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August 31, 2008Leading up to the ASU football team's season opener, Dennis Erickson said he wasn't sure where his team was at.
The second year head coach got his answer Saturday night, and for the most part, he liked what he saw.
"I thought there were some real good things," Erickson said. "Our first groups came out and played good. I thought [Rudy Carpenter] threw the football extremely well."
The Sun Devils jumped out to an early 27-0 halftime lead before allowing many of their reserves to play a majority of the second half. The final score of 30-13 will make it seem as though the game was closer than it actually was.
Early on, the Sun Devils were dominant.
Carpenter only played the first two and a half quarters of the game and when he left, ASU was on top of Northern Arizona 30-0.
However, the second team offense looked confused and out of sync when it took the field midway through the third quarter.
In fact, the Sun Devils did not record a first down after Carpenter left the game, something that Erickson said needs to be fixed.
"I thought we kind of lost momentum," he said. "I wish the second guys would have played better when they had their opportunity."
Heading into Saturday's game, one of Erickson's goals for his team was to start strong -- something ASU struggled with a year ago -- and the players did as their coach asked.
On just the fifth play of the game, Carpenter completed a 52-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Taylor, giving ASU the lead just 2:06 after the opening kickoff.
On the play, the Sun Devils lined up with an empty backfield, five wide and Taylor was in the slot. After the snap, Taylor ran a slant route and reached back and grabbed the pass thrown a bit behind him before racing down the middle of the field for the score.
That play was Carpenter's only touchdown of the game, but the senior signal caller had a very impressive night completing 22 of his 28 pass attempts for 388 yards.
At one point, Carpenter completed 13 consecutive passes, tying a school record that was set in 1952 by Dick Mackey
"Rudy made some great throws," said Taylor, who finished with four receptions for 93 yards to go along with his score. "To have a quarterback like Rudy who can just put the ball on the money and just make plays (makes it easy)."
But as good of a performance as Carpenter had, he still was not satisfied with the team's offensive production.
"I think we still have a lot of work to do in every aspect of our team," Carpenter said. "I thought we did fairly well tonight, (but) I think we still have a lot of work to do, especially in the run game."
The lack of rushing attack Carpenter spoke of was a very real problem for the Sun Devils Saturday night.
ASU was out-rushed by NAU 94-139 -- though the Lumberjacks had 19 more rushing attempts -- and Carpenter accounted for 40 of the Sun Devils' yards on the ground.
Keegan Herring did not play due to a hamstring injury, so Dimitri Nance got the start and was only able to gain 30 yards on 11 attempts, although he did have two scores.
Nance's first touchdown came courtesy of a 3-yard run that capped off a 10 play, 99-yard drive.
The junior running back's second touchdown came from six yards out with 5:42 remaining in the first half, giving ASU a 24-0 at the time.
But Nance knows that even with his two touchdowns, the rushing attack Saturday was not near the level it should have been.
"I think we could do a lot better," he said.
In its first test of the season, the offensive line took a big stride towards proving that it is not the same group that allowed 55 sacks a year ago.
The offensive front only allowed one sack Saturday.
"I thought they protected pretty well," Carpenter said of the offensive line. "For the most part I had a lot of time to sit back there and read coverage and make some plays."
A game-high six of Carpenter's completions went to junior Mike Jones, who also accounted for 162 receiving yards. But Jones came up one yard short of a true standout performance, as he fumbled on the one yard line while trying to stretch for a touchdown following a 52-yard reception.
The play could have given ASU a 33-0 lead early in the third quarter. Instead, NAU recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Like the offense, the ASU defense was strong in the first half before a lackluster performance after halftime.
The Lumberjacks gained 210 of their 308 yards in the final two quarters.
"We thought we played a real good first half, got out there and did what we wanted," linebacker Mike Nixon said. "Then some of the younger guys got to play in the second half and we just didn't step up defensively like we needed to. We kind of let them back in the game."
Nixon was the leading defender with six tackles and two pass breakups, and right end Dexter Davis turned in a strong performance as well recording two sacks.
The Sun Devils' special teams had a very good night Saturday.
Thomas Weber, last year's Lou Groza Award winner, picked up right were he left off and made all three of his field goal attempts on the night.
Weber also averaged 43.2 yards on his six punts, and landed two of them inside the 20-yard line.
Kyle Williams totaled 41 yards on four punt returns.
Up next for ASU is a match up against Stanford next Saturday, and the players know that if they want to beat the Cardinal they will have to perform better next week.
"With what Stanford did Thursday night to Oregon State, we're going to need a better effort," Nixon said. "We need guys to step up and we're going to have to do a better job next week."