TEMPE — For eight months, new Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said all the right things. He shook hands with anyone who would extend one to him. He did more in those eight months to light a fire under the bottoms of ASU faithful than his predecessor, Dennis Erickson, did in five seasons.
But the campaigning is over. Now, it’s about football.
And the first glance of the new Sun Devils was an impressive one. Arizona State switched into the left lane early in their opener against Northern Arizona, put the hammer down and left it there in a 63-6 at Sun Devil Stadium. It was the most points any ASU team has scored since their season-opening win against Temple in 2005.
Here are three things that I took away from ASU’s opener:
The newcomers aren’t intimidated
When you’re getting your first taste of big-time college football, you’re supposed to be nervous, right? At least a few butterflies fluttering around the stomach.
Not for this team. Not Thursday night.
Taylor Kelly sparkled in his first collegiate start at quarterback, going 15-for-19 for 247 yards and a touchdown. Kelly also ran for 43 yards in the game. His backup, Michael Eubank scored his first collegiate touchdown.
So did running backs Marion Grice (two scores) and D.J. Foster as well as freshman receiver Richard Smith.
On defense, JC transfer Chris Young and freshmen Carlos Mendoza and Jaxon Hood combined for 4.5 tackles for loss.
From the standpoint of getting new players acclimated to college football, this is exactly what Todd Graham and the Sun Devils had to be looking for.
Discipline? What is this?
Graham talked about discipline and character ad nauseum leading up to the season. It sunk in.
The Sun Devils had only four penalties for 30 yards — and none on the defensive side of the football. Half of the penalty yardage came on a questionable offensive pass interference call on receiver Rashad Ross in the third quarter.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed the difference in the Sun Devils’ style of play.
“One thing that was really gratifying was with about four minutes left in the game, the referee came over to me, which has never happened to me in a football game, and he said, ‘Coach, I am absolutely amazed with your kids, they were absolutely incredible tonight.’ That meant as much to me as the win,” Graham said following the game.
The standard has been set for the defense. They’ll need to play a clean game against a much better opponent in Illinois next week.
The juggling of the quarterbacks
Graham, as promised, used two quarterbacks Thursday, with Kelly taking the bulk of the snaps. Michael Eubank did action as well, mostly in red zone and goal line situations. Eubank attempted only one pass, a two-yard completion to Foster.
But for the most part, the system worked well. Graham has stressed the importance of running the offense and protecting the ball, and both quarterbacks did that in the opener. The Sun Devils did have one turnover, a fumble on a pitch play, but that was more on Cameron Marshall than Kelly.
“I thought it worked pretty well tonight,” Graham said about his quarterback system.