The competition level for the host Sun Devils undoubtedly will rise in this contest compared to ASU's debut game of 2009, as the Sun Belt Conference's Louisiana-Monroe, guided by seventh-yeah head coach Charlie Weatherbie, has proven in the past to be unafraid of BCS conference competition, most notably defeating perennial power Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2007, while also recently grinding out tough, close losses to geographically proximal foes, primarily from the Southeastern Conference.
Likely the most potent concern for ASU and Sun Devil fans is ensuring that history from last season does not repeat itself, specifically referencing ASU's season-crushing overtime loss to UNLV in the third game of 2008, in which the Devils clearly overlooked the Rebels toward the Sun Devils' following opponent, Georgia. With a trip to Athens, Ga., awaiting the Devils next week, all hopes are that ASU has learned from the damning loss last year and will strictly and specifically address the matters at hand on Sept. 19.
In the first contest between Arizona State University and the University of Louisiana-Monroe, the Sun Devils will enter action as a three-score favorite to win and with an exciting, dynamic defense and an offense that showed spurts of quality against Idaho State and notable improvement in practice the past two weeks, ASU has the personnel and depth to decisively defeat the visiting Warhawks.
Louisiana-Monroe Projected Offensive Starting Lineup
QB 12 Trey Revell 6-5 221 Jr. Havana, Fla.
RB 5 Frank Goodin 5-9 203 Jr. West Monroe, La.
WR 18 LaGregory Sapp 6-3 209 Sr. Monroe, La.
WR 3 Darrell McNeal 6-0 220 Sr. Monroe, La.
WR 10 Tim Taylor 5-9 187 So. Opelousas, La.
TE 17 Alvin Jordan 6-2 253 Jr. Mesquite, Tex.
LT 64 Mitch Doyle 6-5 282 Sr. Oologah, Okla.
LG 65 Brett Thompson 6-3 267 Sr. Sachse, Tex.
C 63 Emmanuel Lockett 6-1 296 Sr. Houston, Tex.
RG 56 Jonathan Gill 6-3 280 RS-Fr. South Grand Prairie, Tex.
RT 69 Justin Roberts 6-4 281 So. Mt. Pleasant, Tex.
Louisiana-Monroe Offensive Preview
With a drastic disparity separating the Warhawks' first two opponents, the statistics may be skewed in terms of reliability as recent BCS Champion Texas will often limit teams' productivity, while Louisiana-Monroe had a proverbial field day against lower-level foe Texas Southern.
Offensively, the Warhawks have collectively submitted highly respectable figures among the first two contests, ranking 30th in the nation in total offense (445.0 yards-per-game), ahead of teams such as BYU, Penn State, Oklahoma and Boise State, however that figure is largely aided by a 592-yard outpour against Texas Southern.
In last week's win, the Warhawks netted 345 rushing yards with five touchdowns as well as 247 passing yards with three scores with no turnovers and a record-setting performance by quarterback Trey Revell, who set school marks in single-game completion percentage (88.3-percent; 16-of-18) and consecutive completions (15).
Running backs Frank Goodin (105 yards, career-high three touchdowns) and true freshman Isaiah Newsome (22 carries, 158 yards) paced the Warhawk offense while receiver Darrell McNeal came just shy of the century mark, totaling 99 receiving yards on six receptions with a 27-yard touchdown catch.
Redshirt freshman Cody Wells (6-0, 195) serves as ULM's number two quarterback, while junior Rodney Lovett (5-9, 202) is the second string running back and a host of other reserves have earned duty as well.
Louisiana-Monroe posted a much more modest effort in Austin, Texas in the season-opener, totaling 101 rushing yards on 2.9 yards-per-carry and 298 yards of total offense in the Warhawks' near 40-point loss to Texas. Goodin performed as well as any offensive contributor with 60 rushing yards on 15 carries with a 13-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but Revell completed only 14-of-30 passes (46.7-percent) for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Cumulatively, Goodin has collected 165 rushing yards on 31 carries (5.3 avg.) with four touchdowns, while Revell has completed 31-of-49 passes (63.3-percent) for 435 yards with three scores and one interception.
In the passing game, the Warhawks thus far have spread the ball successfully among its personnel, completing passes to seven wide receivers, led by McNeal's seven catches for 112 yards, while a pair of tight ends has also been involved in the passing game in the first two contests, combining for eight receptions. A handful of tailbacks have earned carries as well, however both games have resulted in blowout outcomes, which clearly are environments that are highly conducive to exhausting a team's depth chart.
Senior J.J. McCoy (5-11, 181), sophomores Anthony McCall (6-1, 189), Julian Griffin (6-3, 204), Luther Ambrose (5-10, 175) all add depth to the Warhawks' receiving corps, while junior Alvin Jordan is tabbed as the starting tight end with redshirt freshman Keavon Milton (6-5, 247) as his top back-up.
