The Arizona State football season is almost upon us. The Sun Devils will open their season tomorrow night against Sacramento State on Pac-12 Networks. Arizona State is 37-point favorites against the Hornets according to some oddsmakers.
However, as North Dakota State proved, FCS opponents can be dangerous and Sacramento State has beaten a Pac-12 school two years in a row.
Even though the Hornets looked average at best in their opening game of the season, Sacramento State should not be taken lightly. Here are the keys to victory.
1. Get a Lead Early: As with any FCS opponent, it is important to get ahead and put the game away early. The longer Sacramento State stays in the game, the more confidence the Hornets will get. If the game is close at halftime, Arizona State fans will get antsy and the team may play tight. It is crucial that Arizona State sets its physical tone early and puts Sacramento State away before halftime.
2. Limit Mental Mistakes: As with any season opener, mistakes are going to happen. It is the first time Arizona State is seeing a live opponent in over nine months. You just cannot simulate live game action in practice. What makes this game different is that Sacramento State has already played a game this season, so some of their "first game" mistakes may not show up in this game. Todd Graham has said repeatedly that if they limit mistakes and turnovers they can win every game this season, it starts Thursday night.
3. Establish the Running Game: Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said that Arizona State wants to establish the run early on this season. It will be important for Marion Grice and DJ Foster to work early and often Thursday night. Arizona State wants to be a downhill, physical running team, if they can't run on Sacramento State, how will they run against Wisconsin and Notre Dame?
4. Limit Big Plays: If Sacramento State could not score against San Jose State, it is unlikely they will be able to go up-and-down the field against ASU. What will kill Arizona State is giving up big plays. In their upset over Oregon State, Eastern Washington scored touchdowns on four plays over 24-yards. Big plays are often caused by blown assignments or poor fundamentals, they often cost teams games regardless of the caliber of opponent.
5. Covert on Third Down: As always, third downs are crucial in a football game. Arizona State needs to wear down the Sacramento State defense and converting on third down keeps a defense on the field. Arizona State is bigger and stronger that Sacramento State, if they can keep their offense on the field they will wear down the Hornet defense and it will show in the second half.
Check out more ASU football game week coverage here.