The headliner of the Lumberjack offense is senior quarterback Michael Herrick, a FBS talent at an FCS school, as he began his career at Ole Miss before voyaging from Oxford to Flagstaff. Though he has the capability to be one of the division's top quarterbacks, his cupboard is bare compared to last season in terms of skill talent, as running back Alex Henderson, who totaled 1,166 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2009, and a handful of receivers departed after last year's conclusion.
In 2009, Herrick turned in a tremendous body of work, passing for 3,356 yards with 22 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Herrick saw limited action against ASU in 2008, earning reserve snaps and completing two-of-five passes for 17 yards.
Though Herrick has garnered preseason All-America honors this year, a new force for the NAU offense may have emerged last week in the form of true freshman running back Zach Bauman, a name many Sun Devil fans are familiar with. A star on last year's state champion Chandler Hamilton High School squad, it was to the surprise of many that Bauman was unable to attract much FBS attention but if last week's effort is any indicator there may be some west coast teams wishing they had offered Bauman a year ago.
In his spectacular debut in NAU's opener against Western New Mexico, Bauman carried 22 times for 167 yards (7.6 avg.) with four touchdowns, while Harrick completed 15-of-25 passes (60.0%) for 178 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.
Not to take too much away from Bauman's incredible debut, but he may have faced stiffer competition in high school against teams like Brophy Prep, Chandler High and Mesa High than what was presented by Western New Mexico, a Division II team that finished 2-8 in 2009.
Two additional familiar faces are plotted in NAU's backfield depth chart as reserve quarterback Chasen Stangel, a former four-star recruit, signed with ASU in 2007 and spent two years in Tempe, while backup running back Giovannie Dixon walked on to the Sun Devil squad in 2008 and was named ASU's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year before joined the ‘Jacks last season.
Stangel completed six-of-seven passes against Western New Mexico, totaling 49 yards. Dixon, NAU's top returning rusher from 2009 with 252 yards, did not record any statistics but running back Jonathan DeWitt carried 11 times for 21 yards behind Bauman.
Wide receiver Davieun Curry-Chapman and Austin Shanks are the top contributors in the passing game after combining for 49 receptions in 2009, while Mike Czyz is expected to also start in NAU's three-receiver sets. Jeremy Dang, a product of nearby Peoria High School, Daniel Adler and Khalil Paden are the top reserves at wide receiver.
Last week, Curry-Chapman and Shanks combined for 11 receptions and 129 yards, while running back/receiver Sam Unger had a game-high 84 receiving yards on four catches. The duo combines size and escapability, as the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Curry-Chapman has the physical stature to compete with many defenders while Shanks, at 5-feet-8 and 175-pounds, uses his limited measurables to his advantage.
Junior Brian Riley and senior Nick Larson are the top two options at tight end. Neither player recorded a reception last week but the two create a formidable combination as Riley earned Honorable Mention All-Big Sky recognition in 2008, while the 6-foot-8 Larson joined the NAU football program after a career with the Lumberjack basketball team.
The Lumberjack offensive line figures to be one of NAU's strengths, as the unit three solid senior starters in left tackle Anthony Williams, center Jeff Hines and right guard Kris Poindexter. Hines, a Mesa Mountain View product, earned Second-Team All-Big Sky accolades last year, while Poindexter, a graduate of Phoenix's Westview High School, nabbed Honorable Mention All-Conference distinction. Junior Alex Mott and sophomore Trey Gilleo fill out the first-stringers at left guard and right tackle, respectively, and are first-year full-time starters in 2010.
Though Herrick is a seasoned, talented passer and Bauman has star potential, there are certain question marks for the Lumberjack offense, especially at the skill positions. Six of the team's top contributors in the passing game – from the receiver, running back and tight end positions – from last year are no longer on the roster. Moreover, Herrick's statistics from last week's effort leave something to be desired of a potential All-American, perhaps indicating that the loss of established talent may hinder his impact.
Additionally, placing significant responsibility on a first-year running back against one of the FBS' top defenses may be a tough task for the young Bauman to handle. If the Sun Devils are able to bottle Bauman quickly and chase Herrick into compromising situations, ASU's defense should be able to outmatch the Lumberjack skill players.
