Aug. 30, 1997
Arizona State Defeats New Mexico State
A raging sea of 58,607 fans watched anxiously at Sun Devil Stadium, hoping that the Sun Devils would live up to the moniker of "defending Pac-10 champions." What they saw was an indication of how many new faces there were on the team. The Sun Devils, in their first game of the post-Plummer era, showed the heart and pride of a champion, great flashes of potential and a minor case of butterflies.
The inexperience was visible throughout the game. Without the senior leadership of last year's team, the Sun Devils racked up 13 penalties for a total of 75 yards. But the Sun Devils would not let their chemistry fall apart as they sucked in their gut and pushed on to a 41-10 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies. The Sun Devils have won 10 of their last 12 season openers and their last 12 regular season games. They improve to 1-0, while the Aggies fell to 0-1.
Tailback J.R. Redmond noted after the game, "Obviously we have a lot to improve on. I think that we got rid of a lot of cobwebs. We went out there and showed that we had a lot of talent. It felt real good to get out there and get the jitters out."
There were several question marks for the Sun Devils after last year's massive departure of senior players. Ryan Kealy, in his first start of his career at Arizona State, showed signs of just how powerful of an arm he has. Kealy completed 11-of-19 passes the game for 107 yards and one touchdown. Kealy spread the action evenly during the game, hitting six different receivers at least once. In a first half highlight, Kealy made his first connection with his former teammate and favorite target at St. Mary's High School, redshirt freshman Tariq McDonald, for an 11-yard completion. He later found McDonald in the end zone late in the third quarter for a four-yard touchdown, the first touchdown for both players at ASU.
"It was nice to get one to Tariq," remarked Kealy. " Just like the old days. He's a go-to-guy, so I went to him."
Kealy also showed signs of his inexperience, occasionally letting his strong arm get the best of him. During the Sun Devils initial drive into New Mexico State territory, Kealy aimed for the end zone and put a little too much on the ball, overthrowing his receivers. The Sun Devils settled for a 42-yard, Robert Nycz field goal at the 4:08 mark in the first quarter. Kealy quickly bounced back quickly, coordinating another drive late in the first quarter setting up an 11-yard touchdown run by fullback Darrin Ransom.
"I showed poise, but I think I got routed and that should not have happened," Kealy said.
New Mexico State would drive early in the second quarter to set up a 29-yard field goal by Nick Cecava, their only score in the entire first half. The Sun Devil defense held the Aggies to only 75-yards of total offense in the first half and allowing only three first downs.
The Sun Devils would turn the heat up a notch in the third, scoring three times on offense and holding the Aggies scoreless on the defensive end. Taking over the helm for several drives in the second half was junior Steve Campbell. Campbell also showed a mild case of the jitters, holding his ground in the pocket and getting sacked seven plays into his first drive at the Sun Devil three-yard line. Campbell later redeemed himself by driving the Sun Devils 38 yards in four plays in just over a minute for a touchdown in the third quarter and 43 yards in under three minutes to set up a Robert Nycz field goal in the fourth. Campbell finished the day with 3-of-7 passing for 43 yards and one touchdown.
The quarterback situation was not the only notable position filled with new faces. Senior Michael Martin, sophomore J.R. Redmond, and junior Marlon Farlow had the task of replacing the departed Terry Battle. Martin, who was the starter last season until a neck injury at UCLA, started the game and carried the ball 15 times for 64 yards and one touchdown. The Sun Devils are 10-0 when Martin is the starter. Even more impressive was Redmond, who carried 10 times, racing for 176 yards, including a 93-yard foot race during the third quarter for his only touchdown of the game. Redmond's run ties for the fifth longest run from scrimmage in ASU history. He also notched his first 100-yard game of his career. Farlow, who also saw considerable playing time, had seven carries and rambled for 68 yards, breaking the longest run of his career with a 36-yard carry early in the fourth quarter.
Redmond stated after the game, "My performance says a lot about my offensive line. It shows they care about me and protect me. They opened holes and all we had to do was pick and choose."
ASU's offense finished with 425 total yards, moving the chains 20 times and pushing the ball an average of 6.3 yards per play. The offense was distributed evenly, with three touchdowns being scored on the ground and two in the air.
The defense was also a question for the Sun Devils. Would the Sun Devils be able to reproduce the smothering defense that helped carry them to an 11-1 season? The evidence was clear. The Sun Devil defense held the Aggies to only a touchdown and a field goal. The Sun Devils put constant pressure on quarterback Ty Houghtaling forcing two interceptions and sacking him once for a seven-yard loss. The Aggies' offense was only able to move the ball 198 total yards and were held to 11 first downs. They were forced to punt nine times in fourth and long situations.
The Aggies would score once more late in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard pass from Houghtaling to receiver Duane Gregory for the final score of the game.
After the game, Sun Devil head coach Bruce Snyder had several comments on the game and his players. He had particularly high praise of Ryan Kealy's poise during his first start.
"His first pass was a strike right at one of our guys. There are things he did very well in terms of managing the game," Snyder said.
Snyder also noted the importance of this first game.
"This was the most important thing, to have us start off with a win at home. This was really significant because we have now won eight straight at home. We want to build a tradition of winning at home."