Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (0-0) @ Arizona State Sun Devils (0-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. MT/11 p.m. ET
Television: Pac-12 Networks (Guy Haberman, Evan Moore, Drea Avant)
Radio: ESPN Phoenix 620/Sirus 93 (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Derek Hagan)
What ASU is Wearing: The Sun Devils have not announced what they will be wearing but tradition says ASU will wear gold pants, maroon tops and gold helmets.
All-Time Series: The Sun Devils lead the all-time series against NAU 21-14-4. The Sun Devils and Lumberjacks last met in 2012 — Todd Graham’s first game as ASU head coach -- with ASU winning easily 63-6.
NAU in 2015: The Lumberjacks finished the 2015 campaign with a record of 7-4 including 5-3 in the Big Sky. The Lumberjacks just missed out of the 2015 FCS playoffs despite beating Montana State, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State.
Expectations are high for NAU in 2016, as the Lumberjacks were picked to win the Big Sky conference by both the coaches and the media who cover the league. NAU came in at No. 18 in the first FCS poll of the season. The Lumberjacks only played one FBS team in 2015, falling to the Arizona Wildcats 77-13 the third week of last season in Tucson.
ASU on Offense: Despite various media reports, Todd Graham will not publicly disclose who will start at quarterback for the Sun Devils against NAU (at least as of publish time).
After Bryce Perkins suffered a neck injury in practice earlier in fall camp, the quarterback competition has come down to redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshman Brady White.
“We’ve got two guys that we have confidence in with Manny (Wilkins) and Brady (White) and then a young quarterback that will be our third guy, Dillon Sterling-Cole, who is extremely talented and had a great camp,” said Graham.
Multiple media reports indicate that it will be Wilkins to start Saturday night, as he has been running the first team offense in the open portion of practice the last few weeks.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have two workhorses in the backfield to lean on with juniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Richard eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2015 and the due figures to be one of the top running back duos in the nation.
The Sun Devils will go into 2016 with an intriguing crop of pass catchers. Cameron Smith returns after missing the entire 2015 season with a knee injury and he is joined by Tim White, who returns after catching 57 passes in 2015.
Joining White and Smith on the first team offense is true freshman N’Keal Harry. The former five-star recruit has impressive size and has progressed nicely in his first fall camp, running with the first team offense the last week during drills the media was permitted to view.
The Lumberjacks return a fairly young defense that struggled in 2015 and has some uncertainties in their secondary. Linebacker Jake Thomas returns after finishing third on the team in tackles last season and NAU gets back Siupeli Anau after he was forced to redshirt last season because of a shoulder injury.
Keys on Offense
Protect the Quarterback: Wilkins (or White) will be playing behind one of the most inexperienced offensive lines in the conference. The Sun Devils return just one offensive linemen from 2015, redshirt senior left tackle Evan Goodman.
Goodman will likely be joined on the offensive line by Sam Jones (LG), Stephon McCray (C), Quinn Bailey (RG), Zach Robertson (RT). McCray has seen some action as a reserve center and Jones played some snaps at right tackle last season, but the other two will be getting their first taste of college football Saturday night.
Win 1st Down: The Sun Devils need to avoid negative plays on first down. With a new quarterback, it is important to put him in second-and-manageable and third-and-short. ASU can do this by pounding the rock on first and second down and methodically working their way down the field.
ASU on Defense: After a disastrous 2015, the Sun Devils will unveil a new secondary Saturday night. Kareem Orr has shifted from safety to corner and Armand Perry returns after missing all but two games in 2015.
Redshirt senior Liau Moeakiola returns to the secondary after spending the past two seasons at SPUR linebacker, although Moeakiola has been nursing a hamstring injury all fall camp and his status for Saturday is unknown.
“I’ve got confidence in our guys,” Graham said about his secondary. “Obviously we’ve got to know the things we have to be better at, but we have to come in and execute.”
The Sun Devil secondary will be tested against the Lumberjacks as NAU returns FCS Freshman of the Year Chase Cookus, who broke the FCS record for passing touchdowns by a freshman with 37 in 2015.
Cookus’ favorite target is Emmanuel Butler, who set a school record with 1,208 yards in 2015 along with 15 touchdowns.
“The kid Emmanuel Butler dominates at wide receiver and then of course, Case Cookus at quarterback. The two of them have this ability to always know where the ball will be located,” Graham said. “The strength of their offensive is explosive and they are going to be a strong opponent. We have a lot of respect for their team and their level of play, and we know they are going to be highly motivated and confident come Saturday.”
The linebacking corps figures to the Strength of the Sun Devil defense with Christian Sam, DJ Calhoun and Salamo Fiso returning. Former defensive backs Marcus Ball and Tyler Whiley are competing for the SPUR linebacker position with A.J. Latu and Koran Crump competing for time at DEVIL.
Keys on Defense
Limit Big Plays: The Sun Devils secondary was continually beaten for big gains in 2015 and NAU has the firepower on offense to get big plays. Last year, Cookus and Butler hooked up on a 62-yard play against Arizona and the Sun Devils need to avoid giving up chunk plays to the NAU offense.
Get Pressure with Four: Since the departures of Carl Bradford and Will Sutton, ASU has struggled to get pressure when rushing four. Because of this, the Sun Devils bring pressure more than almost any team in the nation and it resulted in a lot of one-on-one matchups in the secondary that many teams took advantage of in 2015.
The Lumberjacks present some interesting challenges for Arizona State. Their passing game is explosive and a case can be made they have the best quarterback on the field Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if the Lumberjacks score some points.
However, the Sun Devils should also be able to take advantage of a suspect and young NAU defense. Expect ASU to run the football early and often and pull away from NAU in the second half.
Final Score: ASU 45, NAU 21