Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) vs. New Mexico Lobos (0-1, 0-0 MWC)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. MST/7 p.m. EST
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico - University Stadium
Television: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jamie Erdahl)
Radio: 92.3 FM/Sirus 139: (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather: The forecast calls for a high of 82 degrees and a low of 63 degrees on Saturday with scattered thunderstorms and a 50-percent chance of rain.
What the Sun Devils will be wearing: Traditional gold/white/gold for Arizona State on Saturday.
Series History: Arizona State leads 22-5-1 with the last meeting coming in 1977. Connor Pelton wrote about the extensive history between the two school yesterday on House of Sparky.
New Mexico in 2014: After a 3-9 season in 2013, the Lobos started 2014 off with a spirited effort against UTEP. New Mexico fell behind 24-7 to the Miners at halftime, but rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter. However, Lobos' punt returner Dameon Gambin muffed a punt at the Lobos 6-yard line to set up the game-winning UTEP touchdown with 2:18 left in the game.
The Lobos rushed for an impressive 410 yards in their season opener, placing them 5th in the nation after week one. Quarterback Cole Gautsche led New Mexico's triple-option attack with 184 yards and two touchdowns. Gautsche will miss Saturday's game with a hamstring injury. Jhurell Pressley finished with 84 yards on nine carries and Lobo quarterbacks went 5 of 9 for 67 yards and an interception.
Arizona State on offense: The Sun Devils enter Saturday's contest No. 26 in the nation in scoring offense and No. 17 in total offense. Arizona State relied heavily on their big three of Kelly, Foster and Strong. One of those three players was involved in Arizona State's first nine offensive plays against Weber State. Strong caught 10 passes in the first half, the four other receivers who saw action only caught eight passes combined.
Besides Strong, the standout on the Sun Devil offense was Foster, who tallied over 160 total yards. Foster should his typical burst and was not afraid to take big hits in traffic. The Scottsdale, Arizona, native showed that there will not be much of a drop off from Arizona State's leading rusher in 2013, Marion Grice.
"D.J. is a home run hitter. Any time he gets past the defense he is going to go to the house," said head coach Todd Graham. "Just as a receiver, he is a challenge to deal with out of the backfield. I think much harder to handle then what Marion was. Marion's strength was his counter running and his perimeter running. I think D.J. can do it all, inside or outside, and he is just getting started."
Behind Foster, freshman running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard combined for 18 carries, 60 yards and a touchdown. Senior Kyle Middlebrooks also carried the ball five times for 18 yards, as Arizona State showed its depth at the running back position.
Behind Strong, the Sun Devils lack familiar faces at the wide receiver position. Highly touted JUCO recruit Eric Lauderdale has struggled making the adjustment from junior college to Division I. However, the group earned praise from Graham following their season-opening victory.
Phoenix native Gary Chambers caught his first career touchdown pass against Weber State, and redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.
"Ellis is a guy that redshirted last year, but he has a lot of potential," said Graham. "He made a heck of a catch on the sideline. He is a guy that has gotten stronger and continues to get better. I thought that our receiving core was the position group that played the most complete game."
RT Tyler Sulka vs. DE Brett Bowers: The New Mexico defensive end was picked as a preseason All-Conference performer by Phil Steele, Lindy's and Athlon Sports. In 2013, Bowers led the Lobos in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. At 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, Bowers will present a good challenge to the Arizona State right tackle. Sulka struggled at times last season with big defensive lineman, and Bowers presents the first challenge of the 2014 season.
QB Taylor Kelly vs. SS David Guthrie: Kelly was efficient, but not spectacular against Weber State and he had trouble finding receivers not named Jaelen Strong. Guthrie tallied 65 tackles last season and was tied for first on the team with five pass breakups. Guthrie is one of the biggest hitters and college football and Kelly must account for where he is at all times Saturday.
Arizona State on defense: The Sun Devils are preparing for an offense they are not used to facing: the triple-option. It is an offense that few teams in college football run (most notably the service academies) and Todd Graham calls it the great equalizer of athletic ability in college football.
"You have to be disciplined when you face this type of offense," said Graham. "You can have one person not take care of their assignment and it will go for a big play. Our guys know that this a formidable opponent and we are going on the road so we need to come out and play our best."
The Lobos run a different version of the triple-option than most teams. New Mexico operates its offense out of the shotgun, loading up the backfield on most plays. The Lobos also feature more team-speed than most teams that run this style of offense.
"They have very fast skill players," said Graham. "Obviously 24 (Carlos Wiggins) is the key, the guy they want to get the reverse and speed sweep too. I think him, seven (Teriyon Gipson), and six (Jhurell Pressley) really impressed me as far as their speed."
It looks as if another freshman has worked his way into the starting rotation, as Armand Perry will start at corner against the Lobos opposite Lloyd Carrington. Perry was under-recruited out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, and will be the third freshman defender already to start for Arizona State this year.
The Sun Devil defense dominated Weber State, shutting the Wildcats out in the first half of the season-opener. This will be the first true test for Arizona State as stopping the triple-option is just as much mental preparation as it is physical talent.
"The biggest thing is being assignment oriented. When you play a triple option team you have to do a good job of that," said Graham. "Where they hurt you is you have got to stop the dive first and foremost and then you have to stop the quarterback. Then you have to make sure you don't give up any edges."
QB Clayton Mitchem vs. LB Salamo Fiso: New Mexico's starting quarterback is out of this game with a hamstring injury so in steps Mitchem, a senior from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Mitchem will be the man directing the offense, deciding when to pitch the ball and when to hold onto it and calling audibles on the fly. New Mexico's starting quarterback last week ran for 184 yards. Fiso is the player on the Arizona State defense who calls the audibles and checks at the line of scrimmage. He will be in charge of making sure everybody is lined up properly pre-snap.
New Mexico Offensive Line vs. ASU Defensive Line: While Graham praised the speed from the Lobos on the perimeter, he also told reporters earlier this week that Arizona State has the advantage in the trenches. The Sun Devils must win the battle inside and their defensive lineman must clog holes and be able to contain this run oriented offense.
The Final Breakdown
This is the final "tune up" game for Arizona State before it begins conference play against Colorado next Saturday. While the Lobos have speed at the skill positions, the Sun Devils are bigger and more physical. The New Mexico defense surrendered 446 yards of offense to UTEP last Saturday, including 330 on the ground.
The Sun Devils should be able move the ball at will against the New Mexico offense. Foster should see plenty of carries, along with Ballage and Richard. Look for Arizona State to be aggressive on defense and attack the ball.
New Mexico turned the ball over three times in their opener and the Sun Devils are looking to start a new streak of games in which they force a turnover.
Prediction: Arizona State 38, New Mexico 13