TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Marion Grice ran for three touchdowns, Taylor Kelly was efficient in his desert debut and Arizona State opened the Todd Graham era with a 63-6 rout over Northern Arizona Thursday night.
The Sun Devils overwhelmed Northern Arizona from the opening kickoff, forcing three turnovers and running for five touchdowns while building a 42-0 halftime lead.
Kelly, Arizona State’s fourth quarterback in as many years, looked as he’d been under center all along, throwing for 247 yards and a touchdown.
Cameron Marshall had two of Arizona State’s seven rushing touchdowns, both in the first quarter, and the Sun Devils rolled up 554 yards of offense while scoring their most points since 2005.
Arizona State just as dominant defensively, knocking out Northern Arizona’s quarterback and leading rusher in the first half.
It was a nice start for Graham, who wasn’t the most popular choice to lead Arizona State after Dennis Erickson was fired.
The high-octane Texan has been a winner nearly everywhere he has gone, but has a penchant for not sticking around, including a one-year stint at Pittsburgh before moving on to ASU.
Graham soothed concerns about his commitment with an all-out charm blitz, shaking hands and speaking with as many ASU and supporters as he could. He gave the entire program a makeover, from the style of play to the look of the football offices.
Graham also infused Arizona State with a much-needed jolt of discipline, turning what had been a freewheeling program into a yes-sir, no-sir operation. He stuck to his my-way-or-don’t-play guns for the opener, sitting top receiver Jamal Miles and running back James Morrison for “not meeting a team standard.”
Graham’s grand plan created a buzz in the desert, giving the Sun Devils a profile they haven’t had in a while.
All that was left to do was win games.
Facing NAU figured to be an easy start, even without Miles.
The Lumberjacks are solid offensively, led by running back Zach Bauman and quarterback Cary Grossart, and are expected to be better defensively after coach Jerome Souers brought in 12 transfers.
Still, the Sun Devils are bigger, faster and have more depth than Northern Arizona, which hasn’t beaten an FBS opponent since 1987.
It went about as expected.
Led by Graham, sporting a sleeveless windbreaker in the desert heat and a telemarketer-style headset, the Sun Devils ran past and over the Lumberjacks on both sides of the ball.
Kelly was sharp after winning a three-way battle as the starter that lasted late into fall camp, making good decisions while hitting 15 of 19 passes.
When it came time to score, though, the Sun Devils went to the ground — a staple of Graham-led offenses.
Marshall ran in a 9-yarder to cap Arizona State’s first drive, becoming the fourth player in school history with 30 career rushing touchdowns. He made it 31 the next possession, diving in from 1 yard out on a fourth down. D.J. Foster followed with 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, and Grice added another to make it 35-0 midway through, set up by a 50-yard pass from Kelly to Rashad Ross.
Arizona State’s defense hammered Northern Arizona throughout the first half, knocking Bauman (head) and Grossart (knee) out in the second quarter while forcing three interceptions.
Linebacker Brandon Magee, back after missing last season with a torn Achilles tendon, returned one of the picks 45 yards for a touchdown just before Grice’s TD. Alden Darby later intercepted a pass by Chase Cartwright and returned it 50 yards, setting up Arizona State’s fourth 1-yard TD run of the half, this one by quarterback Michael Eubank that made it 42-0.
Arizona State had a 356-92 advantage in total yards in the first half and kept rolling in the second, getting a pair of 4-yard touchdowns from Grice and a 7-yard scoring pass from Kelly to Richard Smith.