Although Idaho State visits as a heavy underdog, ASU will be well-served to approach the season opener with the same mentality it will have when traveling to Athens, Ga., as well as for all nine Pac-10 Conference contests. With a combination of a rocky start to game week preparation and the hovering concerns from not only last year's 5-7 finish but also the Sun Devils' shameful loss to UNLV in 2008, critics and fans alike expect some level of a statement to be made in Saturday's kickoff to the 2009 football season.
This will be Idaho State's third all-time meeting versus a current Pac-10 squad, having lost to Oregon State, 61-10, in 2006 and Oregon, 52-7, in 1988.
Idaho State Offensive Projected Starting Lineup
QB: 8 Kyle Blum 6-2 197 Jr. Moorpark, Calif.
RB: 5 Clint Knickrehm 5-11 214 Sr. Pocatello, Idaho
WR: 1 Jaron Taylor 5-11 178 Sr. Lacey, Wash.
WR 6 Isaiah Burel 6-2 183 Jr. Corona, Calif.
WR 9 JD Ponciano 5-9 183 Sr. Vancouver, Wash.
TE 88 Josh Hill 6-5 227 Fr. Blackfoot, Idaho
LT 76 Braeden Clayson 6-6 301 So. Burley, Idaho
LG 71 Lance Cartwright 6-6 295 Sr. Layton, Utah
C 75 Ryan Henry 6-2 283 Sr. Upland, Calif.
RG 66 Mitch Rudder 6-3 300 Jr. Nampa, Idaho
RT 79 Brad Shedd 6-7 274 So. Flagstaff, Ariz.
Though the Bengals had a myriad of struggles from sideline to sideline last year, Idaho State was able to achieve legitimate success in the passing game, ranking ninth in the FCS averaging 283.0 yards per game through the air in 2008. Two quarterbacks – Kyle Blum and Russel Hill – saw extensive action in 2008 and return this season to guide the Idaho State offense. However, in addition to the highly rated passing figures, Idaho quarterbacks tossed 19 total interceptions last year, the fourth-highest total in the FCS.
A substantial portion of the receiving component of Idaho State's offense departed after last year, including five of the team's top seven receivers from 2008 which combined for 136 catches for 1,528 yards and nine scores a year ago.
Junior Isaiah Burel, who caught 56 passes for 607 yards (10.8 avg.) and one touchdown and senior Jaron Taylor, who reeled in 55 passes for 735 yards (13.4 avg.) and six scores lead the way for the receiving corps, while special teams standout JD Ponciano, who caught 11 passes for 249 yards (22.6 avg.) with one touchdown will be expected to take on a greater role on offense this season. Beyond those three, no returning wide receiver or tight end caught more than three passes in 2008.
On the ground, the Bengals were greatly unable to match the accolades of their passing game, rating 104th of 118 FCS teams in rushing, averaging only 87.8 yards-per-game, while much of the rushing depth departed after last season.
With the graduations of Ken Cornist, Kenyon Blue and Jayson Bird – who played for Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson at Idaho in 2006 – senior Clint Knickrehm is the only active back on the roster to have carried in a Division I game, leading the Bengals with 456 yards on 123 carries (3.7 avg.) with eight touchdowns in 2008.
Redshirt freshman Ben LaPorta is listed as Knickrehm's top reserve, while a host of freshmen and first-year transfers add depth at running back.
The Bengals return four offensive line starters from 2008, however in addition to its woeful rushing performances; Idaho State rated 102nd in the FCS last year with 34.0 sacks allowed, an appealing element to Sun Devil star defensive end Dexter Davis and the rest of ASU's defensive front.
As ASU's most potent defensive capacity figures to be in its front seven, the Bengals logically figure to face a stiff challenge in moving the ball on the ground and will need to take to the air to have any offensive success against the Sun Devils.
Defensive Projected Starting Lineup
DE 48 Jeff Tuua 6-2 250 Jr. Long Beach, Calif.
DE 50 Sean Rutten 6-2 238 Jr. Pocatello, Idaho
NT 98 Demetrius Amos 6-1 317 Sr. Long Beach, Calif.
DT 99 Jason Jones 6-0 290 Sr. Reserve, La.
