Stevens: No. 17 Sun Devils Can Be Good or Great
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  09/01/2014

New Mexico Lobos Football – Vs. Arizona State

When/Where:  5 p.m., Saturday – Branch Field at University Stadium

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

There are a lot of things about the Arizona State Sun Devils that get your attention.

They are ranked No. 17 in the nation.

They won the Pac-12 South Division in 2013.

They scored 62 points against USC in 2013.

They have a quarterback who has thrown for more career yards (6,943) than former ASU hurler Danny White.

It’s probably fair to say that the Lobos, who started off the season with a heart-wrenching loss to UTEP, need to take their game to a higher level.  When the next game is against the No. 17 ‘Devils, maybe the Lobos need to take their game up several levels.

The Sun Devils are good on an average day and on a good day, they can be sensational.

The Arizona State Sun Devils are the next Branch Field opponent.  They are coming off a convincing and easy 45-14 win over Weber State. ASU coach Todd Graham was pleased but not exactly ecstatic with the outcome.

"Obviously we won 45-14, but it should've been that at halftime. And they probably shouldn't have scored on us,” said Graham. “We just didn’t take what they gave us.”

Coaches are like that.  They see what should have happened and what should not have happened.  Graham hopes to use the game with New Mexico to put some spit and polish on his ‘Devils. ASU plays UCLA on Sept. 25 in a game pivotal to the Pac-12 South Championship.

The Lobos’ rivalry with Arizona State enters a home-and-home stage, but the two programs have not met since 1977. The teams played 13 consecutive games from 1965 to 1977.  ASU holds a healthy 22-5-1 mark against UNM. The Sun Devils’ last loss to UNM came in 1942 by a 35-7 count.

ASU holds a 103-34-2 mark against teams currently in the Mountain West. ASU competed in the Western Athletic Conference from 1962-77.

Obviously, the No. 17 ‘Devils will be favored on Saturday, but Graham does voice concern for a UNM “Pistol” offense that rolled out 410 rushing in the Lobos’ 31-24 loss to UTEP.  The big blow for the Lobos vs. ASU is that junior quarterback Cole Gautsche (pulled hamstring) is not expected to play.

The Lobos’ option is at its best with Gautsche in the pocket.

The Sun Devils surely have noticed the 330 rushing yards the Lobos gave up to UTEP, but Arizona State features more of a multiple attack because of its quarterback -- who can be good on an average day and great on a good day.

It should be noted that Taylor Kelly did not play in the second half against Weber State. He went 18-of-27 for 238 yards and a TD in the first 30 minutes. He mostly threw short and quick passes vs. Weber State.

“It’s 31-0 at halftime and I told (offensive coordinator) Mike (Norvell) he had to take (Kelly) out because I'm not going to get our quarterback hurt,” said Graham. “Once you do that (take out the starting QB), everybody's like, 'Let's get this game over with.' You know what I mean?”

Yeah, the Sun Devils probably backed off emotionally.  They had a huge lead. Their QB was on the bench. It was a muggy night in Tempe. Game over.

The Sun Devils will get a challenging look at UNM’s “Pistol,” but the UNM O-linemen likely will get some challenges from the ASU defense.  It’s a young defense that is emphasizing physical aggression (what defense doesn’t?) but, like the ASU offense, it has multiple looks and loves to distort an O-line.  

ASU had 101 tackles for a loss in 2013.

Graham said his defense ran 38 different pressure concepts at Weber State.  There’s a good chance he kept a few different looks in check because of ASU’s big lead.  The Lobos might see a few different looks because they run a different offense.  The 'Devils also beat Weber State last Thursday, so that "D" has had a couple of extra days to work on UNM's option.

"You break down that film, good luck. That was a lot of stuff,” Graham said of his defensive looks vs. Weber State.. “We're going to attack. That's what we do."

The Sun Devils can run the ball, but they also like to throw it.  Jaelen Strong caught 10 passes for 146 yards – all in the first half.  Nine of his grabs resulted in first downs. He also is a talented runner after making the catch.

Kelly also is a good running QB, but only had two carries (plus a sack) against Weber State, likely because he was not needed as a ball carrier. Kelly has 6,943 career passing yards as a Sun Devil and his game against Weber State allowed him to pass Danny White (6,717).

Still, Kelly is a dual threat for the Lobos.  He had 516 net rushing yards in 2012 and 690 net rushing yards in 2013.  You take away the sacks in 2013 and Kelly had 826 rushing yards. He is good at coming out of a collapsing pocket and he is good at finding the end zone (nine rushing TDs in last nine games of 2013).  

ASU's O-line returns three starters and helped the Sun Devils average 5.9 yards per carry.  That unit gave up a single sack.  ASU’s D.J. Foster had 147 yards on the ground and three scores. ASU ran for 267 yards and passed for 303 yards.

ASU had 32 first downs to 14 for Weber State. The Sun Devils scored 50 points or more six times in 2013. Did we mention ASU scored 62 points against USC last year?

The Sun Devils were the preseason pick to finish third in the Pac-12 South Division behind UCLA and USC.  Oregon was picked to win the North Division and the 2014 PAC-12 title. ASU won the South Division in 2013.