After Thursday night’s college football season opener down in Tempe, the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks won’t get another chance at the Sun Devils of ASU again until 2016…so they better make it count.
As is customary, the Lumberjacks are taking their annual trip south to mix it up with one of the two D-I schools that dominate the state.
No matter what route NAU takes to Tucson or Tempe, the outcome is always the same…a loss for the FCS (D-IAA) Lumberjacks…but that was then, this is now.
Forget that it’s ASU, forget that NAU is coming off of a 4-7 season, forget that the Lumberjacks haven’t defeated a D-I opponent since 1987, forget that the spread is 30 points, here are five reasons this year could be different…
No time like the present
New Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham can do the whole “not looking past NAU” shtick but it is still just that…a gimmick.
With all that a transitioning team has on their plate, plus nonconference dates with Illinois and Missouri the next two weeks before to start of Pac-12 play…it’s safe to say ASU will not be placing the same emphasis on “playing down,” as the Lumberjacks will place on “playing up.”
This motivational-high is usually only good for about three quarters of play before NAU’s inferior attributes get exposed…but with a new coaching staff, new schemes and a new quarterback in the valley…if there was ever a chance for the Lumberjacks to catch one of their big brothers overwhelmed and underprepared…this is it.
NAU has always played ASU and Arizona tougher than their out-of-state FCS peers.
In 2010 the Lumberjacks were down just a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter against the Sun Devils.
Although NAU would lose the game 20-41, the Lumberjacks hung tough by holding ASU under two yards per touch on the ground, forcing the Sun Devils into a pair of interceptions and twice as many penalties, while dominating the time of possession.
2008’s contest didn’t go so well for NAU but 2006 was a different story.
Similar to 2010, tied 14-14 with the ball heading into the fourth quarter, the Lumberjacks were able to keep the score close until late by dominating the time of possession and winning the turnover battle.
With senior signal caller Cary Grossart and standout junior running back Zach Bauman managing the game…and the ball, NAU has the pieces necessary to shorten the game, keep its unproven defense on the sidelines and provide the occasional big play to remain motivated if things aren’t going well.
Grossart might not win the game with his play, but he won’t lose it either.
Last year against Arizona, Grossart went 20/26 for 179 yards, with a score and a pick, on his way to throwing for nearly 3,000 yards, completing 66 percent of his passes, a putting up a 2/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2011.
Bauman, a former Hamilton high school tailback from Chandler, has always played with the proverbial I-AA chip on his shoulder.
With an outside shot at a pro career as one of the best backs in FCS football and having had limited opportunities to showcase his skills against elite college talent, expect Bauman’s best effort yet with ASU being his last shot at a quality D-I opponent…no offense to next week’s match up with UNLV.
Over the past two seasons in games against Arizona and ASU, Bauman has rushed for a combined 155 yards and a score on 49 carries, while hauling in five catches for 24 yards.
- 27 carries, 99 yards
- 4 catches, 20 yards
- 22 carries, 56 yards, TD
- 1 catch, 4 yards
Bauman isn’t the only in-state player on roster hoping to put it to one of the powerhouses that passed them up.
Forty-four players on roster are from Arizona…30 or more of which are from the Phoenix area.
Picking on someone their own size
In a game of inches, size has been holding the Lumberjacks back.
With a shift to a more traditional style of play in recent years, NAU’s front lines have begun to resemble a more prototypical profile.
Not such a big deal in the FCS, but a must when competing against the big boys.
This year’s Lumberjack starting offensive line averages 6’4” 290 lbs….so does the second-string.
Same goes for the D.
NAU’s two-deep defensive line averages just over 6’1” 260 lbs., including three junior tackles weighing in at 280 lbs. or more.
Closing the gap
Eight players on NAU’s two-deep depth chart come from D-I programs. Don’t be surprised to hear these names making plays tomorrow night.
FB #43 Jake Hess (Boise State)
RB #28 Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson (California)
WR #6 Nick Cole (Oregon)
WR #84 Brandon Babineaux (UNLV)
DB #21 Mike Dosen (Oregon)
DE #98 Justin Jungblut (Boise State)
DE #96 Quentin Kantaris (Army)
DL #49 Chima Ike (Nevada)
Be sure to check out the game…
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: 105.1-FM (Flagstaff) / 860-AM (Phoenix)