SLB 20 Daniel Urias 6-1 224 Sr. Laguna Hills, Calif.
MLB 35 J.T. Albers 5-11 225 So. Tacoma, Wash.
WLB 30 A.J. Storms 6-0 215 So. Meridian, Idaho
CB 2 Keith McGowan 5-9 185 Jr. Lynwood, Calif.
CB 7 Michael Wright 5-10 179 Sr. Escondido, Calif.
FS 21 Chris Holmesly 5-9 193 Jr. Mission Viejo, Calif.
SS 27 Dustin Tew 6-1 196 Jr. Idaho Falls, Idaho
In 2008, the Idaho State defense was downright dismal, ranking 113th in the FCS in rushing defense (232.0 yards allowed), 104th in passing defense (248.3 yards allowed), 118th (of 118 teams) in total defense (480.33 yards allowed), 117th in scoring defense (41.2 points allowed), while catching only seven total interceptions, forcing only 16 total turnovers and collecting only 18.0 total quarterback sacks on the year.
Despite last year's struggles, 2009 may be more challenging for the Bengals, as defensive leader Ryan Phipps, who led Idaho State with 102 total tackles, 11.0 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, exhausted his eligibility after 2008, as did defensive linemen Josh Crittenden and Mike Jablonsky, who ranked second and third to Phillips in sacks and tackles-for-loss last year.
The lack of quarterback pressure abilities is music to the Sun Devil offensive line's collective ears, as returning Bengal defenders combined for a mere five sacks last year.
At nose tackle, Demetrius Amos, who started all 11 games and posted 32 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss last year, gets the starting nod again and will be backed by 6-1, 328-pound true freshman Minh Williams.
Beside Amos at defensive tackle, senior Jason Jones, who totaled 12 tackles in 10 games with two starts last year, begins the 2009 season with the first unit, with junior Chad O'Donnell, a transfer from Grossmont College, as a possible starting option at the position.
Phillip Arias, Idaho State's leading returning tackler with 64 tackles in 2008, will compete for time at weak side linebacker with sophomore A.J. Storms, an honorable mention All-Big Sky recipient in 2008 at safety.
First-year starter Daniel Arias is the likely top dog at strong side linebacker, with junior college transfer Jarrid Nash of Glendale (Ariz.) Community College listed as the top reserve on the strong side as well as at middle linebacker, a position which begins the 2009 as a three-man race with sophomore J.T. Albers, who primarily played on special teams in 2008, as the tentative starter, with senior Nic Edgson, who tallied 29 tackles as a part-time starter in 2008, and Nash as the candidates at middle linebacker.
In the secondary, senior Michael Wright and junior Keith McGowan are tabbed as starters, with senior George Ortiz and redshirt freshman Brenan Ghassamiah listed as reserves.
Wright enters 2009 as Idaho State's second-leading returning tackler, tallying 59 total stops a year ago, while McGowan began his college career at Boise State.
At safety, junior Chris Holmesly, who redshirted in 2008 after transferring in from Orange Coast College, leads the pack at free safety, while junior Dustin Tew, who totaled 29 tackles in 2008, will start at strong safety.
Redshirt freshman Phillip Pleasant and senior Amir Owens will be top reserves at free and strong safety, respectively.
With three of four projected starters in the safety standing 5-foot-10 or shorter, expect ASU receivers, especially 6-foot-4, 215-pound Gerell Robinson, to exploit the size and probable athletic advantages that favor the Sun Devils.
In all likelihood, the defensive deficiencies suffered by the Bengals will enable ASU's inexperienced, previously inadequate and presently banged-up offensive line to gain a bit of stability, as well as Sun Devil quarterback Danny Sullivan, making his first career start and also ASU's platoon squadron of running backs – which will range anywhere from three to six players – to gain confidence to start the 2009 season.
Special Teams Projected Starters
K 16 Jarrett Huk Sr. 6-1 177 Pleasanton, Calif.
P 43 Jon Vanderwielen Sr. 6-3 220 Upland, Calif.
KR 9 JD Ponciano Sr. 5-9 183 Vancouver, Wash.
2 Keith McGowan Jr. 5-9 185 Lynwood, Wash.
PR 1 Jaron Taylor Sr. 5-11 178 Lacey, Wash.
