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September 2, 2011Poised aggression is a phrase that isn't likely to have found its way into any retelling of an Arizona State football game over the last four seasons under Dennis Erickson, but it might just be the best way to describe his team's play Thursday.
With a history of untimely penalties and costly hotheadedness in its recent past, the Sun Devil defense relentlessly pressured UC-Davis with endless waves of blitzes, finishing with five sacks, six tackles for loss, innumerable quarterback pressures, and -- get this -- just one penalty in the team's season opening 48-14 win at Sun Devil Stadium.
All told, ASU was penalized just four times for 40 yards, only one of which was of the 15-yard unsportsmanlike variety, when junior offensive guard Andrew Sampson overzealously attempted to protect junior running back Cameron Marshall.
Junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict, he of the reputation for being a human powder keg? No penalties, three tackles, all of which were sacks.
"I thought there were some good things, particularly in the beginning of the game on both sides of the football," Erickson said. "I thought we played pretty disciplined."
The Aggies had just 1 rushing yard in the first half and quarteback Randy Wright rarely had time to throw the ball on third and long situations due to the constant pressure put on him by blitzing Sun Devils as well as relentless pressure by the likes of sophomores Junior Onyeali and William Sutton.
"I wasn't surprised," senior linebacker Colin Parker said of the blitz frequency. "We got the gameplan early in the week and there were a lot of blitzes. Whether they call them or not, we'll see in the games. I feel like we've been blitzing pretty well in camp and it was time to show it off."
There was also some potency on offense, a sign that perhaps Burfict elected to allow his teammates on the other side of the ball carry around the explosive tag, for at least this night.
Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler connected on 19 of 26 pass attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, and the Sun Devils put up 24 first half points without a single scoring drive lasting longer than 93 seconds.
ASU's first drive lasted all of 62 seconds and consisted only of three plays from scrimmage, all of which ended with the ball in Marshall's hands. He caught a 47-yard pass, the longest of his career, then had a 6-yard run and a 2-yard touchdown run.
Later in the first period, Marshall scored another touchdown on a four play drive that took just seven seconds longer than the first.
Redshirt freshman kicker Alex Garoutte hit a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter and ASU made it 24-0 on a 31 yard hook up between Osweiler and senior Aaron Pflugrad.
Another drive that likely would have resulted in points ended with junior Rashad Ross coughing up the ball on the UC-Davis 23-yard line.
To open the second half, junior Jamal Miles returned the kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown -- the sixth such score of the Erickson era -- to make it a 31-0 ASU lead and center the discussion more around when the second-team offense would take the field than who would emerge victorious.
The answer would come with three minutes left in the third quarter when Osweiler, beset with cramping for the first time in his playing career due to extreme heat, was pulled with the score 41-0 so his backups could gain some experience.
"On my interception my right calf locked up," Osweiler said. "Then on the touchdown pass both calves and left hip cramped. I was pretty much shot down after that and could not do much out there."
Ultimately, it was the 100-plus degree weather that Erickson called the worst he's seen, that bothered Osweiler more than the opponent. He was rarely pressured and never sacked by the Aggies.
"I thought we pass protected extremely well," Erickson said. "They didn't even get close to getting to [Brock Osweiler]. I think we ran-blocked pretty well. Our front men played pretty well and defensively after the first drive or two we kind of just dominated up front."
Sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks had 10 carries for 62 yards in support of Marshall, who finished with four catches for 86 yards and seven carries for 23 yards to go along with the two scores.
Ten receivers had at least one catch for ASU, all told, with senior Gerell Robinson leading the way with four receptions for 48 yards, and Pflugrad haling in touchdowns on two of his three receptions.
Despite a balanced, efficient 517 yards from scrimmage and a defense that played disciplined and held steady until two allowed fourth quarter touchdowns, Erickson said ASU will have to play better if it is going to earn a win over highly respected Missouri next Friday at Sun Devil Stadium.
"It's a big game for us," he said. "They're ranked something like 20th in the country and they are an awfully good football team. A lot of starters coming back, a lot of skill, a lot of speed. We are going to have to play a lot better in that game than we did tonight but I'm excited for next Friday. Our players are really looking forward to it. It's a blackout with all our fans. I thought our students tonight were exceptional, with the weather and all that it was unbelievable how many of them were there. Can't wait until next Friday."