NAU Preview

ASU kicks off their 2003 schedule at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night against NAU. The Lumberjacks arrive in Tempe with a victory already under their belt over fellow DI-AA school St. Mary's 44-3 last Saturday in Flagstaff. The ‘Jacks will have already worked out some of the first game kinks and issues that plague almost every team in their openers. The Devils will look to solve those issues against what should be an overmatched NAU squad.


There is a lot of depth at the quarterback position for the Lumberjacks. Last season's starter, Clint Womack, returns and is joined by Baylor transfer Guy Tomcheck and Arizona All-State freshman Jason Murietta (Ironwood HS). No clear starter has been named for the game in Tempe, but if last week's performance is a predictor; the freshman will get the nod. Against St. Mary's, Murietta went 16-21 for 287 yards and three TD's while earning Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors. Womack may also see some game action against the Devils. He was 6-10 for 38 yards and an interception in the opener. Nevertheless, Womack has dropped from starter to third string.

At running back, Northern Arizona resembles ASU by returning their top three performers from last season. The main threat will be senior Brian Bingham. He showed great promise as a sophomore, gaining 650 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns; however, he was injured last year in the opener at Tucson and his production fell to only 262 yards in six games. He will be backed up by sophomores Philo Sanchex and Ryan Williams, who ran for 445 and 266 yards, respectively, last season.

The offensive line is experienced, returning four of the five regular starters from a year ago, including All-Big Sky Conference center senior Matt Raivio. The senior received a pre-season All-America honorable mention from The Sports Network. The guards and tackles are also game savvy seniors. Sean Funke, Matt Cary, Brian Gomez, and Matt Ryan round out the offense's front five.

At tight end, senior Tom Winn will get the starting nod. He caught 20 balls for 225 yards and one score in 2002. NAU head coach Jerome Souers has commended Winn's development in the off-season and expects him to be a threat for the Lumberjacks' offense.

At wide receiver the ‘Jacks return two All-Big Sky performers. Seniors Clarence Moore and Johnny Marshall will be the focus of the NAU attack. Moore led the team in 2002 with 61 receptions for 925 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Marshall contributed 581 yards on 44 catches. These two seniors should provide a good test for the Sun Devil defensive backfield.


The Lumberjacks have begun to use a new defensive alignment that starts in a base 3-4, but shifts into a 3-3-5 at times. It appears that ASU will see the five defensive back set often, which could open up some holes for the running game.

On the defensive line the only returning starter is junior John Perrigo, who started all 11 games last season and recorded 45 tackles, including nine for a loss. Junior Doug Harding and senior Cedric Pitts will join him in the trenches. Those two combined for 49 tackles in 2002.

The Lumberjacks lost four linebackers following last season and will rely on juniors Bruce Branch and Ian Gunderman to pick up the slack. Both received game experience last season as back-ups. They will be joined by junior Ken Jerry and former defensive back Brent Daniels in the 3-4 set. Presumably, Daniels will be the linebacker who drops back into coverage when the 3-3-5 alignment is used.

Senior cornerbacks Maurice Taylor and Ryan Thorton will be tasked with slowing down the Sun Devils' receiving corps. Thorton made 36 tackles in 2002 and also picked off three passes. Taylor recorded 32 tackles while deflecting a team-best seven passes. The safeties will be manned by returning starter senior Jeremy Thornburg and fellow senior Jason Jacobs.

Special Teams

Experienced players will handle both the kicking and punting duties for NAU. Junior Paul Ernster returns to handle the place kicking duties after connecting on 13 of 19 attempts last season. All-American senior punter Mark Gould hopes to repeat his strong 2002 performance, in which he averaged 48.2 yards per punt. Look for Ryan Thorton, Johnny Marshall, and Roger Robinson to handle the kick and punt return duties.


It is obvious that the Sun Devils should overpower the Lumberjacks; however, NAU has enough experience to pose some challenges early on for the home team. The ‘Jacks start eight seniors on offense (assuming Murietta starts at QB) and six seniors on defense. Seven of the remaining eight starting positions are manned by juniors. Thus, the Devils will face a very seasoned and cohesive team from Flagstaff.

Offensively, they will test ASU's secondary with the two returning wide receivers and the tight end. They will rely on their all-senior offensive line to give whichever QB is in enough time to find the open man. They probably will not try to establish the run early. Defensively, the ‘Jacks will look to contain ASU's vertical passing game by using many five defensive back sets. However, this may open up running opportunities for the Devils.

When it is all said and done, the All-American punter for NAU will get many opportunities to showcase his talents.

DevilsDigest would like to give special thanks to DevilDave, aka NAU Devil, for his contributions to this story.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories