Weber State Preview

Arizona State kicks off its 2014 season hosting Weber State, a contest that ASU should easily win but also one that should provide the several newcomers that will see action on Thursday night a chance to finally gain some game experience. Devils Digest’s Joe Healey examines the Sun Devils’ next opponent.

Weber State Offensive Personnel

At quarterback, sophomore Billy Green appears to be the favorite over classmate Jadrian Clark. Green saw limited action as a reserve true freshman at BYU in 2013 before transferring to Weber State, while Clark earned scattered snaps for the Wildcats last year. Whoever gets the nod Thursday will walk onto Frank Kush Field for his first collegiate start, which assumes to be Green.

Green’s sole playing time for Brigham Young last year came against FCS member Idaho State and he did not attempt a pass, while Clark completed two of six pass attempts with 21 total rushing yards in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2013.

Weber State boasts some solid returning skill position talent, spearheaded by running back Bo Bolen, WSU’s leading rusher in 2013 with 549 yards and five touchdowns and the returning leader in receptions with 27 a year ago.

Bolen is joined in the backfield by Zach Smith, who totaled 284 rushing yards and one score in 2013, helping provide what the Wildcats hope to be a dynamic one-two punch at running back.

Receivers Cameron Livingston and Shaydon Kehano return after contributing in 2013, as Livingston is the team’s leading returner in receiving yards and touchdown catches after hauling in 26 receptions for 344 yards with four scores. Kehano only appeared in four games in 2013 but totaled 15 catches for 186 yards with one touchdown. A senior in 2014, Kehano has had a very productive career but has seen only seven games over the past two seasons due to injuries.

Freshman Drew Batchelor is listed as the third starter alongside Livingston and Kehano, while Braden Corpus, who caught six passes for 40 yards a year ago, is a primary backup receiver.

Helam Heimuli, Cody McKague and Jake Kahawaii are listed as the top three tight ends. The group combined for five receptions in 2013.

Left-to-right, Weber State’s offensive line consists of tackle A.J. Wilcox, guard Joe Hawkins, center Alex Land, guard Cameron Young and tackle Justin Turner.

The Wildcat front boasts steady experience as Hawkins and Land are third-year starters, while young started every game last season.

Weber State Offensive Summary

To say the Wildcat offense struggled in 2013 is a tremendous understatement, as Weber State ranked last of 13 teams in the Big Sky Conference in scoring offense (15.8), last in total offense (295.6), last in pass efficiency (100.8), while allowing the most sacks (35) and having the lowest third-down conversion rate (28.6) in the conference.

Weber State likely will prefer to rely on the stability of Bolen at running back to help increase comfort at quarterback, while presuming to use quick tempo throws to offset the attack of the Sun Devil defensive front.

Though it is admittedly unknown how the Devils will generate their pass rush in 2014, the athletic advantage held by ASU and the overall ineptitude of Weber State to protect its quarterback seemingly gives a decided edge to Arizona State.

Last season against Utah, Weber State allowed seven sacks in a 70-7 loss and the Sun Devils can be expected to aggressively attack the Wildcats on Thursday despite a notable lack of experienced pass rushers.

Weber State Defensive Personnel

The Wildcats’ four-man defensive front consists of Dustin Martin at left end and Obi Owuh on the right side with tackles Connor Myers and Jake Gallegos between them.

Martin totaled 37 tackles in 2013 and is the team’s returning leader with 9.0 TFLs, while Owuh registered 41 tackles including 5.0 for loss with 2.0 sacks in 2013.

Myers posted 35 tackles including 3.0 for loss, while Gallegos enters his first year at Weber State after transferring from Utah State.

The backup defensive tackles, Likio Pope and McKay Murphy, both followed head coach Jay Hill as transfers this offseason from Utah.

At linebacker, Felix Woods, Emmett Tela and Luke King are listed as the starters. King is among the leading returning tacklers from 2013 with 43 total stops last year, while Woods chipped in 30 last season and Tela, a true freshman, begins his collegiate career Thursday against Arizona State.

Leading returning tackler Roman Valenzuela (88 tackles) is listed behind King at one linebacker position.

