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August 31, 2012

Sun Devils chop down Lumberjacks in Graham debut

Brandon Magee was apologetic, but his team's dominant performance Thursday showed no signs of remorse.

In 30 seconds of action, the Arizona State senior linebacker returned an interception for a touchdown and then took Northern Arizona's best player out of the game with a highlight reel tackle, as if just one of the plays wasn't enough for him to announce his return to college football after a year-long hiatus.

In unison with Magee's statement filled outing, ASU scored its most points in seven seasons, cruising past the visiting Lumberjacks, 63-6, in front of 48,658 at Sun Devil Stadium, opening a new era of football in Tempe with a bang.

After the dust settled and the game finally came to a merciful conclusion, Magee tried to make amends with NAU junior running back Zach Bauman for ending his season debut with a head injury in the second quarter, but he couldn't locate the former Chandler Hamilton standout, marking his only failure of the evening.

"I should've apologized to him," Magee said. "I tried to find him after the game to say sorry but I couldn't find him. That's not a joke, that's for real."

Apology or not, Magee's first game since tearing his Achilles last year helped ASU (1-0) celebrate the beginning of first-year coach Todd Graham's tenure at the helm of the program in style.

The 63 points were the most scored by a Sun Devil team since ASU tallied the same number against Temple in 2005. The defense was nearly as commanding as well, allowing just 237 total yards, most of which came when the game was well in hand.

"Obviously I give praise to my team, I was really proud of them tonight," Graham said. "We prepared hard and they worked hard. There's been an awful lot of change and I've asked them to trust me. They did that. Obviously we have a lot of things to get better at, but I'm so proud of the effort that they gave, and it was an impressive first win."

A striking contrast to previous Sun Devil teams, ASU accumulated just four penalties, none on defense, Thursday for 30 yards. Last season, the squad ranked dead last out of 120 FBS schools in penalty yards per game at 79.77.

"On this defense, which was plagued by penalties last year, to go a game with zero penalties, they really listened and they were really disciplined," Graham said. "I liked how they were engaged. We're doing something I didn't know that we could do, from a schematic standpoint and a calling standpoint, things I thought we wouldn't be able to do until next year defensively, but they're playing smart and with discipline."

While the win marked Graham's first victory in Tempe, Thursday was also a coming out party of sorts for the two quarterbacks pegged to lead the self-proclaimed "high octane" offense. ASU sophomore Taylor Kelly and freshman Michael Eubank each delivered in their debuts.

Eubank, taking 29 snaps, completed his only pass of the night for two yards. The mobile signal-caller did most of his damage on the ground, rushing seven times for 36 yards and a touchdown.

On the other side of the coin, Kelly, who took 38 snaps, completed 15-of-19 attempts for 247 yards and a score. The starting quarterback also ran for 43 yards.

"It felt great, the crowd was awesome, I had chills running down my back," Kelly said. "After the first snap, I was nervous, but then it's just another game of football."

Splitting time under center, quarterbacks can understandable be pressed to find a rhythm. But according to Kelly, that wasn't the case Thursday, a good sign for the Sun Devils who hope to be successful all year with a two-man system.

"We didn't have any problems, I expected that but we worked through it in practice," Kelly said. "If we're in a groove, coach keeps us in. You just have to stay ready and play every play in your head on the sidelines. When I'm on the sidelines, you still get mentally prepared."

Taking the pressure off the inexperienced quarterbacks in a big way Thursday, the Sun Devil rushing game accumulated 305 total yards, the most by ASU since 2001.

While ASU junior Marion Grice put up the biggest numbers, collecting 107 yards and three touchdowns mostly late in the game, senior Cameron Marshall and freshman D.J. Foster made their presences felt in a big way early Thursday.

Marshall added two touchdowns while Foster, who became the fifth or sixth true freshman to start in a season opener for ASU along with Jaxon Hood, tallied 99 total yards and one score.

"It's a new chapter in my life, it felt great," Foster said. "There was a lot of pressure but my teammates helped me. I feel like I can always do better and there's room for improvement but I felt like I played how my coaches expected me."

One of the few downsides in a game filled with many highlights was that both Foster and Marshall fumbled, resulting in one turnover. Preaching ball security throughout his brief tenure at ASU, Graham sat each running back on the bench after their mistakes for extended periods of the game to send a message.

"Never again," Foster said. "I have to own the ball, when you fumble, you expect it when you come back to the sidelines. I learned my lesson and I'll definitely work on my ball security."

The last time the Lumberjacks visited Tempe in 2010, ASU led by just seven entering the fourth quarter.

Thursday was a different story. The Sun Devil scoring began early and seemingly only let up for commercial breaks.

Just three and a half minutes after the opening kickoff, ASU put its first points of the season on the board courtesy of a Marshall nine yard run. Five minutes later, Marshall struck again, this time from one yard out, leaving the Sun Devils ahead by 14 after only 16 offensive plays.

"Coming out of the gate when everything is going well, it gives you confidence," Kelly said. "It was a great experience."

A fumble temporarily slowed down the storm of touchdowns but two minutes into the second quarter Foster tallied his first collegiate score from one yard out to reignite the onslaught.

"The offensive line played great, the holes were wide open," Foster said. "From pregame stuff, I was nervous. The older guys let me know they were there for me."

After Magee demoralized NAU's slim hopes, Grice and Eubank each added rushing scores from one yard out, leaving the Sun Devils with a staggering 42 point lead at the break.

Perhaps even more impressive than the amount of scoring drives was the efficiency of them. ASU ran just 42 plays during the first half to match its point total.

Coming out of the locker room, the Lumberjacks finally broke up the shutout against the Sun Devils' second team defense, getting in the endzone on a 20 yard touchdown reception by Nick Cole.

The rally stopped there, however. ASU added three more scores on a Kelly seven yard pass to Richard Smith and two short Grice runs to cap its explosive introduction to 2012.

"We have an arsenal of guys back there that do a tremendous job," Graham said. "There were a lot of guys that did great things. I was really proud everyone."


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