The Arizona State Sun Devils could open the season at 7 p.m. Thursday against an FCS contender in northern Arizona, but they’re not taking the Lumberjacks lightly.
NAU’s 21-19 win over Arizona last year was probably enough to get the Sun Devils attention, but with all the turmoil surrounding the ASU program last year, the Sun Devils are in no position to take an opponent for granted. In any event.
The Sun Devils have a roster of 43 newcomers. They return only seven starters, including four in defense. So most of the major contributors to last season’s 8-5 performance have moved on. There are plenty of starving players who served as substitutes last year, eager for a chance to prove themselves.
“We’re ready to go. No one takes lightly who we play and everyone is working,” second-year wide receiver Chad Johnson said. “Herm (Edwards, head coach) reminds us. They’re not Pac-12, but first we have to come out and punch them in the mouth and hopefully we get the win.”
It will be the 41st meeting between the programs but the first since 2016 when ASU won 44-13. This match, however, was closer than the score would indicate. ASU only led 13-6 midway through the third quarter and 20-6 to start the fourth.
Edwards met the media on Monday as he usually does, although the game being Thursday means a shortened week. He reminded those in attendance of that game, even though it was two years before he arrived in Tempe.
The coach says he’s been impressed with the progress the program has made under Ball, who was formerly on the ASU staff under Todd Graham.
“When you look at how they play offensively and defensively, Coach (Chris) Ball did a great job there. They beat Arizona last year and I know they’ll be thrilled to play the Sun. Devils,” Edwards said. “We foresee a team that will come here with a lot of energy, as well as new players.”
Edwards insisted on the penalties that plagued his team last year and reiterated that it had been a point of attention. But he also acknowledges that there is a lot of pent up energy with a lot of players competing for the first time in a new uniform.
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“There’s a lot of anxiety in this team right now about wanting to pay for a football game,” he said. “Some new coaches. They also have some anxiety, so I think it’s a unique situation for all of us to come to our house, to play in our stadium, but we’re going to have to play well and that starts as soon as the ball is kicked both ways. We have to play well and have the mindset that we have to play for four quarters, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.
Players say their coach doesn’t need to remind them to overlook an opponent, even though he just finished a 5-6 season with a 4-4 finish in the Big Sky that was only good enough for seventh square.
“We try to have faceless opponents, especially on the offensive line,” said right tackle and team captain LaDarius Henderson. “You don’t want to (expect to) play better when you have better competition. If you have aspirations to play in the NFL, you have to play everyone your best, right?”
“They played against Arizona last year. We saw what they did. They’re a team that deserves respect but they were going to do our job on offense and that should take care of the rest. .”
The season may not have officially started, but the Sun Devils are already shorthanded. Edwards announced that nickelback Jordan Clark (knee), cornerback Timarcus Davis (knee) and defensive end Gharin Stansbury (hamstring) will not play, but he hopes they will be available the following week to play at Oklahoma State when the Sun Devils hit the road for the first time.
With Davis and Clark, both potential starters, sidelined, secondary coach Aaron Fletcher groomed the understudy who served in multiple positions in the unit.
The Sun Devils released a depth chart Monday and second redshirt student Ed Woods will start in place of Davis with DJ Taylor in place of Clark.
“It’s kind of my MO. It’s what I’ve always done,” Fletcher said. “I’ve always been a guy who preached versatility. Just my experience, you know, as a high school coach, that’s what you did, you developed what you had. And you got yourself also made sure to speak in a way that everyone understood what was going on. Speaking different languages, so to speak, you know what I mean? And you were able to get different guys out and join different things and It’s been great for us, the membership has been phenomenal.
Offensive lineman Emmit Bohle, who was battling for a starting spot at left tackle with Isaia Glass, returned to practice on Sunday, but that downtime helped propel Glass into the starting position.
Added to the mix now is defensive end Joe Moore who didn’t practice Monday. His absence would be critical as he was likely to see considerable time after the loss of starter Michael Matus to a torn ACL season finale.
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