Tempe, AZ – The Sun Devils are hours away from charging out of Tillman Tunnel for Game #1 against Sacramento State. At long last this team, who has prepared as hard as any across the country, gets to step onto Frank Kush Field and hit someone not wearing maroon or gold.
Our staff discussed Thursday night’s game, and one common theme surfaced: This one’s all about setting up ASU’s 2013 season, and more importantly the next four games against #21 Wisconsin, #5 Stanford, #25 USC and #14 Notre Dame (AP Rankings as of this week).
With so many new faces expected to make an impact on both sides of the ball, it’s important to get these players meaningful reps under the big lights. The schedule just doesn’t afford multiple weeks for the new players to get accustomed to Division 1 football before the four game gauntlet in games 2-5. The defense has three very major voids to fill at Free (Field) Safety, Field Cornerback, and Spur. The offense will be breaking in a revamped receiving core still nailing down timing with Taylor Kelly. This game provides players an opportunity to state their cases for playing time.
ASU returns several veterans on both sides of the ball, but the depth chart behind the starters is filled with a lot of talent that has not solidified themselves in the two-deep. Coach Graham has stated that he is still awaitng for some of the linebacking core to separate themselves as back-up options. A few of the receivers have made their cases for being priority passing targets for Kelly, but several athletes are still vying for time in the line-up. It is still a toss-up as to who will get second-team QB reps behind Kelly (Berco is the most likely), but that remains an intriguing substitution once it happens. Unlike most games against a lower-tier conference foe, every play throughout this one will be important in sorting out the depth chart.
Installing the Defense for ASU’s match-up’s against 4 ranked teams starting the following Saturday.
ASU has several moving and interchangeable parts on defense that allows them to scheme against certain offenses by putting players in positon to make plays and avoid mismatches. Facing four top-25 teams in successive weeks is daunting, but there is a silver lining. The Devils will face more traditional pro-style offenses in those games that will allow them to scheme very similarly against all four power running teams. Continuity, familiarity, communication, and assignment discipline should be a strong point by not having to radically change defensive schemes over that tough stretch. Coach Graham made it a priority in the off-season to get the defense better at stopping the run, and there are no bigger tests of that commitment than lining up and playing smash mouth football against quality running teams.
This game holds more story lines than most similar early-season games against teams that ASU should easily dispatch. Much of the depth chart will be sorted out in this one, and many of the questions that haven’t been answered over the course of fall camp will be answered. They have to be because this is very limited prelude to the baptism by fire for every newcomer heading into week 2 and beyond.
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