves trailing by a field goal early in the contest for the second straight week. A Pacific Ten Conference team like ASU should not be trailing teams from the Big Sky Conference once, let alone two weeks in a row. The talent disparity between the two squads is evident and the main reason the fourth quarter was the difference, but ASU did not dominate in the fashion that one might expect a BCS conference team would. In terms of talent, the Lumberjacks are not on the same level as ASU, but a few did make the contest far more entertaining than most expected.
Not only was NAU’s quarterback Michael Herrick efficient against a top defense, but the Lumberjacks even threw in former ASU back-up quarterback Chasen Stangel into the mix to try and spark an upset. The Lumberjacks had something to prove at Sun Devil Stadium, and for many on the NAU roster, the players wanted to show what abilities Erickson and his staff overlooked in recruiting.
For Stangel, that was his 34-yard reception from NAU running back Austin Shanks. Stangel never even took a snap for the maroon and gold, and yet on Saturday he had the highly acclaimed ASU defense chasing him on Frank Kush Field. Although the Lumberjacks were not fancy with their “trick plays” the entire night, NAU did utilize a solid balanced attack all night behind running back Zach Bauman, a member of ASU’s 2010 Fall camp roster.
The NAU Lumberjacks wanted to make a statement by pulling off a monumental upset, and for three quarters, it looked like that might just happen. ASU might have been caught looking ahead towards their tilt with Wisconsin, but with a big game on the horizon, a performance far superior than what ASU displayed Saturday was desired.
Unfortunately, ASU was not the team that made the statement Saturday. Statements were made by actions on the field, and they screamed: “major improvements are needed.”
Dennis Erickson wanted to cut down on the penalties to put his defense and his squad in better situations. During Saturday’s game, ASU committed 13 penalties for 131 yards, just seven days after the team was flagged eleven times. Unfortunately, ASU will not be playing a Big Sky opponent next week, and if the penalties are not cut down, the Sun Devils will be in for a long road trip.
However, the penalties have been an issue since Erickson arrived four seasons ago, so fans in the valley might not expect much change from week two to three. Although, fans did not expect to see such a poor effort from ASU’s running game. Coming off of last weeks 242 yard rushing output, similar numbers were thought to be on display. The holes that Cameron Marshall exploded through against Portland State were nonexistent, and in the end, ASU only finished with 56 yards rushing.
The breakaway runs of Marshall and Deantre Lewis were nowhere to be found. The Sun Devils only averaged 1.9 yards per carry against a Division 1-AA school, what should fans expect from the ground attack next weekend in Madison, 0.9 yards per carry? Hopefully the offensive line just had an off night.
But the game could not have been that bad right? ASU still won the contest by 21 points. The ground game struggled to find their stride, and the player that elevated the play of the entire team was just the person that fans would expect, the starting quarterback. Steven Threet used his right arm to earn ASU's second win of the year.
Threet didn’t just carry ASU to a victory, he had his career high in completions as he went 33 of 49 for 391 yards and three touchdowns. The Sun devils looked for guidance and leadership when the early lead began to dwindle, but even Threet made some mistakes.
In an offense where the ball is being snapped every 15 seconds, mistakes are going to be made, but the one man on the field who has to have everything together mentally and physically, is the signal caller. Saturday night, Threet threw two interceptions in critical situations, and left the Sun Devil defense in tough situations. With that being said, Threet made the right decisions late in the contest to find receivers Mike Willie, Kerry Taylor, and Aaron Pflugrad to propel the Sun Devils to victory.
About the only positive moving forward from this game was the passing of ASU’s spread offense. Threet did his job, with a couple costly errors, but for the most part a solid performance from the Michigan transfer. ASU finished the night with 450 total yards of offense, 394 of that total coming from Threet’s right arm.
However, it was not just Threet, his receivers found open space and made big plays to keep the chains moving when the running game was nonexistent. Eight different receivers caught a pass, including eight catches for both Willie and Pflugrad, who seem to be Threet’s favorite options out wide. Another player who found the spotlight on him was Kerry Taylor. The senior receiver hauled in 6 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, having his best game since 2008. Still, the hype of Gerrel Robinson at receiver seems to be dwindling, and JUCO transfer George Bell has yet to make a statement. Although, all in all the receivers had a very workmanlike performance, and another game like this from the receivers will certainly help the cause against a far tougher opponent next Saturday.
Northern Arizona is a solid team, but the Wisconsin Badgers will absolutely make the most of every single mistake a team makes. The mistakes were made, and ASU dealt with their shortcomings on the field. In the end, Threet passed the Sun Devils to a second straight victory, and that is all that matters. Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned. The real question is, when will ASU learn from their mistakes? Dennis Erickson and ASU fans are still waiting. Because you can mark it down, a similar performance in Madison on Saturday will not end in a 41-20 win for ASU.