The trench battle may be one worth watching as NAU has a few fine linemen, but the attacking front seven as a whole should be more than the Lumberjacks' blocking scheme can effectively account for.
Defensive Personnel Preview
Different from the situation with NAU's offensive skill players, the ‘Jacks return a wealth of defensive contributors as only three of the teams top 16 tacklers from a year ago no longer are in the lineup.
Junior Isaac Bond, a Second-Team All-Big Sky member a year ago, proved to be a force from his left end position last year, totaling 49 tackles, including 11.0 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks, while Brandon Vance (48 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.0 sacks) or senior Michael Battisti will be Bond's main counterpart on the right side of the line. In 2009, Vance netted Honorable Mention All-Big Sky recognition for his efforts. Last week, Bond accounted for three tackles and one sack, while Vance posted four total stops and a forced fumble.
Daniel Pela, Dwight Boyd and Kainoa Pe'a are listed as the top options for NAU's two starting tackle spots. Pela was the most accomplished last season, totaling 19 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss, while Boyd collected 16 stops.
Against Western New Mexico, Pe'a amassed four tackles and a fumble recovery, while Pela added three tackles.
NAU's three linebacker spots boast depth with extensive team experience, as five of the seven players listed across the Sam, Mike and Jack ‘backer slots on the depth chart are upperclassmen.
Jack linebacker Nick Ragland-Johnsen was the top tackler among the three positions last season with 48 stops; however he is not actively listed in the starting lineup for this game. Projected starting Sam linebacker Reid Worthington collected 45 tackles a year ago, while starting Jack linebacker Scott McKeever only appeared in two games in 2009.
Veteran Cody Dowd, a graduate of Phoenix's North High School, is ranked as the starting Mike linebacker for the ‘Jacks, while backup Sam ‘backer Anthony Llanos, a Phoenix North Canyon High School product, led the team with six tackles last week.
The Lumberjack secondary frequented the scorebooks in 2009, as free safety Matt Estrada led the team with 78 tackles, garnering First-Team All-Big Sky accolades, while Taylor Julio, slated as a reserve strong safety this year, rated third on the squad with 73 stops.
Junior Kasseem Osherhoff is listed as the starting strong safety to join Estrada in the secondary and led all defensive backs with three tackles last week.
Starting cornerbacks Daivon Dumas and Taelor Worrell combined for 88 tackles but neither of the two intercepted a pass in 2009. Seniors Brian Hunter (18 tackles in 2009) and Darren Watson are the primary backups to Dumas and Worrell at cornerback.
NAU's defense should be solid over the course of the season and has talent up front to cause problems for opposing offenses; however their line should be disengaged by ASU's much larger, yet still athletic, offensive line. The size advantage greatly tips in favor of the host as the projected starting defensive line for the Lumberjacks averages only 6-foot-2, 256-pounds.
The linebackers and defensive backs will likely be more talented than what ASU saw from Portland State last season, but the same Sun Devil athletic advantage figures to be found in terms of open field opportunities. Look for Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, Jamal Miles and Aaron Pflugrad to again capitalize on a drastic athletic advantage, while bigger receivers like Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie and George Bell bring a noticeable mismatch to exploit.
If the Lumberjacks are able to athletically overcome the Sun Devils in the trenches, the NAU defense could make stands. However, based on last week's size mismatch between ASU's offensive line and Portland State's defensive front, the Devils have the capability to counter defenders basing their attack on speed instead of brute strength.
ASU can strike a quick advantage if the line is able to control the point of attack and allow the running backs to get to the second level. Man-to-man, if Marshall or Lewis—or any of ASU's running backs or short-yardage receivers—faces linebackers in the open field, the Sun Devils will hold a distinct advantage. Also, quarterback Steven Threet's composure in and out of the pocket last week shows that, at least at this point, he has the cognitive and physical awareness to avoid hasty decisions.
Special Teams Preview
For the second time in as many weeks, ASU will face a team with a spectacular kicker as NAU's Matt Myers, a Second-Team All-Big Sky honoree last year, is a member of the 2010 Fred Mitchell Outstanding Place-Kicker Award Watch List and was regarded as a Preseason All-America candidate this year. In 2009, Myers was 17-of-24 on field goals and perfect on 36 PAT attempts.
