Arizona State picks up slack in starters' absences

The Sun Devils were without three critical defensive starters on Saturday night as Salamo Fiso, Viliami Latu and Laiu Moeakiola all sat out.

Arizona State was without three defensive starters during its home opener against Northern Arizona Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

After ASU’s 44-13 win over the Lumberjacks, head coach Todd Graham said senior linebacker Salamo Fiso and senior defensive lineman Viliami Latu were both held out due to disciplinary reasons.

Graham said Latu will be back next week, but said they will “see on the other one,” when talking about Fiso.

“It’s hard,” Graham said. “It’s hard for me for them to miss a game because it breaks my heart because I don’t want them to and those guys are great young men but one of the things that we haven’t done in our program for four straight years is [have problems with] accountabilities. I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I don’t like them because you can care about these kids so much, but there are standards. I would definitely not tell you the reasons because you would probably question a lot of them because our standards are really high and so our guys know that and respect that and I think they understand that so it’s a tough deal so they’ll be back and better for it.”

Other than Fiso and Latu being held out for disciplinary reasons, senior safety Laiu Moeakiola also did not play on Saturday.

Moeakiola missed three practices after he saw a hamstring specialist on Aug. 25. Last Wednesday, Moeakiola told SunDevilSource.com that he was ready to go on Saturday, but he didn’t play.

“It is stressful because Laiu and Salamo and even Ami (Latu) those guys were vast experienced that are communicators so that’s one of the reasons why were we’re as simple as we were (on defense) because we wanted to make sure we didn’t beat ourselves with having mental mistakes and assignment errors,” Graham said.

Picking up the slack

ASU had four total starters out across the board, and Graham praised the players who stepped in and filled the roles of Fiso, Latu, Moeakiola, and long snapper Mitchell Fraboni.

Fraboni was in sweats and not dressed out tonight. He hasn't done any running during practice in viewing portions media has been able to view. It doesn't appear Fraboni will be back any time soon. 

“We had a little bit of chaos there with Fraboni being out, Laiu was out, Salamo was out, Ami was out I think five starters were out so really proud of the guys coming in and the guys that came in for them and picking up the slack and I thought they did a great job,” Graham said. “I thought (senior linebacker) Carlos Mendoza did nice things coming in and really proud of how he played replacing Christian (Sam).”

ASU junior linebacker Christian Sam as well as junior linebacker Marcus Ball both had to leave Saturday's game for different reasons. Sam got hurt midway through the first quarter and did not return. He was wearing a walking boot after the game. Ball was ejected with 6:14 left in the third quarter due to a targeting penalty.

"We had our first targeting foul since I have been here and that was also really tough for us," Graham said. 

Graham also thought sophomore defensive lineman Renell Wren, junior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood and sophomore defensive lineman Joseph Wicker all stepped up and played well in the trenches.

Wicker had five tackles and Smallwood and Wren both recorded four tackles. Wren had two tackles for loss and Smallwood had one as well. Junior linebacker D.J. Calhoun led the Sun Devils with seven tackles and one tackle for loss.

Filling in for Fraboni at long snapper was walk-on Riley John during punts and freshman Cohl Cabral during field goals and PATs.  

With 7:33 left in the second quarter, ASU was forced to punt after going three-and-out, but a bad snap by John to senior punter Matt Haack resulted in Haack trying to run around the right edge and try for the first down.

To some fans, it might have looked like a trick play. Not the case.

“We had a walk-on snapper snapping the ball,” Graham said. “We did not fake that punt -- it was a bad snap. It was snapped way out to the right and that ended up in a turnover.”

Gonzalez nearing the record books  

ASU senior placekicker Zane Gonzalez is now tied for 17th in NCAA career field goals.

Recording his 76th field goal on Saturday, Gonzalez is only 12 away from matching the NCAA record held by former Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins who made 88 field goals in his career (2009-12).

The Pac-12 record is 85 field goals held by former UCLA kicker Kai Forbath (2007-10). The ASU record of 78 and is held by Luis Zendejas (1981-84).

Gonzalez’s 53-yard field goal to give ASU a 13-6 lead over NAU with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter Saturday night was ASU’s first 50-plus yard field goal since Thomas Weber accomplished the feat on Dec. 2, 2010.

Zendejas holds the record for ASU's longest field goal after nailing a 55-yard field goal on Nov. 6, 1982.


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