The Arizona State football team opened the 2014 season with a 45-14 win over Weber State before 52,133 at Sun Devil Stadium Thursday night. The win snapped the Devils’ modest two-game losing streak dating back to last season (Pac-12 Championship Game, Holiday Bowl).
ASU’s next game will be Saturday, September 6 in Albuquerque against the New Mexico Lobos.
Here’s five things we learned in the win.
1. Strong Debut…wide receiver Jaelen Strong is 14 pounds heavier and substantially stronger (no pun intended) than he was a year ago when he arrived in Tempe. Against Weber he out-muscled, out-jumped and out-ran the Wildcats to the tune of 10 catches for 146 yards in just one half of play. The 6’3, 211-pounder is looking to build off his 75-catch, 1,122-yard, seven-touchdown Pac-12 debut season and if teams continue to single cover like the Wildcats did he will likely eclipse those numbers if he can remain healthy.
2. (Line)Backing Up the Hype…yes, I understand it’s against a two-win Big Sky team but the early results were positive for the trio of sophomores Salamo Fiso and Laui Moeakiola and true freshman DJ Calhoun. All were active combining for 15 tackles by halftime. Graham has praised the somewhat undersized Calhoun for his playmaking skills in pre-season camp and the early enrollee seems to have a good grasp of Graham’s scheme. He got the seal of approval afterwards. “[Graham] said I was playing good and playing aggressive. He likes that.” His head coach echoed those sentiments. “He’s tough. He’s going to be a great player.”
3. Valley Thunder & Lightning…believe it or not, D.J. Foster looks even faster than a year ago. The junior used his elusiveness and game-breaking speed to average nearly 10 yards an attempt (15 carries, 147 yards and found the end zone three times in barely over a half of play. We also saw the debut of 6’3, 220-pound true freshman running back Kalen Ballage who scored on a short run and will only get better with more game experience. He also showed agility on the edge in the second half.
4. Another Weapon…Gary Chambers made his first career catch count reeling in an eight-yard first-quarter touchdown from Taylor Kelly. The Glendale Ironwood alum almost made it two-for-two on a 38-yard catch-and-run getting stopped inches before the goal line. The tall, rangy target has contributed on special teams the past two seasons but presents another big target on the outside along with Strong. “Says a lot about him,” Kelly said of Chambers. “He put in a lot of work in the off-season…he’s been working his tail off. It’s really exciting.”
5. Not Perfect…even in the lopsided win there are still issues for Graham and his staff to dissect when they watch the film. The Devils got away with some missed tackles and poor angles in the secondary but, because of their athleticism, were able to recover on most plays. Obviously, they won’t be able to afford the same luxury as the competition improves. Senior safety Damarious Randall won’t keep this one on the high-light reel. The special teams ran hot (two punts downed inside the one) and cold (Alex Garoutte sailing a kickoff out-of-bounds, Randall inexplicably fielding a punt inside the five). “We didn’t kick the ball very well,” Graham said after the game.