Football Opens 2006 Thursday Night with Northern Arizona

Aug. 28, 2006


Date: Thursday, August 31, 2006
Kickoff: 7 p.m. PT
Site: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706), Tempe, Ariz.
Television: Fox Sports Net Arizona
Play-by-Play/Color: Trey Bender/Doug Plank
Sideline Reporter: Kevin McCabe
Sun Devil Radio: KMVP/ESPN Radio 860
Play-by-Play: Tim Healey
Color: Former Arizona State QB Jeff Van Raaphorst
Sideline Reporter: Amy Bender
Spanish Radio: KIDR 740
Play-by-Play: Ivan Lara
Color: Former Sun Devil All-American OL Juan Roque

• Arizona State's inclusion in the 2006 preseason Associated Press poll (24th) marks just the second time it has been ranked in the preseason poll in back-to-back years in 24 seasons (1983 to present). It was ranked 20th in the poll last year. In 1998, ASU was ranked eighth in the preseason poll and was 25th prior to the 1999 season.
• ASU's 17-8 record in its last 25 games is third-best in the Pac-10. Only USC (24-1) and California (19-6) have better records.
• The Sun Devils have won six of their last seven openers, including the last three in succession.
• As a head coach, Dirk Koetter is 6-2 in season openers.
• The nation's leader in pass efficiency in 2005, sophomore Rudy Carpenter enters his first season as the full-time starter after guiding the Sun Devils to a 4-1 record in the last five games of the 2005 season.
• Carpenter has thrown for 300 or more yards in four of his five career starts, including a career-best 467 yards in his last outing, ASU's 45-40 win over Rutgers in the Insight Bowl last December.
• Junior All-America TE Zach Miller (94 career receptions) opens the 2006 season needing 22 receptions to pass former Sun Devil All-America and current Baltimore Ravens TE (115 receptions) Todd Heap for the most career receptions by a Sun Devil tight end.
• Senior PK Jesse Ainsworth (113 career PATs) needs seven PATs to pass former Sun Devil Danny Kush (1973-76) for fourth on ASU's all-time list.

TEMPE, Ariz. - The Sun Devils kick off their 94th season of football this Thursday night then they play host to the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at 7 p.m. at Frank Kush Field/Sun Devil Stadium. Thursday's contest marks the third consecutive season that ASU has opened its season at home on Thursday night. In 2004, the Sun Devils defeated the UTEP Miners 41-9. Last season ASU opened its campaign with a 63-16 victory over the Temple Owls.

Arizona State holds a 64-27-2 (.699) record in season openers, including a 44-15-1 record (.733) at home. The Sun Devils have won 16 of their last 20 season openers, including six of their last seven and their last three consecutive. When opening the season at home, ASU has won its last five contests and nine of its last 10 going back to the 1993 season.

Thursday's contest marks the third consecutive season and the fourth time overall that ASU has opened its season on Thursday night. In 2004, the Sun Devils defeated the UTEP Miners 41-9 (home). Last season ASU opened its campaign with a 63-16 (home) victory over the Temple Owls. In 2001, the Sun Devils opened the season with a 38-7 win at San Diego State.

ASU holds a 17-14-4 advantage in the all-time series with NAU, which dates back to 1915. Although the two schools have played 35 times, this week's game marks only the third time they have met since 1950.

ASU is 9-0-1 in its last 10 meetings against NAU. In the most recent meeting in 2003, ASU prevailed 34-14 in Tempe.

The Lumberjacks return 17 starters - seven on offense, eight on defense and two specialists - from last year's team, which finished 3-8. The team is led by senior QB Jason Murrietta, who ranks in the top 10 of the school's all-time lists in touchdowns (60, fourth), completions (664, fourth), completion percentage (55.9, seventh), passing yards (7,890, fourth) and total offense (7,712, fourth).

NAU is coached by Jerome Souers, who is in his ninth season leading the Lumberjacks program (43-49 career record).

Arizona State's inclusion in the 2006 preseason Associated Press poll (24th) marks just the second time it has been ranked in the preseason poll in back-to-back years in 24 seasons (1983 to present). It was ranked 20th in the poll last year. In 1998, ASU was ranked eighth in the preseason poll and was 25th prior to the 1999 season.

