TEMPE, AZ — Emory Jones adeptly orchestrated the offense and showed off his elusiveness on a touchdown run. Xazavian Valladay juked and jolted his way for big chunks of yards.
Arizona State’s two marquee transfers had sterling debuts and the rest of the new-look Sun Devils were sharp most of the night, opening the season with an easy win over an FCS opponent.
Jones ran for two touchdowns in his desert debut, Valladay ran for 116 yards and a score, and the Sun Devils opened their fifth season under coach Herm Edwards with a 40-3 win over Northern Arizona on Thursday night.
“There’s a lot of things we have to work on, but the composure of the team was good,” Edwards said. “With all these new guys on the sideline, you didn’t know how they were going to act, but they were good.”
The Sun Devils needed a few series to jell with 43 new players on their roster. Once they got rolling, the Lumberjacks could do little to stop them.
Carter Brown kicked four field goals, Arizona State led 24-3 at halftime and outgained Northern Arizona 419-120 in total yards to win its 23rd straight home opener. The Sun Devils are 17-0 all-time against FCS schools.
Valladay, a Wyoming transfer, showed off the speed that’s made him the nation’s active leading rusher, reeling off a 27-yard TD run early in the third quarter.
Jones had poise in the pocket and made good decisions, scoring on a 1-yard dive in the second quarter and a 17-yard run just before halftime.
“We got a first win and have many more good things to come,” said Jones, who threw for 152 yards on 13-of-18 passing and ran for 48 yards.
The Lumberjacks picked up one of the program’s biggest wins the last time they came down from Flagstaff, beating Arizona 21-19 for their first win over a Pac-12 school.
They didn’t have the same type of fortune in their return to the desert.
Arizona State manhandled Northern Arizona at the line of scrimmage, putting constant pressure on quarterback RJ Martinez. The Sun Devils also played a lot of zone, limiting him to short throws underneath.
“It was a little difficult because all week we were expecting them to play a lot more man,” said Martinez, who finished 19 of 29 for 95 yards. “We went underneath and they were able to get home (with the rush) with four.”
The Lumberjacks kept it close early before a few key miscues allowed the slow-starting Sun Devils to gain their footing.
Holder Eemil Herranen dropped a snap on what would have been a tying 40-yard field goal in the first quarter and defensive back Eloi Kwete kept an Arizona State drive alive with a targeting penalty on third down.
Valladay scored two plays later on a 4-yard run.
Martinez caught a break when a pick-6 was overturned by an Arizona State offsides in the first quarter, but was not bailed out when he threw another interception in the second quarter.
Jones scored two plays later to put the Sun Devils up 24-0.
“These are tough games for FCS schools, but you’ve got to play them,” Northern Arizona coach Chris Ball said. “And we’re up for it. They say you’ve got to make your biggest strides between game one and two, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Arizona State was one of the most-penalized teams in FBS last season, averaging 8.7 for 78.4 yards per game.
The Sun Devils still have some cleaning up to do.
Arizona State had four penalties for 35 yards, but two negated interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Anthonie Cooper was called offsides to spoil Kejuan Markham’s pick-6 in the first quarter, though Martinez may have seen the flag and taken a downfield shot. A block in the back during Chris Edmonds’ return forced the Sun Devils to settle for a field goal.
“You’re going to get a foul or two,” Edwards said. “If you average four, five fouls a game, you’re OK. You just don’t want them to be ones that really hurt you.”
Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks couldn’t conjure up the same magic they had last year in the desert. NAU was pushed around by the bigger Sun Devils and made the climb even steeper with key miscues.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils got the start they wanted with a roster loaded with new players, rolling to an easy victory over an FCS school. The road gets much tougher from here with a game at Oklahoma State next week.
NAU: The Lumberjacks play at Sam Houston State on Sept. 10.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils play at Oklahoma State on Sept. 10.
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Jones sharp, Arizona State beats Northern Arizona 40-3 – ABC15 Arizona in Phoenix