TEMPE — Todd Graham didn’t come out and say it, but if you listened to the coach long enough this week you got a feel for his expectations of Thursday night’s opener against lower-division Sacramento State. He expected the Sun Devils to dominate.
And they did.
“I don’t think I could’ve had it go any better than what it did,” Graham said.
ASU’s 55-0 victory over Sacramento State won’t garner much attention nationally, although it’s a good bet a coaching staff in the Big Ten paid attention. No. 21 Wisconsin will invade Sun Devil Stadium in eight days. Here’s what the Badgers saw Thursday night:
An offense with many weapons. Last year, ASU was limited at receiver. That doesn’t appear to be the case this season. Yes, the annual “It was just (lower-division school goes here)” caveat applies, but ASU fans had to be encouraged at the position upgrade.
Sophomore Jaelen Strong showed off his playmaking skills with six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Rick Smith had some nifty yards after the catch, and tight ends Chris Coyle and De’Marieya Nelson proved dependable, hauling in touchdown passes.
“We were really set to go out and beat this team,” Coyle said. “We knew the only way we could’ve lost is if we came out and beat ourselves.”
Taylor Kelly was sharp. The junior quarterback — in his second season as ASU’s starter — completed 23 of 31 for 300 yards and five touchdowns. Most important to the coaching staff, he didn’t throw an interception, instruction Kelly no doubt has heard in his sleep.
Fans will find out more about Kelly in the upcoming weeks — after Wisconsin, ASU visits No. 5 Stanford, hosts No. 25 USC and meets No. 14 Notre Dame in Texas — but for one week, he looked much improved. His right arm was stronger. He ran well.
Most of all, he had command of the offense. He looked like someone who has been there. One season makes a significant difference, and ASU’s offense — which averaged 38 points per game last season — didn’t have many problems because of it.