The strength of the Wildcat defense appears to stand in its secondary, highlighted by cornerback Deon’tae Florence, an Honorable Mention All-Big Sky pick last year, who picked off four passes, defended 12 total passes and totaled 26 tackles in 2013. Slated to start alongside Florence at cornerback is Cordero Dixon, who totaled 25 tackles and posted six passes defended in 2013.

At safety, sophomores Josh Burton and Tre’von Johnson are listed as the first-stringers with former Utah transfer Tyron Morris-Edwards as the primary backup at both safety spots.

In 2013, Johnson registered 38 tackles, while Burton totaled 27 stops.

Weber State Defensive Summary

Weber State’s offensive struggles last year were mirrored on the defensive side, as the Wildcats ranked last in the Big Sky in scoring defense (41.4), total defense (475.8), rushing defense (242.2), pass defense efficiency (152.4) and sacks (11).

The matchup of the Sun Devil offense versus the Wildcat defense is what generally presumes to quickly break the game open in favor of Arizona State, as there is no feasible answer on WSU’s end for the likes of Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong.

Moreover, Arizona State’s offensive line in 2014 is expected to be as physically gifted as any group the Sun Devils have put forth in several years and of the measly 11 sacks Weber State mustered in 2013, the Wildcats return a grand total of three to the 2014 defense.

Taylor Kelly should have eons of time in the pocket, with which he can go through any necessary progressions and also use his seasoned wheels when running lanes emerge.

As ASU did on multiple occasions last year (think Washington State on Halloween), the Devils should be able to steamroll early drives for quick scores and create substantial separation by the end of the first quarter.

Weber State Special Teams Summary

Josh Kealamakia and Carson Fackrell are both options for placekicking duties.

Kealamakia returns to the Wildcat lineup after a two-year LDS mission and was WSU’s punter for 2010 and ’11. Fackrell was Weber State’s primary kickoff specialist last year as a freshman.

Kealamakia will also compete for snaps at punter, as will Blake O’Niell, who arrived at Weber State this summer from Australia.

Bo Bolen is tabbed as WSU’s top kickoff returner and backup punt returner. Last year, Bolen averaged 26.5 yards on kickoff returns, punctuated by a 100-yard touchdown return.

Shaydon Kehano is listed as the team’s top punt returner, while freshman Eric Wilkes is likely to join Bolen on kick returns.

Final Analysis

Every FCS team goes into every FBS stadium they play all full of piss-and-vinegar ready to be the next Appalachian State overtaking Michigan in 2007. To the credit of a handful of programs—especially last season—upsets occur here and there each year, creating lasting memories for the lower division players.

First-year Wildcat head coach Jay Hill comes to Weber State after 12 years spent as an assistant at Utah, so he has been part of a staff to face the Sun Devils each year since the Utes joined the Pac-12 Conference in 2011.

However, in two games at Arizona State against FCS teams, head coach Todd Graham has a scoreboard total of 118-6 in games against Northern Arizona in 2012 and Sacramento State last year.

There’s no individual or unit matchup that does not present ASU a massive advantage and the offensive leadership of Kelly, Foster and Strong figures to create a quick and substantial edge for the home team.

Weber State’s only true hope is that ASU’s defense, full of many new faces across the board, sloppily assembles under the lights and allows holes for Bolen and company to exploit.

In 2013, Weber State allowed 70-point outbursts against both Utah and Utah State, teams whose offenses truly pale in comparison to Arizona State. The Sun Devils truly should be able to score at will, and the final tally generally depends on at what point Graham and Mike Norvell decide to take on a conservative approach and empty the Sun Devil bench.

Familiar Faces

• ASU CB Solomon Means began his college career at Weber State, redshirting there in 2011 before transferring to Butte College prior to signing with ASU in 2013

• Weber State Assistant Head Coach Brent Myers was on Dirk Koetter’s coaching staff at ASU from 2004-06

• Weber State OL Ismael Betancourt is an Arizona native and attended Buckeye Union High School

• Weber State WR Darryl Denby was a teammate of ASU QB Coltin Gerhart at Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta HS

• Weber State TE Raphael Longangu attended Euless (Texas) High School, as did ASU LB Laiu Moeakiola

• Weber State WR Marquis Pippins and S Jawian Harrison were teammates of ASU’s D.J. Calhoun and Jalen Harvey at El Cerrito (Calif.) High School

• Weber State TE Chase Vorwaller attended Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, as did ASU’s Damarious Randall

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