Lumberjacks Used to Tune-Up Role

When you're a Division I-AA team such as Northern Arizona, opening the season against superior competition is the rule, not the exception. ASU may hold only a 17-14-4 advantage over their neighbors from Flagstaff, but Lumberjacks' head coach Jerome Souers knows that he will have his hands full in Tempe on Thursday.

"It's a challenge…It's not unusual for teams of our level to play teams higher than us," said Souers of the difficulty opening the season against a l-A school. "It's a challenge for players and coaches to perform at that level, and the amount of time we have to prepare nine days… I think we have a much better team than we have had the last couple of years. Anytime you play in a game in this magnitude you see your weaknesses fast."

Senior quarterback Jason Murrietta, a one time ASU recruit, will head NAU's offense. In 2003, the then true freshman posted a career game in his first ever collegiate start, which was also the last time both teams met. He threw for 292 yards, two touchdowns and completed 21 out of 35 passes, but his team fell 34-14. During Murrietta's first year he led his team to a 9-4 record, but the Jacks have struggled since then with a combined record of 7-15. "The situation with Jason three years ago was a lot stronger senior class," explained Souers. "We had eight starters on our offense, and some pretty talented receivers and Jason came in and filled a responsibility as a quarterback"

Though many eyes will be on Arizona State's defense this game, as they try to improve from 2005, the real oddity will be Northern Arizona's defense which plays a 3-3-5 scheme. "The scheme is one we have been comfortable with for some time," stated Souers, "but every year the people you have on your roster define the projected success of it. Rudy Carpenter is mobile and has accuracy and ability to get it out the big time receivers… it's difficult when you have an offense that is so balanced. Those are the challenges we face this week." ASU's head coach Dirk Koetter mentioned that his team never saw an alignment such as NAU, which features three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs, including three safeties. This defensive scheme is one that brings more players than usual into the box, which can be effective against the run.

Last year NAU was outscored in the first quarter by over 60 points, and going up against a juggernaut such as the Sun Devil offense in three days is anything but a comforting thought. "We need to adjust to the speed of the game," admitted Souers. "We don't have the type of personal to practice for Thursday. Early in the ball game we need to adjust to that tempo and that speed."

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