(Photo: Ron Chenoy/US Presswire)
Editor’s Note: Each week Cronkite Sports will give you the keys to the game, including what the Sun Devils must do and what they cannot do if they want to win the contest.
It’s game day in the Valley of the Sun, and for the first time since late December, the Arizona State Sun Devils get to buckle their chin straps and have it count.
Up first, the Sacramento State Hornets, a Football Championship Subdivision team that has defeated Pac-12 teams in each of the last two seasons (Colorado in 2012, Oregon State in 2011). Expectations are high in Tempe, as coach Todd Graham has been talking championship, either Pac-12 or National, since the first snap of spring practice.
In theory, this game should be a runaway. But in reality, the Hornets are a serious threat if the Sun Devils get caught looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Wisconsin.
Arizona State wins if: They execute early and often. The Sun Devils have so much talent on each side of the ball that they should be able to shut down Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron and running back Ezekiel Graham. If the Sun Devils force turnovers or short drives, good field position will result, and that will allow Arizona State a chance to open up the playbook and take more shots early. One or two big plays on the first two drives of the game mixed with a quick stop or two on defense will build the foundation for the game and the season.
The Sun Devils are in trouble if: They allow Sacramento State to hang around. Last week the Hornets were shut out by San Jose State, 24-0. That score is a bit deceiving. Sacramento State twice turned the ball over in the red zone. If Arizona State allows the Hornets to sustain a long drive or two in the first quarter, putting some points on the board, the FCS underdog will start gaining confidence. Ask Colorado or Oregon State what happens after that.
Arizona State loses if: This team somehow turns a deaf ear to everything coach Graham has ever preached. Lets face it; Todd Graham is a perfectionist, an obsessive, demanding and proud coach. If the Sun Devils so much as hiccup at all in the first half, look out for the nuclear explosion from the locker room at halftime. It won’t happen. It could happen, sure. It’s football, anything can happen. But it won’t, not to this team, not to this coach and not to these players, who legitimately believe they should win the Pac-12 South.
Prediction: Arizona State wins, 59-10. Todd Graham will be upset. 10 points will be too much, even if they all come in the second half, with the backups in all over the field. He will preach discipline and execution and how important it is for the backups to be prepared to step in at a moment’s notice, and he’ll be right about that. The Sun Devils will score early and often before riding out the first half and pulling key players like Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice and Chris Coyle in favor of unproven backups like Michael Bercovici, Deantre Lewis and De’Marieya Nelson. Put this one on the board folks, and save the worrying for Wisconsin.