Special Teams Preview
In his first season after transferring to Idaho State, kicker Jarrett Huk struggled significantly in 2008, connecting on only one-of-six field goal attempts (48 yards), while succeeding on 27-of-28 extra point attempts. Punter Jon Vanderweilen enjoyed much greater success, earning honorable mention All-Big Sky recognition and 2009 Preseason All-America honors after averaging 42.4 yards on 65 punts.
With Idaho State's horrendous scoring defense, kick returner JD Ponciano was called upon frequently last year, setting a single-season school record with 996 kickoff return yards, with a 20.8-yard average per return. A potentially dynamic threat in the returns game, Ponciano earned honorable mention All-America accolades as a sophomore in 2007.
Jaron Taylor returns to the punt return unit after returning seven punts for 48 yards as a freshman in 2006.
Despite this week's distractions surrounding the suspensions of five or six players as well as the dramatic uncertainty of would-be superstar linebacker Vontaze Burfict, there is no feasible reason ASU should have even the slightest level of difficulty with the Bengals.
Every member of the Arizona State football program, from each player to every coach, intends to prove that the 2008 season was a fluke, and the first opportunity to right those wrongs is found in the Sun Devils' season-opening matchup with Idaho State.
An active and potentially star-powered Sun Devil defense, led by its front seven, figures to stifle the Bengal rushing attack and bull rush Idaho State's quarterbacks while a highly mediocre Bengal defense will likely be physically overmatched by ASU's offense.
The most optimistic and hopefully most likely outcome of Saturday's affair will be a quick and forceful lead for the Sun Devils and an opportunity for second- and third-string players to see game action to prepare to add quality depth for the remainder of the season.
Theoretically, for Idaho State to score more than twice may be considered a defensive letdown by the Sun Devils, while a four- to five-touchdown ASU victory likely will be a common expectation.
• Center Garth Gerhart and offensive tackle Tom Njunge will both play on the second team.
• Defensive end James Brooks will be serving the first game of a three-game suspension (team rules violation), while wide receiver Kerry Taylor also will sit out against Idaho State due to suspension (team rules violation). Three or four additional players, currently unnamed, are out of action against the Bengals.
• Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse late Friday and will participate in Saturday's game.
• Running Back Jordan Scott attended Phoenix North Canyon High School and Glendale Community College before transferring to Idaho State. Linebacker Jarrid Nash also attended Glendale Community College and offensive lineman Travis Nua attended Arizona Western Junior College.
• Defensive back Chris Holmesly was a teammate of ASU defensive end Dean DeLeone at Orange Coast College in 2007.
• Starting offensive tackle Brad Shedd was a teammate of ASU defensive end James Brooks at Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School.
• Senior punter Jon Vanderwielen and senior offensive lineman Ryan Henry both attended Upland (Calif.) High School, the same school as ASU true freshman cornerback Osahon Irabor.
• Redshirt junior defensive lineman Jeff Tuua was a former high school teammate of ASU cornerback LeQuan Lewis at Artesia (Calif.) High School, also the high school alma mater of former Sun Devil basketball star James Harden and current hoops player Derek Glasser.
• Offensive lineman Demetrius Grant played for Chula Vista (Calif.) Southwestern College last year, on the same offensive unit that included current 2010 ASU wide receiver commit George Bell.
• ASU linebacker Brandon Magee's brother, Angelo, was a member of the Idaho State football program from 2007-08 but left the squad after spring drills this year.
Things to Keep an Eye On Versus Idaho State
• How will Sun Devil quarterback Danny Sullivan fare in his first career start?
• How will ASU's depth at running back pan out and gain continuity over the course of the game?
• How will ASU's sophomore receiver Gerell Robinson perform in place of suspended starter Kerry Taylor?
• What will be seen from ASU's offensive line, which may possibly be without two projected full-time starters?
• How will first-year defensive linemen Dean DeLeone, William Sutton and Corey Adams, all of which figure to start or see significant time, perform in their first games at ASU?
• How will the depth in the secondary, where starters at safety and cornerback have regularly shifted, even out?
• How will Omar Bolden perform as ASU's full-time kickoff returner?