It was a good opening act for No. 19 Arizona State on Thursday night. The Sun Devils easily disposed of FCS foe Weber State, 45-14, in front of a rather large crowd considering the circumstances.
While the game was far from perfect, Todd Graham's team did what was needed to pick up a win and stay healthy in the process. Here are five takeaways from the win.
1. Jaelen Strong is a monster: Taylor Kelly told House of Sparky at Pac-12 media day that Strong had improved his mental game more than anything this offseason, and while Weber State certainly isn't Stanford, it showed. Strong was always open, and even turned a screen into a big gain. Last season, Strong was all about being the best athlete on the field. This year, he looks like the complete package. If this trend continues, he's going to break every single-season receiving record in Tempe.
2. D.J. Foster looks bigger: Foster has always looked the part of a hybrid player, and that's essentially all he's been at Arizona State. But it's pretty clear that Foster put some muscle on in preparation for his leading role in 2014, and it's also clear that the muscle didn't have any impact on his speed or explosiveness. Foster had three touchdowns on Thursday, and his 57-yard truck-and-run was as good as it gets.
3. The defense needs work: The freshmen looked like...well, they looked like freshmen in all honesty. This shouldn't surprise anyone, and it's not time to panic, yet. Tashon Smallwood, D.J. Calhoun and the other rookie starters all get one more warm-up game next week. It's the Colorado game that will really cause concern if things aren't straightened out. The biggest disappointment had to be the lack of a turnover for Graham's ball hawking defense. Lloyd Carrington was also shaky in man coverage, but he played well in zone schemes. Overall, it was a very plain game from an inexperienced defense. While that might have been part of the plan, Graham will be looking for more impact plays from this young unit next week.
4. The coverage units are not fixed: Graham has talked relentlessly about his commitment to fixing special teams. Well, I know what this team will be working on next week. Matt Haack was solid when asked to punt, but the coverage units were atrocious. When Weber State did get a chance to return the ball, they consistently picked up large, uncontested chunks of yardage. When the Sun Devils tried to return the ball, Damarious Randall went nowhere. The team didn't even attempt a kickoff return. This absolutely can't continue for another season. At some point, sometime, the Sun Devils must fix the coverage units, or it will cost them a game.
5. Taylor Kelly wasn't perfect: And that's OK! Kelly took a few throws to find a rhythm, stared down Strong too often, forced a few throws and never got his feet going. I'm not worried. Veteran quarterbacks like Kelly know that games like this are scheduled to get the entire team on the same page. Kelly did find Gary Chambers twice, the first time resulting in the junior receiver's first career reception and touchdown. Kelly is also the type of player who could care less about his statistics, and that's more likely to show up against inferior opponents. He's going to have plenty of chances to light up the scoreboard this season.