From left-to-right, Mitch Doyle, Brett Thompson, Emmanuel Locket , Jonathan Gill and Justin Roberts is the expected starting offensive line, while sophomore Josh Andrews (6-6, 304), junior Andrew Stout (6-3, 298), junior A.J. DeGroot (6-3, 289), junior Doug Stroud (6-7, 314) and sophomore Ryan Dercher (6-6, 296) and will respectively serve as the second-string line, listed from left-to-right.
Most critics and fans likely are attempting to create an aggregate expectation from Louisiana-Monroe's first two games, and what likely can be expected is reliance on a running backs unit that boasts both experience and talented youth, as their junior first-string quarterback is poised to make only his fifth career start and only second game leading the Warhawks against a BCS conference competitor.
If the Warhawks' main objective is to assert themselves in the running game, that likely will play right into the strength of the Sun Devil defense, whose front seven showed the punishing persistence that many expected entering the season, suffocating Idaho State to a net total of minus-five rushing yards two weeks ago.
Against the Bengals, the Devils established pressure in the defensive front from an early point, and with the expected return of both defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and linebacker Shelly Lyons from injuries that held them out of duty against Idaho State, the depth and quality of the defense may be poised to perform at an even higher level than it did two weeks ago in holding Idaho State to a mere 37 total offensive yards, the best performance by a Sun Devil defense since 1992.
Although the Sun Devil defensive line was quiet in terms of quarterback sacks, its pressure was highly effective against Idaho State, helping press Bengal quarterbacks to throw four total interceptions, all to ASU's linebackers.
Look for much of the same from the Devil defense, as ASU's front will strive to strangle the Warhawk rushing attack and rely upon an overpowering defensive line and a hungry, violent group of linebackers to frustrate a relatively inexperienced starting quarterback toward hasty decisions in the passing game.
In general, ASU figures to provide enough defensive pressure to not allow Revell the time in the pocket to be as accurate as he was against Texas Southern, requiring the Warhawk offense to put its eggs in the basket of the running backs, namely Goodin, to have success moving the ball.
Louisiana-Monroe Projected Defensive Starting Lineup
DT 99 Aaron Williams 6-0 293 Sr. Ridgeland, Miss.
DE 55 Troy Evans 6-2 252 So. Shreveport, La.
DE 9 Aaron Morgan 6-4 235 Sr. Amite, La.
LB 42 Theo Smith 5-11 215 Jr. New Orleans, La.
LB 51 Cardia Jackson 6-2 230 Sr. Monroe, La.
LB 50 Josh Thomas 6-2 228 Sr. Port Barre, La.
SS 37 Darius Prelow 6-1 205 So. Shreveport, La.
FS 2 Greg James 6-1 201 Sr. Monroe, La.
HAWK 34 James Truxillo 6-2 210 Sr. Jefferson, La.
CB 26 Nate Brown 5-10 180 So. Wichita Falls, Tex.
CB 21 Otis Stamps 5-10 188 Sr. Vicksburg, Miss.
Louisiana-Monroe Defensive Preview
After a generally struggle-filled defensive season in 2008, the most notable adjustment the Warhawks made this offseason was the schematic modification to a 3-3-5 defense, utilizing the services of a fifth, "Hawk" defensive back in addition to three down linemen, three linebackers and four traditional defensive backs.
To date in 2009, Louisiana-Monroe allows an average of 332.5 yards of total offense per game, yielding 562 yards to Texas and 103 versus Texas Southern.
The stalwarts of the Warhawk defense have been end Aaron Morgan, who has totaled five tackles-for-loss, three sacks and three quarterback hurries in two games and linebacker Cardia Jackson, who has posted 12 tackles thus far and ranks just outside the team's top-10 career tackling leaders. Ball-hawking senior defensive back Greg James entered 2009 as the NCAA active career leader with 13 interceptions and has accumulated 10 tackles but no picks in the season's first two contests.
Morgan will be joined in the starting lineup by end Troy Evans and tackle Aaron Williams, while senior Jameson Jordan (6-2, 225) and sophomore Jordan Landry (6-3, 211) are the back-up ends and junior Aaron Moore (5-11, 279) is slated as the top reserve at ULM's one primary tackle position.
The unique alignment shown by the Warhawk defense puts the onus of blocking responsibility onto a variety of Sun Devil position players, namely running backs, in addition to usual frontline protectors.
Heisman Trophy candidate Colt McCoy of Texas countered Louisiana-Monroe's defensive attack with great success, completing 21-of-29 passes for 317 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, with sixth-year senior receiver Jordan Shipley registering a monster performance with eight catches for 180 yards and one touchdown.
Although few will mistake Sun Devil quarterback Danny Sullivan for he who wears No. 12 in burnt orange, if ASU can provide the luxury of time in the pocket to its starting passer, the experienced Sun Devil receivers figure to have the edge over the Warhawk secondary. The wild cards, however, in that equation may be ASU's backs, linemen and tight ends picking up blitzes as well as Sun Devil receivers exhibiting better ball security than the uncharacteristic amount of drops shown versus Idaho State.
The Warhawk defense has occupied ample time in opposing backfields, with 12 total tackles-for-loss in addition to four sacks, with the productivity evenly spread among the first two games with seven tackles-for-loss against Texas Southern and five coming against Texas.
