3 takeaways from ASU's 45-14 win over Weber State

3 takeaways from ASU's 45-14 win over Weber State

Credit: Getty Images

TEMPE, AZ - AUGUST 28: Wide receiver Jaelen Strong #21 of the Arizona State Sun Devils makes a leaping 35 yard reception over cornerback Cordero Dixon #2 of the Weber State Wildcats during the second quarter of the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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by Brad Denny

azfamily.com

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 12:38 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 29 at 12:40 AM

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A win is a win, but it's hard to not feel a little underwhelmed by Arizona State's 45-14 win over Weber State on Thursday night that opened the 2014 season.

A slow start by the Sun Devil offense soon gave way to the expected points and eventual comfortable win, but the effort left many wanting more out of the No. 19 ranked team in the AP Polls. 

"I thought we came out just a little lackadaisical," said running back D.J. Foster. "We expect more on our drives than a punt and a field goal. We need points. We need six points. We need to score."

"I thought we missed of stuff early on offensively," said head coach Todd Graham. "We go down and have to kick a field goal. We obviously shouldn’t punt against a team that we are that much better than. So I thought it was a little lackluster from that standpoint."

The first half was led by the dynamic duo of running back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who combined for 256 yards from scrimmage. With the starters in the game, ASU ran out to a 31-0 halftime lead highlighted by a goal line stand by the Sun Devil defense.

"The goal line stand was exactly what we needed Game 1 so I thought that was positive," said Graham. 

He then watched as their reserves played an uneven second half, which included a 60-yard touchdown run by Weber State's Zach Smith.

"You hate that when that happens," said Graham. "It kind of put a damper on the night. I didn’t like it very much."

That damper won't be enough to overshadow a promising effort from a very young team that will experience bumps in the road in the season's early weeks. The team heads to New Mexico next weekend before another road trip to Colorado to open conference play.

One must be careful in drawing any conclusions from any game against an FCS opponent, but there were three storylines that stuck out on Thursday night.

Jaelen Strong is very, very good

It was clear from ASU's opening drive, when he caught three passes, that Jaelen Strong would have a big night.

In a little over one half of action, he caught 10 passes for 146 yards, many of which were jump balls or backshoulder fades. No matter how good the coverage, the junior wideout seems to find a way to come down with the ball. At times, he looked uncoverable.

"Jaelen had a tremendous game," said quarterback Taylor Kelly. "He's a playmaker. He made a lot of big catches, especially when we were backed up on the half yard line and caught that fade over the corner. He's that type of playmaker and just has to keep getting better each week."

Strong entered the year as the Pac-12's leading returning receiver with 1,122 yards, and figures to eclipse that and challenge for the school's single-season record of 1,405, a goal he has often stated. 

So is D.J. Foster

On his final carry of the night, D.J. Foster ran right, cut it back inside, pulled a spin move on a defender, then raced 57 yards for the touchdown. On that carry, he set three career-highs: longest rush, single-game rushing yards (147) and touchdowns in a game (three). For good measure, he added four catches for 26 yards.

It was the kind of performance one would expect to see from Foster frequently this season. Now the unquestioned No. 1 back, Foster will see between 20-30 touches per game. With his electrifying moves, speed, and versatility, Foster figures to be among the top playmakers in the Pac-12, and his 2014 season is off to an excellent start.

The defense is fast, but needs time

After the game, Graham praised a number of newcomers on defense.

Atop that list was true freshman WILL linebacker D.J. Calhoun, who started the game while making five tackles (one for loss) and broke up a pass that nearly became a pick six.

"I’ll tell you that guy is 210 pounds, and he plays 230," Graham said. "Obviously, he made some mistakes but, man he makes them going 100 miles an hour. I just love his attitude." 

Undersized, Calhoun nevertheless was relentless on Thursday night, as he had been throughout camp. Graham raved about his voracious approach to learning the defense and lack of fear in taking on opponents of all sizes.

Cornerbacks Chad Adams (one tackle) and Armand Perry (three tackles, blocked punt), and safety James Johnson (team-high two pass breakups) were also highlighted as having great games. True freshman defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood was one of six players on the defensive side that made their first career starts.

"I was pleased with how our defense, at the beginning of the game we just dominated," which included allowing not a single yard on Weber State's first two drives. 

Overall, the defense did "a decent job", as Graham described, However, the reserves that played most of the second half made many mistakes.

With a unit that is replacing nine starters, mistakes and growing pains are inevitable, but it will be paramount for them to be lessened over the coming weeks before the season's first major showdown on Sept. 25 when UCLA comes to town.

Graham knows that his team has a lot of work to do in order to repeat as South division champions, and that tonight was just one piece of that puzzle.

"It’s one of fifteen (wins to a national title)," said Graham, "and we got fourteen more to go."

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