Each week, I will provide a breakdown of what ASU needs to accomplish to get a win. If the Sun Devils comply with my wishes, great things will be in store for the Sun Devil faithful.
On paper, explaining ASU's game plan against NAU should be pretty simple, yet previous history proves the statement above slightly invalid. Did you know the Sun Devils merely lead the Lumberjacks 20-14-4 in the all time series?
However, despite being close in proximity, the squads have only played four times since 1950. The last matchup between the two was in 2010, when ASU defeated NAU 41-20 in Sun Devil Stadium.
In FCS football, NAU comes into 2012 as a legitimate factor, ranked right outside the top 25. Last year the Lumberjacks were mediocre at 4-7 overall and 3-5 in conference, but four of those losses were by eight points or less. While the offense thrived, rushing for 166.5 yards per game and notching 268.1 yards per contest in the air, the defense was the problem, allowing 26.7 points each outing.
But enough with background information, time for the juicy stuff.
1) Stack the box against NAU star RB Zach Bauman
Zach Bauman is the real deal, rushing for 1,435 yards last season with 15 touchdowns. Also worthy of noting, Bauman had a 5.3 yards-per-carry mark and averaged over 130 yards a game. Needless to say, ASU knows exactly who the focal point of the Lumberjacks offense is.
"Really good tail back, he is a guy that can definitely play at this level...they are going to get him the ball, run the ball, screens, he is the guy to stop," Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham said about Bauman,
"He has been nothing short of amazing in his first two years," said NAU head coach Jerome Souers. "For him to come in as a true freshman and play the way that he did and come back with a sophomore year and be that much more effective shows what his talent level is. He is 15 to 20 pounds heavier without any loss of mobility or speed or change of direction."
ASU won't shut down Bauman, but should be able to cause him problems. Expect the Devils to show four defensive linemen if Bauman starts giving them problems. Sun Devil defensive coordinator Paul Randolph has displayed a willingness to blitz. Therefore, ASU's D-line and linebackers must stay gap sound; otherwise Bauman will be off to the races.
The presence of Brandon Magee in the middle will be crucial; he is the leader of ASU's defense and a capable run stopper. While most of the time in 2012 ASU will sport six in the box, my recommendation for this NAU game is bringing at least seven, at times eight players up front. Facing Bauman will be a nice early season test for a run defense that will see plenty of good backs throughout Pac-12 play.
2) Make NAU Quarterback Cary Grossart Win
Cary Grossart threw for 2,745 yards, 16 touchdown and seven interceptions in 2011. Those numbers exemplify Grossart is more of an efficient game manager than a game changer. However, Grossart's ability to extend plays is very good, as he often succeeds in broken play situations with a keen ability to run.
When comparing Grossart's stats with other PAC-12 quarterbacks, the difference is clear. Only two teams in the Pac-12 had less throwing yards last season than Grossart, and the PAC-12 schools were obviously against more formidable competition. ASU has bigger prioties than worrying about Grossart slinging around bombs.
NAU normally plays an FBS opponent each year, and last season it was against the Sun Devils' rival University of Arizona. In that game, Grossart went 20-26 for 176 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The completion percentage was solid, but beyond that he was flat out average. Nothing against Grossart, he is good player, earning All-America Third Team and All-Big Sky Honorable Mention honors. Those accolades are cool for the trophy shelf but Grossart does not posses the tools to compete with ASU.
Every week coaches across the nation have a game plan; a common goal is making sure the other team does something their uncomfortable with. NAU relies on running back Zach Bauman to do the heavy lifting. So if ASU can fluster Bauman, it will put Grossart in an uncomfortable position that he may not face again all season.
3) ASU can not afford to beat themselves
This section will be quick and to the point. In 2011, ASU football lost seven games, with stupid penalties and miscues clearly being the biggest problem. The Sun Devils lead the nation in penalty yards for the second time in three seasons, which is beyond pathetic.
I understand that NAU is nowhere near as talented as ASU, but giving the Lumberjacks extra opportunities could be disastrous. The Sun Devils new disciplined approach appears to be intact, and will need to be in order of avoid a monumental upset.
ASU beats NAU 45-17