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September 5, 2010

Balanced ASU offense crushes Portland State

The time to finally see the new quick-hit, fast-paced offense was here.

As junior quarterback Steven Threet and the Arizona State football team trotted onto the field for the first possession of the 2010 season against Portland State, fans inched forward in their seats, anxious to finally see what this new scheme first-year offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone implemented when he arrived in February was all about.

Three incomplete passes, a false start penalty and punt wasn't what Sun Devil faithful had in mind.

Luckily, Mazzone's offense comes complete with a wide variety of options.

Sophomore Cameron Marshall scored touchdowns on two of his next three caries -- taking it to the house from 50 and 38 yards out, respectively -- quickly pacing the way for a huge night for ASU's young backfield and a 54-9 season-opening win.

Marshall finished with 104 yards on just four carries, three of which went for scores, while freshman backfield mate Deantre Lewis tallied 124 total yards and three touchdowns of his own.

The 54 points were the most during the Dennis Erickson era.

"You get those guys the ball in their hands in space and they're tough to take on," said Threet, who overcame a couple early drops by his receivers to finish 14 of 21 for 239 yards, the most by a quarterback in his ASU debut.

After Portland State (0-1) took the early lead on a 42-yard field goal off the leg of Zach Brown -- who added 53- and 47-yard makes later in the contest -- the Sun Devils (1-0) quickly found their tempo, moving 80 yards in six plays capped off by Marshall's first touchdown run, which was aided by a solid lead block from junior tight end Trevor Kohl.

After Marshall's second touchdown run and a safety by the defense (its first since Sept. 22, 2007 against Oregon State), Threet threw his first touchdown as a Sun Devil on a swing pass to Lewis, who took it down the sideline 28 yards for his first collegiate touchdown, giving ASU a comfortable 23-6 lead midway through the second quarter.

Lewis provided the highlight of the night early in the third, when he took another pass in the flat from Threet, burned down the left sideline and cut all the way back across the field through a host of defenders for a 62-yard score.

"To me, he has that extra gear and he can take it to the house," Erickson said.

Both Threet and the young backs credited the offensive front for gaping holes to run through and a sundial's worth of time to stand in the pocket.

"I think we did well, and that started with the offensive line," Threet said. "They really dominated the line of scrimmage for us and they did a phenomenal job of just opening up huge holes for the backs. In the passing game, the communication and everything was on point."

While ASU's deep corps of receivers didn't score Saturday -- junior Mike Willie had a touchdown called back due to an ineligible receiver downfield penalty -- they certainly paved the way for the athletes in the backfield.

"We had good downfield blocks by the receivers and I thank them very much for that," Lewis said.

There were some less-than-stellar moments by the Sun Devils, too, though.

ASU committed 11 penalties for 93 yards, including three personal fouls, "dumb penalties" if you ask Dennis Erickson. There were also five drops by receivers, most of which came in the early going.

Still, the fourth-year Sun Devil coach was pleased with what he saw from his team out of the gates.

"The thing about [our] offense is you can run the football," Erickson said. "We ran the football extremely well. Obviously Cameron Marshall played extremely well. It gives us a pretty good balance depending on what [defenses] do."

While ASU's new offense found its stride, the defense appeared to pick up where it left off when it finished 13th nationally a season ago.

Junior safety Eddie Elder, making his ASU debut, was everywhere. He intercepted a pass on an athletic play along the sideline. He also wreaked havoc in the passing game, applying heavy pressure to Viking quarterbacks during blitzes packages including the forced intentional grounding call in the end zone which led to the safety.

"The last couple of weeks he really emerged and obviously he made some plays tonight," Erickson said of Elder, adding that he was impressed by the safety group as a whole.

Junior Colin Parker led a solid effort by the linebacker unit with a team high seven tackles. Sophomore cornerback Osahon Irabor and senior safety Max Tabach each recorded an interception.

Notes

  • Sophomore quarterback Brock Osweiler entered the game during ASU's third offensive series of the second half and completed 6 of 10 passes for 72 yards. His biggest highlight may have been one of his incompletions, a 50-yard, perfectly thrown bomb that was dropped by senior wide receiver Brandon Smith near the goal line.

  • Sophomore Jamal Miles added to an impressive day for the running backs with 75 total yards. He scored his first-career touchdown on a 9-yard run in the third quarter.

  • Senior kicker Thomas Weber connected on a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, making him 3 of 3 from 50 yards or more in his career. Weber also missed a 33-yard attempt in the first half.


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