In the Preseason Rankings - Publication (ranking)
Associated Press (24)
Athlon (24)
CBS Sportsline - Dennis Dodd (24)
College Football News (20)
USA Today Coaches Poll (NR)
Sporting News (NR)
Sports Illustrated (16)

ASU was picked to finish fourth in the Pacific-10 Conference in a pre-season poll of West Coast media members who regularly cover the league. Defending Pac-10 champion USC earned 18 first-place votes and was picked to win its fourth straight Pac-10 title. The Sun Devils will travel to Los Angeles to face the Trojans on October 14th at Memorial Coliseum.

Four teams received first place votes this season after USC was the unanimous choice last year. The Trojans garnered 18 votes, while Cal was second with seven. Oregon received three votes and the Sun Devils also earned a first place vote. The media poll has correctly selected the Conference Champion in 23 of 45 previous polls, including the last six years in a row.

Record-setting sophomore Rudy Carpenter will continue to guide the Sun Devil offense in 2006 after being forced into duty midway through last season.

Despite not starting until the eighth game of the 2005 season, Carpenter finished the year ranked first in the nation with a school record 175.01 passer efficiency rating while also ranking third nationally in completion percentage (68.4). He also threw for a team-high and school freshman record 2,273 yards to go along with 17 touchdown passes. In addition, he achieved a nation-leading and team record-low interception percentage (.008), after throwing two interceptions out of 228 total passing attempts.

Carpenter, who led ASU to a 4-1 record, threw for 300 or more yards in four of his five starts. He capped-off his phenomenal rookie campaign by earning Offensive Player of the Game honors for his role in ASU's victory against Rutgers in the 2005 Insight Bowl. In that game, Carpenter accounted for ASU individual bowl game records of 467 passing yards and four touchdown passes.

Below is a listing of where Rudy Carpenter's name was inserted into the school record books after his first year on the job.

As if he didn't already figure prominently in ASU's offense, junior All-America TE Zach Miller figures to have an even bigger role, particularly early in the season, as ASU looks to replace key receiving threats from last season. Lost to graduation were the all-time leading receiver in Pac-10 history (Derek Hagan); ASU's best deep-threat (Matt Miller) and one of its most reliable third-down options (Moey Mutz).

After only two seasons Miller, who was recently named to the John Mackey Award Watch List, is at or near the top of the career standards for ASU tight ends in touchdown receptions (10, tied for second), receptions (94, second) and receiving yards (1,028, fourth). His 94 catches are more than any other tight end in the nation the last two seasons while his receiving yardage and touchdown totals are both the second-most in the nation at his position during that same duration.

According to his head coach, it is not only his ability as a receiver that makes him such a special player.

'In my opinion, Zach Miller is one of the best blocking tight ends in the nation,' Koetter said. 'He gets a ton of credit for his acrobatic catches, but when you watch cut-ups you see what a tremendous blocker he is.'

After his freshman season, Miller earned second-team All-America honors, just one of four freshmen to earn first team or second-team All-American accolades that season. Miller also earned first-team Freshman All-American accolades for his successful 2004 season. In 2004, he was named the Pacific-10 Conference Freshman of the Year, becoming just the second Sun Devil to earn the honor (Terrell Suggs, 2000).

As a freshman, Miller broke the ASU record for receptions in a season by a tight end with 56. His 56 receptions in 2004 tied for the most receptions in the NCAA by a tight end. Along with his 56 receptions, he tallied 552 receiving yards and six touchdowns. In 2005, Miller missed some time with an injury and still managed the team's third-highest amount of receptions with 38, four of which were touchdowns. He also recorded 476 receiving yards for an average of 12.5 yards per reception. Entering the 2006 season, Miller needs 22 receptions, 658 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions to become the school's career leader for a tight end in each of the aforementioned categories.

One thing Rudy Carpenter can rest assured of this season is that he will be protected by one of the most experienced and reliable offensive lines in the country. Midway through last season such a statement might have been hard for anyone to fathom. In 2005, no position on the ASU roster was more depleted by injuries than the offensive line. Last season, nine Sun Devils started along the offensive line. However under offensive line coach Brent Myers, veteran leaders and qualified reserves emerged, enabling ASU to rank second in the nation in total offense, and also rush for 145.7 yards per game.

