Graham Pleased as Devils Cruise in Opener

Tonight's ASU performance wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was effective and just what Arizona State Head Coach Todd Graham was hoping for as the Sun Devils used a 31 point first half outburst to cruise past Weber State in the season opener on Thursday for a 45-14 win.

Throughout the entire offseason, the knock against Arizona State had been the need to replace nine starters from a defensive unit that helped the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South division in year two under Graham. On Thursday, the new-look ASU defense showed that they may just be up to the challenge, led by true freshmen D.J. Calhoun and Tashon Smallwood who starred in their college debuts.

While the Sun Devil offense struggled to find its rhythm early on, the defense hit the ground running, forcing three and outs on Weber State’s first three offensive possessions of the evening while limiting the Wildcats to just 73 total yards of offense in the opening quarter.

“There were a lot of positives. I was really pleased with the young guys,” said Graham afterwards. “I made a decision defensively; Coach Patterson and I said we’ve got to get these guys ready to play. We could have gone out and played base defense tonight and we would have won anyway. But if you watched and if you know anything about football, we ran a lot of exotic stuff tonight and that’s pretty amazing with nine newcomers.”

Starting at the WILL linebacker position, Calhoun helped lead the charge, recording five sacks in his Sun Devil debut while helping ignite a young but active Arizona State defense that looked eager to make a statement on Thursday.

“DJ Calhoun, he made some mistakes but let me tell you something, he is tough and he’s going to be a great player,” added Graham. “He wants to learn. He’s bright-eyed. He and Smallwood were two true freshmen starting. They’re not afraid at all. I loved how they attacked things. I love how they listen. They want to learn, they want to be great, and I really like that.”

Arizona State’s defense kept the Wildcat offense in check through the first two quarters of play, limiting Weber State to just 119 yards and six first downs in the first half while Graham continued to work in the newcomers. Christian Sam, Chad Adams and Armand Perry, who blocked a first quarter punt attempt, were three other freshman who made their debuts on Thursday along with junior college transfers Kweishi Brown and Edmond Boateng.

“We found some guys tonight,” said Graham. “I thought James Johnson played a heck of a game and did some really quality things. I liked how he competed. Armand Perry, Chad Adams. Chad came in and played very solid and almost got an interception at corner. I liked those young guys. Their eyes really, really big and then I put them in there and they kind of settled down little bit.

“Everybody had a lot of question marks about how we’re going to come out defensively and I would tell you, from a defensive stand point, I felt like we had a good night. We learned a lot of things, we got better, and we dominated a team we should dominate.”

The Sun Devil defense flexed its muscle early in the second quarter, coming up with a goal-line stand to thwart the only Weber State scoring attack in the first half. After a Marcus Hardison third down tackle, Graham signaled for a timeout as the Wildcats lined up for a fourth and goal attempt from the one yard line.

Graham shuffled his personnel and the moved paid off as senior Marcus Washington came up with the tackle against running back Zach Smith, giving Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devil offense the ball back at their own one yard line.

“I loved that goal-line stand,” said the coach. “That was exactly what we needed tonight. It was a good thing that Marcus made the play because he was actually not on the field. We called a timeout because I saw they were fixing to run a quarterback sneak, so I called a timeout, which I know everybody likes those defensive timeouts that we call. But I thought it worked out pretty good.”

Kelly and the offense then proceeded to march 99 yards on nine plays, highlighted by a 35 yard Jaelen Strong catch and punctuated with a three yard D.J. Foster touchdown run.

While Arizona State failed to find the end zone on its first two drives of the game, they atoned for it quickly.

Kelly completed 18-27 passes for 238 yards on Thursday while finding Gary Chambers for an eight yard touchdown completion with 4:32 to play in the first quarter to push the Sun Devil lead to 10.

Foster, who rushed for 147 yards on 15 carries added a one yard scoring run on the following drive to make it 17-0 by the end of the first quarter.

Foster pushed his touchdown total to three on the night by adding a pair in the second quarter, including a 57 yard dash, while also catching four passes for 26 yards.

“I thought we missed of stuff early on offensively,” said 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. We dominated a team that we needed to dominate, I just thought we just missed some throws and had too many penalties.

“We had two offside penalties by two newcomers and we can’t have that. We had an illegal procedure penalty; we had a facemask penalty…that’s too many.”

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