Arizona State starts season against pesky Hornetsby Tyler Pollard on Sep. 05, 2013, under Arizona State Sun Devils
TEMPE, Ariz–After opening the season on a bye, the Arizona Sate Sun Devils will open their season at home Thursday night against the pesky Sacramento State Hornets.
Close to 70,000 fans will pile into Frank Kush Stadium for that game and it’s one in which head coach Todd Graham will look to send a message to the rest of the nation in his second year as head coach.
While it is a game that Arizona State is heavily favored to win (-37.0 favorites), there are a lot of story lines to keep an eye on.
For one, Sacramento State comes into this game still looking to pull off a third straight upset despite losing 24-0 to San Jose State in a game that the Hornets were actually in control of.
As exhibited in last week’s FCS fiasco, Sacramento State cannot be overlooked by the Sun Devils. The Hornets have made some noise the last couple years with stunning victories over the Pac-12 in each of the past two years. They stung Oregon St. 31-30 in overtime to kick off their 2011 season and did the same thing last year to Colorado 30-28 on a last second field goal.
“I have been on that side a lot coming from mid-major programs,” Graham said. I know how we prepared. It is their entire season. It can make their entire season. The key is that they have no excuse. We can’t make any excuses. This is a game we should win.”
Arizona State opens their season looking to build upon the first winning season for the program since Dennis Erickson’s first year as ASU head coach in 2007. They have a lot of key starters returning from last year including senior defensive tackle Will Sutton, who is considered as one of the best defensive players in the nation.
While offensively, junior quarterback Taylor Kelly will lead Graham’s fast paced style offense in his second year as the starter and leader.
“I think Taylor (Kelly) has matured,” Graham said. “We are going to measure that in one thing. Ball security. Don’t turn the football over. I think he is going to do a great job of that.”
A big thing to watch will be junior college transfer Jaelen Strong’s debut for the Sun Devils. Last year the offense lacked big play makers at the wide receiver position, the team’s biggest weakness. This year with Strong, the offense will be able to stretch the field with Strong’s size and speed.
“I think our receiving corp is a lot better than it was last year,” Graham said. ”We have a lot better weapons in the run game and in the pass game. We have bigger framed guys like Jaelen (Strong) and Joe (Morris) that are 6-4, 205-215 pound guys that help us. Chris Coyle is better. He is stronger.”
Senior Defensive tackle Will Sutton will be making his season debut as one of the nations most talked about defensive players. Sutton will have to follow up a huge year last year as a junior and be able to live up to all the hype he ahs received this offseason. A projected first rounder in the 2014 NFL Draft, Sutton’s coming off a year in which he recorded a team high 13 sacks for the Sun Devils. His explosiveness and size immediately makes him an impact player any time he steps on the field.
There’s even a good chance that he breaks Terrell Suggs’ single season sack record this year.
“Obviously,” Graham said, “that’s the mark. I like our guys to want to be the best. That’s a tall order. It’s kind of like me after Frank Kush’s win record. It is going to be a while. Obviously, he sets the mark around here. We talk about him. We talk about Pat Tillman a lot. We talk about how we play defense. I want those guys to be shooting for that mark. It is a high mark.”
Arizona State has high expectations from the fans and media heading into this year, similar to a couple of years ago when the first donned the new pitch fork uniforms and were projected to be a sleeper BCS contender led by Brock Osweiler and Aaron Pflugrad. As the early preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 South, the Sun Devils’ road to the Rose Bowl beings Thursday night.