A noticeable lineup shift from ASU's first game will be the likely relocation of Matt Hustad, who started game one at right tackle and switches to right guard, while senior Tom Njunge is likely to enter the starting lineup at right tackle. Thomas Altieri will start his 14th consecutive game at center with Garth Gerhart still hampered by injury, while the strength of the ASU line figures to be along the left side with senior tackle Shawn Lauvao and junior guard Jon Hargis.
Junior Theo Smith and senior Josh Thomas likely will accompany Jackson as starting linebackers, while redshirt freshman DaCorris Ford (6-3, 220), sophomore Jason Edwards (5-11, 243) and sophomore C.C. Carpenter (5-11, 222) will respectively substitute for the three aforementioned first-string ‘backers.
Combining talent and an unorthodox scheme, Louisiana-Monroe's best chance to shake the momentum of the game is to attempt to pressure and confuse the Sun Devil offensive line and force Sullivan, making only his second career start, into small windows of passing opportunities.
In the secondary, senior Otis Stamps and sophomore Nate Brown likely will start at cornerback, while strong safety Darius Prelow and Hawk James Truxillo will roam the secondary with James, who starts at free safety.
Junior Alex Blake (5-10, 189) and freshman Robert Nelson (5-10, 153) are the top contingents at cornerback, while junior strong safety Alex Ibe (6-3, 209), freshman free safety Khari Usher (5-10, 191) and junior Hawk Preston Fuller (6-0, 202) will also play reserve roles throughout the secondary.
The primary focus for Louisiana-Monroe likely will be to utilize Morgan, Jackson and company to rattle Sullivan and establish control of the line of scrimmage, while James and his colleagues in the secondary will look to capitalize when possible.
Louisiana-Monroe Special Teams Lineup and Preview
K 85 Radi Jabour 6-1 192 So. LaPlace, La.
P 48 Scott Love 6-0 190 Sr. West Monroe, La.
KR 22 Luther Ambrose 5-10 175 So. St. James, La.
28 Rodney Lovett 5-9 202 Jr. Pompano Beach, Fla.
PR 3 Darrell McNeal 6-0 220 Sr. Monroe, La.
Punter Scott Love, a one-time First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference selection, highlights ULM's special teams and carries a 40.4-yard average on 12 punts thus far, while kicker Radi Jabour has connected on two-of-three field goal attempts and has made all 10 extra points in 2009. Jabour possesses a strong leg with improving accuracy, as he connected on only six-of-13 attempts entering this season but was successful from both 47 and 48 yards during his redshirt freshman season last year.
One flaw that stood out in ASU's victory over Idaho State was kick return coverage, as Idaho State's JD Ponciano totaled 210 yards on eight returns (26.3 avg.) with a long return of 46 yards.
Four players have returned a kick in ULM's first two games, with Luther Ambrose averaging 21.0 yards on five returns and Darrell McNeal averaging 21.7 yards on three returns. McNeal has been ULM's punt returner as well, with limited results in that capacity to the tune of only 21 total yards on four returns. Although Sun Devil punter Trevor Hankins averaged only 34.5 yards on two punts, one was placed inside the 20-yard line and neither was returned.
It is challenging to accurately evaluate a team's ability when they are either grossly overmatched or are exorbitantly favored, circumstances both teams have seen as their wins both came against FCS teams, while Texas likely will be, by far, the most talented team Louisiana-Monroe will see all season.
ASU's defense is mean, physical and by all accounts is a very legitimate force. For ULM to remain competitive in this game, it must rely on defensive pressure and timely offensive productivity.
The Sun Devils currently stand as a 17-point favorite over the visiting Warhawks, and if the offensive line can effectively hold its ground and allow Danny Sullivan to comfortably orchestrate ASU's offense, the end result could feasibly be much more lopsided than that prediction.
However, if ULM can be disruptive on defense and efficiently chip away offensively – and if, god forbid, ASU overlooks its Sun Belt competitor as it did UNLV last year – the Warhawks may pose a challenge to the Sun Devils.
ASU Injury Update and Lineup Notes
• Center Garth Gerhart is not expected to play.
• Right guard Zach Schlink will not play due to injury.
• Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (injury), linebacker Shelly Lyons (injury) and wide receiver Kerry Taylor (suspension) return to action.
• Quarterback Samson Szakacsy (injury) is questionable.
• Matt Hustad will move from right tackle to right guard and Tom Njunge is expected to start at right tackle.
• True freshman Gregory Smith should see action at defensive end and on special teams after earning NCAA Clearinghouse approval after the Idaho State game.
Five Questions: ASU vs. Louisiana-Monroe
• Will the ASU offense be able to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns?
• Will ASU's receivers and tight ends be more sure-handed?
• Can ASU's offensive line, missing two projected starters, properly handle the unique defensive scheme of the Warhawks?
• What consistency will be shown by ASU's running backs?
• Will ULM be able to effectively move the ball on the ground against the ASU front seven?