Graham wasted very little time showing off his up-tempo offense as the Sun Devils notched 42 first half points behind starting quarterback Taylor Kelly and a well-balanced rushing attack, outlasting NAU in their season opener.
Kelly, making his first career start, looked every bit the composed and steady signal caller he had been throughout the offseason as he paced the Sun Devil offseason on Thursday, completing 15 of 19 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown. Despite not being named the official starting quarterback until late into fall camp, the redshirt sophomore showed great command of the offense, efficiently moving the ball downfield while minimizing mistakes.
"It felt great," said Kelly afterwards getting the win. "We were able to just come out and get this first victory under our belt. I was excited, had butterflies, and it felt really good.
"I completed my first two passes and coming out of the gate everything was going well and that gave me the confidence to keep moving the ball down the field."
Freshman Richard Smith was the main beneficiary of Kelly's aerial assault on the Lumberjacks as he hauled in five catches for 45 yards and the lone touchdown reception to lead all Sun Devil receivers.
Arizona State got a big lift offensively early from their rushing attack as the Sun Devils spread the ball around, gashing the Lumberjack defense with a number of long runs, totaling 305 rushing yards as a team, their most since putting up 314 against Oregon State in 2001. Kelly helped himself by collecting 51 yards on the ground but fans were probably most excited for the emergence of freshman D.J. Foster who continued his steady play this fall with a strong debut.
Foster, one of six Sun Devil true freshmen to play in the season opener (Smith, Jaxon Hood, Evan Goodman, Viliami Moeakiola and Carlos Mendoza) showed off his speed and athleticism by rushing for 74 yards on 8 carries while also hauling in 32 yards receiving with catches, including the game's first play.
"It felt good," said Foster on seeing his first college action. "I mean, there was a lot of pressure and a lot of nerves building up to it but my teammates helped me. From the hotel and everything pre-game, I felt relaxed when I came out here. I felt like I can compete."
"I feel like I can always do better," he added. "There's always room for improvement at the end of the day, but I feel like I played okay. I played the way my coaches expected, but I can always get better though."
With the route in full force in the game's early stages, the Sun Devil coaching staff was able to utilize their depth as junior college transfer Marion Grice got into the action, wasting little time before making an impact. The Texas native, who suffered a turf toe injury in the team's scrimmage at Camp Tontozona, carried for 107 yards on 14 carries while finding the end zone on three occasions.
Senior Cameron Marshall, who had been limited in recent weeks with a sore hamstring, got the scoring outbreak started for the Sun Devils with a pair of rushing touchdowns on the team's first two drives of the evening, giving him 31 for his career. Despite playing only sparingly, Marshall was his normal productive self, accumulating 14 yards on 5 carries while making 2 catches for 28 yards.
The ASU offensive explosion only tells half the story on this night though as the Sun Devil defense created havoc for the Lumberjacks most of the game, all but denying them of any offensive success in the first half.
The Lumberjacks were limited to just 237 yards of total offense on Thursday night, while turning the ball over four times, including one pick six by senior linebacker Brandon Magee, the first of his career.
"I saw a lot of open space," said Brandon sheepishly on his interception return." I saw a guy try to tackle me from the left, so I gave him a 'stiffy.' And then I ran to the end zone, like I've been there before. That's it."
Coming into the season, the Sun Devil defense had its share of question marks, primarily along the line and in the secondary. Through one game, each unit seems ready for the challenge this season.
The Sun Devils yielded only 88 yards on the ground, constantly stuffing the Lumberjacks up the middle. The defense was also able to come away with three interceptions, as Moeakiola and junior Alden Darby each chipped in with one.
"Us as a secondary, all offseason and in the film room we've been making such huge strides to know everybody's jobs on the field so we can tell them exactly what to do and exactly where to be at," he commented. "We all had one pulse out there tonight and felt like the world was on our shoulders and knew everybody was watching us and we showed up."