True freshman Andy Wilder, a product of Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep, handled punting duties in NAU's opener last week.
Last week, Myers showed his range by connecting on a 51-yard attempt and added a 20-yard chip shot to finish perfect on his two tries, while Wilder averaged 43.3 yards on three punts.
In the return game, Adler returned his only kickoff opportunity 27 yards, while Ca'leve DeBoskie, a Chandler High School graduate and brother of former ASU recruit and current California Golden Bear Covaughn DeBoskie, averaged 5.6 yards on five punt returns with a long return of 16 yards.
Just as few Sun Devil fans use the Portland State outcome as a barometer upon which to predict the season's potential, fans on either side shouldn't assume that NAU's performance level against Western New Mexico is fully indicative of their overall abilities.
Though the talent level is clearly and completely on the side of the Sun Devils, the "little brother" factor comes into play virtually every time the ‘Jacks make their way to Sun Devil Stadium and the game has recently remained competitive beyond the point it should, even as far as the fourth quarter in 2006.
Altogether, ASU holds a 19-14-4 advantage over the Lumberjacks, but the Devils haven't lost to NAU since 1938 and have won recent meetings in 2003, '06 and '08 after having not faced the ‘Jacks since 1950. The outcomes of the three recent games have been tremendously similar, with respective final scores of 34-14, 35-14 and 30-13.
If the Sun Devils execute on offense and use their stellar defense to deflate the amped up road team, ASU can pull the plug on the ‘Jacks in quick fashion. But, if NAU can be opportunistic with turnovers and big plays as it has been recently versus ASU, especially in 2006, the game could take any Sun Devil momentum south in a hurry.
With a fierce road game at Wisconsin looming on the schedule next week, the likely plan is to get the starters in-and-out of the game by the second half, so a slaughterhouse final score may not be the outcome. However, as with last week, it will be the play of the game, not necessarily the final tally that will create true value in this game.
Five Questions: ASU vs. NAU
• Can ASU fix its problems with penalties and dropped passes?
• Can ASU's running backs equal their collective performance from last week?
• Can NAU quarterback Michael Herrick use his experience to overcome an excellent ASU defense?
• Will NAU running back Zach Bauman pick up where he left off last week?
• Can ASU avoid overlooking NAU with Wisconsin up next?
Injury Report and Lineup Notes
• Gerell Robinson is expected back in the lineup after missing last week's game.
• Deveron Carr and Deantre Lewis will play despite minor health issues this week at practice.
• ASU assistant coaches Craig Bray (1980-83) and Jamie Christian (2002) previously coached at NAU.
• NAU's Giovannie Dixon, Chasen Stangel and Dillon Winiecki previously attended ASU.
• A total of 34 Arizona natives are listed on NAU's roster.
• NAU cornerback Anders Battle is the brother of ASU track and field runner Allante Battle, who once joined brother Avory on ASU's football team. Anders Battle also played at Phoenix Desert Vista High School with ASU tight end Steven Figueroa.
• NAU running back Zach Bauman played at Chandler Hamilton High School with ASU linebacker Anthony Jones and wide receiver Gerell Robinson. ASU linebacker Colin Parker and wide receiver Kerry Taylor also attended Hamilton High.
• NAU wide receiver Jeremy Dang played at Peoria High School with ASU running back Jamal Miles. ASU wide receiver T.J. Simpson also attended Peoria High.
• NAU wide receiver Ca'leve DeBoskie played at Chandler High School with ASU running back Taylor Walstad.
• NAU linebacker Keanu Kalolo played at Lakewood (Calif.) High School with ASU wide receiver Kevin Anderson and current Sun Devil verbal commit Rashaad Wadood.
• NAU offensive lineman Sebastian Sica played at Scottsdale Saguaro High School with ASU's Corey Adams, Kody Koebensky, Jordan McDonald and Max Smith. ASU safety Max Tabach also attended Saguaro High.
• NAU defensive lineman Tim Wilkinson attended Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman High School, the same school as ASU cornerback Josh Jordan.