Arizona State didn't light up the scoreboard quite as much as it wanted to in its opener last Thursday against Weber State, but there's still a full season ahead for it to show its potency.
Saturday's game at New Mexico provides the next opportunity, and it's one the Sun Devils want to take advantage of. What may be a boost in that regard is ASU's defense has quite a few similarities with New Mexico's defense, and familiarity breeds comfort, especially at the line of scrimmage.
"There's a lot of carryover from what we saw in training camp to where you tell your guys, look, this is just like we saw in training camp the last month," ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen said. "So it's not all brand new, which is hard to get ready for in just a few days. So the fact we've seen it should help us.
"But New Mexico did a good job (in its opener). UTEP had some runs but at the end of the day they got their run game under control and gave themselves a chance to win. We've got to be able to run the ball consistently throughout to be able to give ourselves a good chance at winning the game."
ASU head coach Todd Graham said he was pleased with how well his team ran the football in the second quarter against Weber State, but the game got a little sloppy with a halftime 31-0 score and a backup quarterback inserted into the game.
Offensive line has consistently been mentioned by Graham as a team strength, and Saturday is an important opportunity to further establish that according to Thomsen.
"I thought we were fine for a first game but not where I want to be," Thomson said of the opener. "I thought some guys played physical and fast. But I want to play faster as a unit, we were a bit sluggish which was maybe just the first game and [incorporating] two new starters.
"A couple things we just missed assignments on. A couple new guys, just basic missed assignments that hurt us on some plays where we got three yards instead of 10 yards. Things where we were on the wrong guy. That happened a couple times. Assignment one is knowing who you're blocking and then technique. But a couple times we didn't fulfill that No. 1 obligation which is get on the right guy."
Senior ASU offensive tackle Tyler Sulka said there were some timing issues against Weber State that could be attributed to new player assimilation and going up against a different defense than the one it played throughout camp. Those things won't be acceptable excuses against New Mexico.
"We've gone against our defense all camp and now preparing for New Mexico and I think just going against that blitz look is going to make it kind of second nature to us in this game on the road," Sulka said.
First-year starting center Nick Kelly is a key player to watch up front for the Sun Devils. The junior has more range than the now-departed multi-year starter he replaced, Kody Koebensky, but is still figuring everything out at this level.
"He did a pretty good job Saturday night but did have a missed assignment and a couple of blocks on the perimeter I think he should have gotten," Thomsen said. "His pass pro technique was a bit erratic. He wasn't getting his feet set consistently. But there were a lot of good things too and now we've got to take that experience and build on it. What I do is give the guys an index card and write about three things in practice to improve on each week and he's a very conscientious guys and he'll look at that and have a good effort on improving it and should a better result from him Saturday."
A lot is expected from the line and Sulka said he thinks it's justified and the unit is more prepared than in the past to have the type of success it wants.
"I do think we're very together," Sulka said. "It's the experience of it being coach Graham's third year and this not being new to the veteran players and knowing what's expected us of and what to expect of our teammates and how success happens and holding each other accountable to that. I think we just keep getting better at that the more time we have and that's only going to continue. So we are close, we do have a consistently improving approach and by no means are we where we want to be with that, but it's good to see the progress we have been able to make."
Graham not sold on Wednesday
ASU's practice habits have dramatically improved over the last year or two according to its head coach, but Wednesday wasn't up to his expectations on defense and special teams.
"I got after their tail today," Graham said. "We're practicing good but not great, and that's not going to get it done. We just had some errors. We don't cover a guy here or there, we make an error, a critical error, and what it is is just being young and not knowing how to practice at a high level. I told them we've got to do a better day tomorrow.
"We don't have too many days like that. We had four mental errors that resulted in big plays that we can't have. Offense had a great practice, really practiced well."
Junior running back De'Chavon Hayes participated for the first time in practice after arriving in Tempe Sunday. The junior college transfer is not yet cleared for game participation and worked on Wednesday in a scout team jersey.
Sophomore linebacker Carlos Mendoza, the lone scholarship player to wear a green non-contact practice jersey since game preparations began, is beginning to do some light running several weeks removed from a surgical procedure to repair meniscus damage in his left knee. Mendoza was initially expected to miss three to four weeks.