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Breaking Down the NAU Lumberjacks



Update: I wanted to bring back this article, as the game is close at hand and this is pertinent to the discussion of the week: Northern Arizona football. A quick bit: The QB situation is still undecided, as all three possibilities are showing well in practice and scrimmages.

Also, game time has been changed to accommodate FSN Arizona's coverage of the game. Kickoff is now at 7:22 pm, giving all students an extra 17 minutes to chug beers in the parking lot.

On August 30, the Northern Arizona University football team will enter Sun Devil Stadium, bringing busses full of fans wearing Birkenstocks.

Despite their lackluster schedule and Division 1-AA standing, the Lumberjacks are not to be taken lightly. We have all seen what can happen when a nationally ranked powerhouse miscalculates a Division 1-AA opponent.

In 2007, NAU went 6-5 on the season. Their marquee match-ups were road games against Arizona and Appalachian State, losing to the Wildcats by 21 and by 13 to the Mountaineers. Opening night should be a piece of cake, right?

Not exactly.

NAU is returning a lot of quality players from last year's team, including senior QB Lance Kriesien, who threw for 1961 yards with ten touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2007. His game is clearly a ground one, putting up 686 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing. Against Arizona, he went 22/39 for 187 yards with two rushing touchdowns, but no passing touchdowns or interceptions.

The QB slot is hardly his for the keeping, however. He has competition for the starting spot from two transfers, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out by August 30. Dennis Erickson and his staff will have to prepare for multiple possibilities at quarterback.

"This is the most talent we've had at that position since I've been here," [NAU Head] coach Jerome Souers said. "We're going to rotate through the first week and see if anybody separates themselves. We'll go as far as we need to go to get a clear-cut number one, but we need to do it as soon as we can so we get that guy the amount of reps he needs with our offense."

The Lumberjacks also enjoyed skill position talent at running back in 2007, featuring a two-headed monster that combined for 271 carries, 1646 yards, and 15 touchdowns. These two backs were Alex Henderson and Lionel Scott. Scott has petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility, and as far as I can tell it has not yet been granted. At this time, Henderson projects to be the feature back.

NAU was young and inexperienced on defense last season, and it showed against the stronger competition. Willie Tuitama was able to rack up massive numbers, throwing five touchdowns, four of which were for over 20 yards.

Trey Elder of Appalachian State was able to throw three touchdowns with no interceptions against the Lumberjacks, while picking up 82 yards on the ground. Elder wasn't even the quarterback who led the Mountaineers to the gutsy win at Michigan; that was Armanti Edwards.

The defense is not completely horrible, however. Watch out for junior KJ Gerard, an All-American selection last season after an impressive campaign. A 6'1" cornerback with great hands, Gerard intercepted six passes for 131 yards. Mike Jones might be in for a surprise come game time.

Finally, special teams. Senior Kicker Robbie Dehaze is a preseason Big Sky All-Conference selection, who went 18/24 on field goals in 2007, with his long field goal being 52 yards. Dehaze also went 34/35 on extra points.

Strengths (The Devils Must Keep Their Eye On...): QB depth, running game, secondary, All-Conference kicker.

Weaknesses (The Devils Must Exploit...): Inexperience in the defensive front seven, youth of the offensive line.

In the end, the Sun Devils are the better team. But they still have to prove it on the field, and I believe Dennis Erickson will not let NAU sneak up on his squad. There is too much to lose, and nothing to gain by looking ahead to Stanford.