(AP) – Todd Graham isn’t the biggest proponent of facing schools from college football’s lower ranks now that he’s at Arizona State, yet his team opened up with a rout of an overmatched FCS opponent.
Even after stepping back into the FBS, the 17th-ranked Sun Devils’ next challenge might not be much tougher.
Arizona State hits the road for the first time Saturday when it takes on defensively challenged New Mexico, which was undone by turnovers in its season debut.
Graham made his feelings about facing FCS opponents clear in a radio interview prior to the season, but as openers go, the Sun Devils couldn’t have asked for a much better start against Weber State.
Arizona State overwhelmed the Wildcats 45-14 and came away relatively healthy.
The offense revved up after some miscues on the opening two drives, racing to a 31-0 halftime lead, allowing Graham to rest most of his starters in the second half.
”I’m glad we had that opponent first because we needed that kind of experience there,” Graham said Monday.
The young defense held up under the bright lights of game pressure, the nine new starters and all those youngsters on the two-deep roster putting pressure on the Wildcats all night.
The next step for the Sun Devils is to build on their opening victory as the schedule ratchets up in intensity.
Arizona State faces tough-to-defend New Mexico in its first road game, opens Pac-12 play with Colorado the week after, and then starts a gauntlet of tough games against No. 7 UCLA on Sept. 25.
”This program is about winning championships and you’ve got to be able to go on the road and win,” Graham said. ”You’ve got to be undefeated at home and you have to win on the road, and (deal with) the distractions that go with that.”
Arizona State’s defense was solid in the opener, overcoming a few miscues with some big plays, including a goal-line stand in the first half.
Those young Sun Devils will face a much different task in Albuquerque this weekend.
Though the players handled their first game fairly well, this will be their first away from Tempe in a hostile environment.
Arizona State also will be facing an offense that is not easy to defend, even for veteran teams.
Unlike the read-option teams that dot the college football landscape, the Lobos run a more traditional triple option under coach Bob Davie. It’s difficult to stop because few teams run the offense anymore and it requires defenders to stick strictly to their assignments or risk watching the Lobos race off toward the end zone.
New Mexico has become pretty adept at running it, too, finishing fifth nationally in yards rushing last season with just over 300 per game. The Lobos had 410 yards rushing but turned it over on their final three possessions in a 31-24 home loss to UTEP last weekend.
”The big thing is discipline and assignments,” Graham said. ”Leaving somebody unaccounted for or not taking care of your responsibility, that can’t happen with this offense and that’s a lot of what we’ve talked about.”
Though New Mexico averaged 7.9 yards per carry against UTEP, it also let the Miners rack up 330 yards on 44 rushes – the continuation of a troubling trend dating back to last season. In losing seven of eight since Oct. 12, the Lobos have allowed an average of 282.9 yards on the ground – worst in the nation.
They’ve also failed to force a turnover in seven straight games.
That could be bad news against a Sun Devils team with dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back D.J. Foster, the latter of whom ran 15 times for 147 yards with three touchdowns against Weber State.
Foster is now the feature back after backing up Marion Grice the last two seasons.
"I think D.J. can do it all, inside or outside, and he is just getting started," Graham said. "D.J. is a very physical person, he likes running over people instead of running around them. … I like his mindset, he is my kind of tailback. I have never had a tailback that versatile."
This is the first meeting between Arizona State and New Mexico since a 45-24 Sun Devils win in Albuquerque in 1977.