Northern Arizona (0-0) at (15) Arizona State (0-0)
Saturday, August 30th, 10:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Instate foes meet up in Tempe this weekend, as the heavily favored Arizona State Sun Devils kick off their 2008 campaign by hosting the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
In his first season at ASU, legendary head coach Dennis Erickson worked his magic and led the Sun Devils to a surprising 10-win campaign and a share of the Pac-10 title. The team also earned a spot in a fourth consecutive postseason game, although a 52-34 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl ended the club's season on a sour note. Still, with Erickson roaming the sidelines and the return of several key skilled players from a year ago, the Sun Devils appear to have all the ingredients for another double- digit win campaign in 2008.
As for NAU, it is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision and it is coming off a second straight 6-5 campaign. Head coach Jerome Souers has posted 55 victories in 10 seasons with the Lumberjacks and he figures to add to that total this season thanks to the return of quality players on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately for Souers, it is unlikely he will add to that win total this weekend, as NAU hasn't defeated ASU since 1938, although the Sun Devils own just an 18-14-4 edge in the all-time series.
The Lumberjacks relied heavily on their ground attack in 2007, averaging 232.3 total ypg, and they figure to be effective in this area once again this season. Junior Alex Henderson rushed for a team-high 908 yards in 2007 and he is set to be the featured back in 2008. Already ranked 10th in career rushing yards at NAU, Henderson has good speed and can also be a target out of the backfield, finishing with 20 catches last season.
Getting the ball to Henderson will be quarterback Lance Kriesien, who is in his fifth year in the program. Kriesien missed some time with injuries last season, but the duel-threat still finished with 1,897 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air and 686 yards and eight scores on the ground. He should benefit from the return of tight end Shaun Fitzpatrick, an honorable mention All-American last season. The steady Fitzpatrick hauled in 28 balls for 306 yards and a score last season and he should be able to improve on those numbers with a bigger role in the passing game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lumberjacks figure to be strong in the secondary with the return of cornerback K.J. Gerard and safety Cyrus Igono. Last season, Gerard was voted a Third-Team All-American after picking off a team-best six passes and he also posted 57 stops, displaying his ability to be successful against both the pass and run. As for Igono, he paced NAU with 79 tackles and he also chipped with three interceptions, and his return should once again provide a safety net in the back for the Lumberjacks.
The linebacker corps isn't nearly as strong without a senior leader around, but junior Cody Dowd showed some promise last season, racking up 35 tackles, and he figures to make a big impact in 2008. Along the line, NAU has a lot of question marks, so the team is hoping that a trio of newcomers can step in and make an immediate impact.
For the Sun Devils, it all starts with high profiled quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who has been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate entering the season. The senior signal-caller is coming off an impressive 2007 campaign in which he threw for 3,202 yards and 25 scores, and coach Erickson certainly understands his importance to the team and program.
"Its a pleasure to be here and to have a guy like Rudy [Carpenter] who has been around the program a long time. Erickson stated, "When you talk about a Sun Devil, you talk about Rudy."
The return of wideouts Chris McGaha and Michael Jones should also help Carpenter in becoming one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation in 2008. McGaha led the Sun Devils last year with 61 catches, while Jones made countless big receptions for the squad, finishing with 10 touchdowns.
In the backfield, ASU returns an experienced runner in Keegan Herring, who is expected to carry the load during his senior campaign. In 2007, the speedy Herring totaled 815 yards and five scores on the ground and if he can remain healthy, he should compete for a 1,000-yard campaign this season. One thing that could slow down Herring and the rest of this offense, however, is a line that will be breaking in three new starters.
Defensively, ASU is paced by Troy Nolan, who is considered to be the heart and soul of this unit.
"Troy Nolan is the key to our defense", states coach Erickson, "he is a huge leader and we look for great things from him."
The senior safety notched 64 tackles last season and his six interceptions were the most by an ASU players since Nathan LaDuke's seven in 1989. Corner Omar Bolden (33 tackles) started the final nine games of his freshman campaign in 2007 and he could emerge as the shutdown corner the Sun Devils desperately need.
At linebacker, Travis Goethel (71 stops) and Mike Nixon (58 tackles) return for another year of fun in the sun, and they will be joined by Morris Wooten, who collected 47 tackles as a back up last season.
Up front, ASU is loaded with experience and returns three starters, including ends Luis Vasquez and Dexter Davis. The duo combined for 15 sacks and 10 TFLs last season and they should cause all sorts of havoc once again in 2008.
This is a complete mismatch and the game should be out of reach before the fourth quarter even arrives. The Sun Devils should be able to dominate all aspects of the game, as they tune up for their Pac-10 opener next weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 48, Northern Arizona 10
08/27 10:56:30 ET