ASU's returning line has combined for 86 starts, the fifth-most experienced starting line in the nation entering the 2006 season.

Senior WR/KR/PR Terry Richardson, who earned Second Team All-America honors last season from, was named the US Bank Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in last season's game against USC and he was ranked as one of the top returners in the nation last season.

His 84-yard punt return for a TD in the first quarter against USC (10/1) marked the first by a Sun Devil since current St. Louis Ram Shaun McDonald had a 78-yarder against USC on Nov. 4, 2000. It was the 10th-longest punt return in school history (9th-longest for a TD) and the longest by a Sun Devil since Eric Guliford had an 89-yarder against California in 1992.

In the last regular season game Richardson would deliver again with a momentum-turning return of 71 yards against Arizona for a touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter. It made him the sixth Sun Devil overall and first since Ron Washington (1977) to return a pair of kicks for touchdowns in a season.

Richardson ended last season No. 2 in the Pac-10 and No. 7 in the nation with an average of 15.3 yards per punt return while also sitting third in the Pac-10 and No. 15 in the nation with an average of 27.4 yards on kickoff returns. Both his punt (337 yards) and kick return (629) yardage totals for the season were good enough to make into the top five of the school's all-time single-season annals. On offense, Richardson finished fourth on the team with 37 catches for 495 yards (13.4 avg.) and five touchdowns.

As a freshman last season, TB Keegan Herring led the Sun Devils and finished ninth in the Pac-10 in rushing with 870 yards on 158 carries (5.5 avg.). His season included six touchdowns and three 100-yard games. Against Arizona, he carried seven times for 20 yards to break the school freshman rushing record of 773 yards. Early last season, Herring, who rushed for 134 yards in his collegiate debut, collected 197 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns against Northwestern to mark the fifth-highest single-game rushing performance in the nation by a true freshman in 2005. The performance against the Wildcats was the 22nd best in ASU single-game history and the most by a Sun Devil since Delvon Flowers rushed for 226 yards against Oregon State in 2001. Herring's 67-yard run in the first quarter was ASU's longest last season and the longest by a Sun Devil since a 74-yard rush by Flowers vs. Stanford in 2001. Herring was selected to the Sporting News' Pac-10 All-Freshman Team and Honorable Mention Freshman All-America. ASU is 243-46-5 (.838) in 294 career games when having a player gain at least 100 yards on the ground (12-8 under Dirk Koetter).

In his three years Jesse Ainsworth has made it a habit of being nearly perfect on PAT attempts, missing just three times in 121 tries. [Dating back to the final game of the 2003 season when he connected on 4-of-4 PATs to start his current streak of 97 in a row, a school record.]

Ainsworth, who was a perfect 53-of-53 last season after going 40-of-40 in 2004, moved past former program record holder Luis Zendejas, who netted 75 from 1981-83. Ainsworth tied Zendejas' mark when he connected on a try following ASU's first touchdown against Oregon last season, a 20-yard touchdown reception by Derek Hagan in the first quarter. In the third stanza, Ainsworth hit home the record-breaking 76th PAT in a row. Ainsworth's 53 PATs last season put him fourth in ASU's record books for the most PATs made in a single season. Ainsworth's 37 field goals are fourth-most in a career and he needs two more to move into a tie for third. He also is just the sixth kicker in school annals to score 200 or more points as his 229 points are 14 behind Robert Nycz (1995-97) for third on the list.

Scheduled in conjunction with ASU's football game against Washington State University at Sun Devil Stadium on November 11, ASU will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1986 Rose Bowl team and the 10th anniversary of the 1996 Rose Bowl team.

Former Sun Devil head football coaches John Cooper (1986) and Bruce Snyder (1996) have been contacted and have committed to attend the weekend's festivities.

The 1986 Sun Devils captured the Pac-10 title and culminated their season with a 22-15 victory over Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl. It was the first Rose Bowl appearance in ASU history. The team would finish its season with a 10-1-1 record.

The 1996 Sun Devils had an undefeated regular season before falling to Ohio State in the 1997 Rose Bowl. Highlights of the year included shutting out top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Nebraska 19-0 on Sept. 21, 1996 and overcoming a three-touchdown deficit to beat UCLA on the road.

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