It’s difficult to do any sort of preseason analysis on an opponent from a lower division, because most of the production by that opponent was against lower-level competition. That makes any type of comparison an apples to oranges contrast. For this reason, it may be best to just point out the different characteristics and tendencies for the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
First off, the Jacks were a perfect 5-0 when playing at home, and only 2-4 on the road. NAU averaged 39 points per game, but gave up just under 35 points per game. NAU scored over 40 points in all five home games, but only scored 30 points or more in three of their six road games.
The Jacks scored their fewest points when there were more than 10,000 fans in attendance. Additionally, in the first half of their games, NAU scores 60-percent of their points, while giving up only forty percent, while in the second half, it was just the reverse. While almost 40-percent of the points given up by the Lumberjack defense came in the fourth quarter.
The Lumberjacks ran the ball 57-percent of the time which generated 36-percent of their total offense and 29-percent of their offensive touchdowns. They passed the ball 43-percent of the time accounting for 64-percent of their total offense and 71-percent of their offensive touchdowns. Although the Lumberjacks only lost eight fumbles, they actually fumbled the ball 24 times. They also threw an interception once every 50 passes, while the NAU quarterbacks were sacked an average of once every 11.8 pass attempts.
The running game averaged just under four yards per carry, while the passing game averaged just under nine and a half yards per pass attempt. The offense converted 66 out of 160 third down opportunities for a 41-percent conversion rate. NAU made it into their opponents’ red zone 49 different times, or roughly four and a half times per game, while scoring a touchdown 35 of those times, or roughly 71-percent of their red zone opportunities.
The Lumberjack defense faced a running play 48-percent of the time which generated 38-percent of the total offensive yards they gave up and half of the offensive touchdowns they surrendered. The defense faced a pass attempt 52-percent of the time accounting for 62-percent of the total offensive yards they gave up and half of the offensive touchdowns they surrendered. NAU was only able to pounce on four opponent fumbles during their eleven games. The Lumberjack defense picked off an opponent pass once every 46 passes, and made a sack an average of once every 17 pass attempts.
The NAU defense averaged giving up 4.7 yards per carry, while the pass defense averaged giving up only 7.1 yards per pass attempt. The defense faced 178 opponent third down snaps and allowed 73 of those opportunities to be converted into a first down; a 41-percent conversion rate. Opponents made it into the NAU red zone 41 different times, and scored a touchdown 34 of those times, or roughly 83-percent of their red zone opportunities.
Since 2002, NAU has played either the Sun Devils or the Wildcats every year except 2014 on the road. In those 13 years, NAU has not won a game. They are 0-5 against ASU and 0-8 against the Wildcats. Both ASU and UofA have averaged over 40 points per game, while the Lumberjacks have averaged less than twelve points per game; an average deficit of almost 30-points per game.
In the five games against ASU, the Lumberjacks have allowed an average 40.6 points per game, while scoring an average of 13.6 points per game themselves. That’s an average deficit of 27.0 points per game. In the eight games against the Wildcats, they have allowed an average of 40.1 points per game, and scored an average of 10.3 per game themselves. That’s an average deficit of 29.8 points per game.
WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY
Historically, the Lumberjacks are no match for either of the other two Arizona universities. Games against ASU or UofA during this millennium have been one-sided affairs, with the closest games still being more than a two-touchdown loss.
Based on last year’s stats, NAU can score points on it lower-level competition. They were able to put a lot of their points up before halftime, and gave up a lot after halftime, especially in the fourth quarter. The Lumberjack did much better at home as compared to playing on the road. The NAU passing game contributed much more to their offensive production than their running game, while the run defense seemed to give up a fair share of rushing touchdowns.
The Lumberjacks put the ball on the turf far too often and were lucky enough to recover a large share of their own fumbles. As a point of reference, their third down conversion rate is roughly the average of all the Pac-12 teams combined. The Lumberjacks got into the red zone more often than their opponents, but the opponents had a better success rate at then getting into the end zone.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that this game should continue the one-sided contests in favor ASU. The intrigue should be how well ASU’s pass defense does against a productive Lumberjack passing game and how many points a fairly new ASU offense can score against a somewhat generous NAU defense against Division I teams.