ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

Arizona State dominates NAU despite slow start in season opener

Sep 1, 2022, 11:43 PM | Updated: Sep 2, 2022, 11:34 am

TEMPE — After a slow start offensively in the first quarter, the Arizona State Sun Devils dominated the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks to the tune of a 40-3 victory at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday night.

ASU failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter of its season opener, but proceeded to rack up three TDs in the final 15 minutes of the first half to take a 24-3 lead into halftime.

Newcomers highlighted the scoring spree for the Sun Devils, as quarterback Emory Jones, running back Xazavian Valladay and tight end Messiah Swinson all played pivotal roles in getting the ball down the field and into the end zone. Swinson finished the contest as the game’s leading receiver with 50 yards on three receptions (three targets).

“I told y’all they were some playmakers. I’ve been waiting for this moment to see those guys go out there and perform,” Jones said postgame. “They did what they were supposed to do, what they usually do every single day.

“Messiah, he’s a big target. He’s got guys bouncing off of him. That’s something that I love too about a big target, just put it up in the air for him. X, he’s just a crazy dynamic guy. He can break out and go score at any time. I’m just crazy excited about those guys, they’ve put in a lot of work and it’s showing.”

Jones had two rushing touchdowns on the night, the second of which came on a 17-yard scamper to cap off a two-play, 45-yard drive set up by a Kyle Soelle interception. Valladay had the other 28 yards of the drive on the ground a play prior.

The quarterback finished the ballgame 13-for-18 (72%) for 152 yards in the air while providing 48 yards on the ground on 11 carries (4.4 per rush). His only blemish was a strip-sack fumble at the end of the first half, which set up NAU’s only points on the night.

Valladay also had two rushing touchdowns, the first of which came from four yards out in the second quarter behind the blocking brigade of six offensive linemen and fullback Case Hatch. The running back nearly walked in from 27 yards out for his second rushing score on the opening drive of the third quarter.

Valladay finished the night as the game’s leading rusher with 116 yards on 15 attempts for a 7.7 average. Ngata added 60 yards on 10 rushes (6.0 average) with a long of 29. The Sun Devils posted a whopping 267 yards on the ground (419 total) and picked up 24 first downs.

“I challenged the runners, especially (Valladay). I told him, ‘It’s an eight-man box. Nobody blocks the eighth guy. You gotta make the guy miss,'” head coach Herm Edwards said postgame. “I think he got mad at me, which was good and then he really started running.

“At times he was running cautious to me, he was a cautious runner. Maybe because we kept saying, ‘Hey we don’t want to turn the ball over.’ I might have made him feel a little cautious, but I went over there and talked to all of those guys. … Next time I looked up, he was running. Should have told them that earlier. But they got the message. I thought all of them ran well.”

Despite playing a “vanilla defense” in an effort to not show much to Week 2 opponent Oklahoma State, ASU picked up right where it left off last season as the best in the Pac-12 and No. 13 in the entire nation in terms of yards allowed. The defensive line caused havoc for NAU in both the passing and running games, forcing quarterback R.J. Martinez to get rid of the ball quickly while stuffing the run all night.

“I give them some credit, their offensive coordinator, head coach, they did a good job of protecting him because they know I was trying to get after him,” defensive end Travez Moore said postgame. “Me, Joe (Moore), (Anthonie) Cooper, the whole D-line, we were trying to get him but they did everything to protect him, so that’s a good job on them.”

The Lumberjacks only managed to muster 120 total yards of offense and seven first downs in the ballgame and were forced to punt six times while committing two turnovers. And unfortunately for the Sun Devils, two interceptions that were brought back to the house were negated by penalties — a theme that plagued ASU a season ago.

However, Arizona State only committed a total of four penalties for 35 yards compared to last year’s season opener which saw ASU commit 13 penalties for 135 yards.

The Sun Devils also “rode the hot hand” (foot) of true freshman kicker Carter Brown, who was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals from 27 yards, 36 yards and two from 44 yards out. He also hit all four of his extra point attempts.

EXTRA POINTS

Right tackle Joey Ramos, who started in place of Des Holmes, left the game due to an injury he sustained by getting rolled up on. He required assistance to get off the field. Isaia Glass, who started at left tackle but was replaced by Emitt Bohle, finished the game at RT.

Edwards said postgame that Ramos suffered a high-ankle sprain and hopes to have him back next week, while the head coach expects Holmes to be available at Oklahoma State.

UP NEXT

ASU will travel to Stillwater to take on the OSU Cowboys on Sept. 10 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM / 98.7 FM HD-2.

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