Sun Devils hit the road for 1st time against Lobos

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

Arizona State coach Todd Graham once said he would rather face a team that primarily runs the ball over one that passes more.

He probably wasn't referring to a team like New Mexico.

Not only are the Lobos one of the few teams that still run the triple option, they do it out of the shotgun, adding to the difficulty of preparing for them.

"It's the great equalizer of athletic ability because you can have one person not take care of their assignment and it's going to be over - big play," Graham said. "They can make you look bad."

Arizona State (1-0) did that to UNLV last week in its opener, racing out to a 38-0 lead by the first play of the third quarter on the way to a 45-14 victory.

The 17th-ranked Sun Devils will have a stiffer challenge in their first road game Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque, facing one of the nation's top rushing teams.

Though the wins have been tough to come by - three last season, four the year before - the Lobos (0-1) have had no trouble running the ball under coach Bob Davie.

New Mexico was fifth nationally in Davie's first season with 301 yards per game and fourth last year, averaging 308. The Lobos had 410 yards in their season opener against UTEP.

The problem for New Mexico has been on the defensive side of the ball. The Lobos were 119th - of 123 FBS teams - last season and gave up 446 yards in the seven-point loss to UTEP last week.

And that was against a team that has a rebuilt offensive line.

Arizona State has been one of the nation's best offensive teams since Graham took over as head coach three years ago and got off to a great start this season, gaining 570 total yards against Weber State.

"We all know the challenge," Davie said. "Their offense is as explosive as any in college football, period."

Here are a few more things to look for when Arizona State faces New Mexico:

LOBOS QUARTERBACK: Cole Gautsche was off to a great start as New Mexico's starting quarterback, rushing for 184 yards before injuring his hamstring in the fourth quarter. He's out for Saturday's game and will be replaced by senior Clayton Mitchem, who threw for 661 yards in 11 games last season. Mitchem is a better passer, but Gautsche is better at orchestrating New Mexico's triple option, which could hurt against the athletic Sun Devils. Davie said freshman Lamar Jordan also will play some.

FOSTERING THE LOAD: Arizona State running back D.J. Foster spent a good portion of last season catching passes, getting most of his starts in the slot. He took over as the Sun Devils' featured back when Marion Grice was injured last season and rushed for over 100 yards twice in three games. Foster opened this season by rushing for 147 yards and three touchdowns, so he's clearly comfortable with being ASU's go-to guy.

TURNOVER TROUBLE: New Mexico had a chance to beat UTEP last weekend after rallying from a 24-7 halftime deficit. The Lobos couldn't get out of their own way, though, fumbling twice and throwing an interception in the fourth quarter. Turnovers against a team like Arizona State will likely lead to a blowout loss, not a close one.

DEFENSIVE EXPERIENCE: Arizona State came into the season with plenty of questions on defense after replacing nine starters with a slew of young, inexperienced players. They held up fairly well against Weber State in what essentially amounted to a preseason game for the Sun Devils. Those young guys will be tested a bit more on Saturday, when they'll have to play sound assignment football against New Mexico's triple option.

NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS: A big emphasis for Graham heading into this season was to shore up the deficiencies the Sun Devils have had on special teams the past two seasons. Despite devoting a ton of time to that part of the game during spring and fall camps, Arizona State had some breakdowns against Weber State, giving up big chunks of yardage on kick and punt returns. Needless to say, Graham was frustrated with his special teams after the game.

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Arizona State-New Mexico Preview Capsule

No. 17 Arizona State (1-0) at New Mexico (0-1), 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Line: Arizona State by 25.

Series Record: Arizona State leads 22-5-1.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

Arizona State is trying to build upon its opening rout over Weber State before the start of Pac-12 play next week. New Mexico is hoping to bounce back after a mistake-filled loss to UTEP.

KEY MATCHUP

New Mexico's run defense vs. Arizona State's D.J. Foster. The Lobos gave up 330 rushing yards - 227 in the first half - last week against the Miners, who came into the season with a revamped offensive line. Arizona State has a solid O-line and Foster, who had 147 yards and three touchdowns against Weber State in his debut as the Sun Devils' featured back.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arizona State: WR Jaelen Strong. The athletic wideout had a superb first season in the desert a year ago and followed that by rekindling his connection with QB Taylor Kelly in the opener by catching 10 passes for 146 yards in the first half of the win over Weber State.

New Mexico: QB Clayton Mitchem. Cole Gautsche started the season under center and rushed for 184 yards against UTEP, but injured his right hamstring in the fourth quarter and won't be available against the Sun Devils. That will leave the Lobos in the hands of Mitchem, a senior who threw for 661 yards in 11 games last season.

FACTS & FIGURES

Arizona and New Mexico are neighboring states, but the Sun Devils and Lobos haven't played in 37 years. ... Arizona State had its streak of forcing a turnover end at 29 games last week against Weber State. ... The Lobos lost two fumbles, had an interception and a muffed punt against UTEP. They'll need to cut down on those miscues to have any chance against Arizona State. ... LB D.J. Calhoun and DL Tashon Smallwood became the seventh and eighth freshmen in Arizona State history to start their first game in the team's opener.

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