It’s showtime in the desert! The 2016 season is finally here, and ASU plays its other in-state rival; the NAU Lumberjack from the Big Sky Conference as its season opener. Because of the differences in the level of talent between the two teams, this stat analysis could possibly be somewhat of an “apples-to-oranges” comparison, however, the numbers do point out each team’s strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is to determine if the talent level makes a difference in those strengths and weaknesses.
Onto the Numbers
12 Stats to Consider
1. ASU averaged about ten more plays per game than NAU last year, however, the Lumberjacks averaged scoring more points per game
2. Last year, NAU ran a greater percentage of running plays compared to ASU, but ASU had a slight productivity advantage in the run game
3. ASU didn’t do a good job of scoring red zone touchdowns last year, however, the NAU defense was very generous is giving up red zone touchdowns
4. NAU’s passing game was very productive last year, while ASU’s pass defense gave up way too many big plays
5. Even though CTG has stressed protecting the ball since arriving at ASU, NAU did a better job in 2015
6. Last year, NAU gave up a fair share of quarterback sacks, while ASU led the conference in getting quarterback sacks
7. Last year, the ASU defense gave up about half the rushing touchdowns per game as did the NAU defense
8. In 2015, 64% of NAU drives off of turnovers scored a touchdown, while for ASU it was only 38%
9. In 2015, the ASU defense gave up a significantly smaller percentage of long play drives than NAU
10. ASU settled for too many FGs instead of touchdowns last year in their offensive drives
11. Last year, ASU gave up the fewest offensive touchdowns in the first quarter, which happened to be the quarter when NAU scored the most offensive touchdowns
12. NAU scored most of its touchdowns in the first half, while ASU gave up the fewest touchdowns then
Decoding the Stats
Based on last season, the passing game was NAU’s strength, while pass defense was ASU’s biggest liability. Unless ASU is able to disrupt the Lumberjack pass attack, that could be a big obstacle. Even with the big passing attack last year, NAU appeared susceptible to giving up sacks, which is the staple of the ASU defense. The big question is how well NAU handles the ASU pressure, because even giving up a fair share of sacks last year, the Lumberjacks were still able to average throwing over three and a half touchdowns per game.
ASU did poorly in their opponents’ red zones last year in scoring touchdowns. How will the Sun Devils do against a defense that averaged allowing better than eight out of every ten opponents’ red zone trips to end with a touchdown? By the same token, the ASU defense was eighth in the conference in the percentage of times it allowed opponents to score a red zone touchdown. How will the Devil red zone defense fare against a potent Lumberjack passing attack and an inexperienced ASU signal caller do in the red zone against a generous defense there?
In a match-up of strengths, last year NAU scored its most offensive touchdowns in the opening quarter, while ASU was its stingiest then. Additionally, the second quarter was when NAU scored the next most offensive touchdowns, while it was the quarter when ASU gave up the second fewest offensive touchdowns. As far as the fourth quarter, that is when the ASU defense really faded, however, it was also when the Lumberjacks scored their fewest offensive touchdowns. The fourth quarter for the Devils is when they scored the most points, and when NAU gave up the most points. Wonder if the outcome of the game will extend into the fourth quarter to see how that plays out?
Finally, how will turnovers affect the game? Last year, NAU didn’t turn the ball over very often. If they had played in the Pac 12, they would have given up the fifth fewest turnovers per game last year. How will that play against a defense built on getting turnovers? ASU had a down year in 2015 regarding turnovers with a total of 21, whereas they had averaged 30 a year in the previous three seasons. Will ASU bounce back in 2016 to their previous levels starting with the NAU game? Also, will the Devils be able to capitalize more when they do get a turnover? Last year, only 14-percent of their points came off of turnovers. The two previous years it was over 60-percent.
If the Devils get pressure and/or turnovers, it’s game over early on. However, it the 2016 ASU defense mirrors the late season Devils of 2015, then the game might become a nail biter.
Source: pac-12.com & bigskyconf.com