Arizona may be heavy favorites heading into the game tonight, but don't sleep on the Lumberjacks.
Here's my three (Flagstaff-themed) keys to the game for the Wildcats.
1. Snowplow the Jacks Offensive Line
As you may have read in the NAU preview extravaganza, they have a pretty good running back in Zach Bauman. Bauman, along with athletic quarterback Kyren Poe, may give the Arizona Front Six some issues tonight if they can't control the NAU offensive line.
The Jacks' offensive linemen all run around 270 pounds up the middle, and 290 pounds at the tackle position. Not a bad matchup size-wise for them against the Arizona D-Line as Tevin Hood is the only guy who weighs more than 270. The athletic ability of the D-Line and LBs is the ultimate key here, as they will be chasing Bauman and Poe the entire game most likely.
2. Avoid being the deer in the headlights on I-17
Whoever is playing QB for the Cats, no doubt playing under the lights in front of 50,000 people will be a shock. Personally, I would love it if RichRod ran B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins, and Javelle Allen out there together for the first play from scrimmage. I think that would be hilarious.
But when the QB is out there taking snaps, they can't be that deer in the headlights. When FBS teams lose to FCS teams, like UConn losing to Towson yesterday, turnovers are usually the reason. Denker, or whoever it is, but most likely Denker, needs to avoid making stupid mistakes. NAU's experienced secondary will make you pay.
This also applies to the special teams. When the Lumberjacks went to UNLV last year and won their first game over an FBS team since 1987, it was not because of their offense. In fact, they were outgained 428-288 on offense, and there were no turnovers from either team. A 75-yard punt return by Austin Shanks and a field goal to end the game by Andy Wilder won that game for NAU. Stay in your lanes and make good tackles special teams.
3. Lay down the Lumber(yard)
Both head coaches have said that their teams have done significantly less hitting in fall camp then ever before. This was to prevent injuries, and that definitely worked since there are no injuries from fall camp on the Arizona injury report this week.
So tackling may be an issue early on. Look for both teams to exploit this by using their running backs early and often. The team that proves they can tackle well and stop the run will have a significant advantage for the rest of the game.