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ASU vs. Northern Arizona: Film Room Breakdown

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We take a look at the NAU offense and defense and see where the Sun Devils might struggle and where they have advantages in our first film room breakdown of the year.

Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Sun Devils should come away with a comfortable win when the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks visit Tempe to kick off the 2016 season on Saturday.

Still, the Sun Devils’ FCS opponent from last season managed to hang until the second half. Will NAU pose a similar threat?

Below, we take a look at who the Lumberjacks are, what they do, and what areas ASU has an advantage at when viewing them from the television screen.

Editor’s Note: allow your browser a moment to load the GIFs provided below for the most fluid viewing experience.

Schematics Summary

Head Coach: Jerome Souers (19th season) has the most Big Sky conference wins; needs five wins to become conference’s all-time winningest coach. He’s a former defensive coordinator.

Offense: Pro-Style/No-Huddle (Note: Returns 4 of 5 starting OL)

Defense: Base 4-2-5; Cover 3

Key Players: Case Cookus (15-QB), Emmanuel Butler (8-WR); Jake Thomas (44-LB), Leandre Vaughn (4-SS); Aaron Manning (6-ATH)

Overall Breakdown

NAU Offense

The Lumberjacks implemented a pro-style, no-huddle scheme last season following the promotion of Tim Plough to offensive coordinator. It resulted in one of the most statistically productive seasons in program history.

Much of what NAU was able to do was possible because of the arm talent of sophomore quarterback Case Cookus (who stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 200 pounds) and the size of 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior receiver Emmauel Butler.

The Lumberjacks were able to isolate Butler in one-on-one, man-to-man situations where Cookus was able to throw it his way on a deep route, and let him go attack the ball in the air.

NAU mostly lined up in three-wide receiver sets, or 11 personnel (one back, one tight end and three wide receivers), in many of the looks viewed. Cookus even took a good amount of snaps out of the pistol formation, showing read-option action with no real threat of scrambling out of the pocket, similarly to Mike Bercovici last year.

Like Bercovici, however, Cookus isn’t necessarily a statue, and can move if he’s asked to.

Where ASU needs to be careful

In past seasons, Todd Graham hasn’t been shy to show Cover 0 or Cover 1 looks. With the implementation of more zone looks this year, communication and awareness in the secondary will be paramount during the season opener. Cookus has a strong arm, and the ability to make snoozing secondaries pay, like on the play below.

Weber State rolls out a Cover 3 look, leaving a single safety to patrol the deep middle of the field and the outside corners to defend the deep boundaries. The near-side receiver on the outside runs a stick route, while the slot runs a seam.

The defender matched up against the slot allows his man a free release, assuming the safety help is there in the middle of the field. Meanwhile, the cornerback guarding the outside receiver—whose responsibility is the deep third behind him—attempts to track over to the seam in vain.

On the far side of the play, Butler is met with one-on-one coverage. Cookus slightly pump fakes Butler’s way, and the safety bites, vacating the MOF.

NAU’s Case Cookus pump fakes towards receiver Emmanuel Butler, then tosses a score to the receiver running a seam in the open spot downfield vacated by the safety (out of screen).

Cookus quickly resets, and hits his wide open man for the score.

Where ASU has the advantage

Speed. There’s going to be a noticeable difference (or, at least there should be) between the speed of the front-seven for ASU and NAU’s offensive line. Expect the Sun Devils to attack Cookus, and force him to make quick decisions to quell the opportunity for the Lumberjacks to stretch the field.

NAU Defense

Souers’ unit lines up in a 4-2-5 base formation, often incorporating Cover 3 and Cover 4 looks.

No one player truly stands out as a dynamic playmaker or jump-out-the-gym athlete in highlights. The team appears to be high on freshman cornerback Aaron Manning, but the matchup against ASU will be his first test against real opposition.

Where ASU needs to be careful

Tunnel vision is something most quarterbacks are prone to at the Division I level, especially when they’re asked to make half-field reads.

Against the zone coverages of NAU, the ASU quarterbacks must avoid staring a target down, allowing a defender to make plays on the ball, like in the play below.

The Weber State receiver runs a whip route, and off a play action, his quarterback pulls the trigger as he breaks out of his pattern.

The problem: the NAU safety was playing is in “buzz” or robber technique, meaning he dropped into a zone closer to the line of scrimmage designed to defend to flat.

He sits in his zone just as the quarterback begins his motion to throw, and the defender comes up with a gift-wrapped pick-six.

The Sun Devils quarterback will need to be decisive and smart against such a zone-heavy scheme.

Where ASU has the advantage

Athleticism and explosiveness. At the point of attack, no one in NAU’s front four should be able to completely man handle any of ASU’s starting offensive linemen.

Even if the Lumberjacks’ defensive line proves too physical, ASU’s assortment of runs and variations of pulls should allow the OL to work in space, get to the second level and clear the way for running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. They should have a strong day Saturday.

Games Viewed: NAU vs Weber State (2015, highlights), NAU @ Eastern Washington (2015, highlights) , NAU vs Sacramento State (2015, highlights), NAU vs Montana State (2015, highlights), NAU vs SUU (2015, highlights)