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Arizona football opponent preview: NAU

The Lumberjacks travel to Tucson for UA’s home-opener

NCAA Football: Northern Arizona at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats will host NAU in their home-opener. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, September 7 at 7:45 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

Let’s get to the know Lumberjacks:

Introduction

Northern Arizona University is a member of the Big Sky Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The Lumberjacks have a first year head coach in Chris Ball, who was hired from Memphis where he served as defensive coordinator. He is replacing longtime NAU coach Jerome Souers.

Ball has a decent level of familiarity with Arizona as he spent four seasons with ASU (2012-15) and eight seasons with Washington State (1989, 2000-02, 2008-11). The good news is he’s not as familiar with the Sumlin regime. However, Ball was co-defensive coordinator for the Sun Devils in 2015 when they got spanked 38-17 by Sumlin’s Texas A&M team.

The Rundown

  • 2018 Record: 4-6 (3-4, 8th in the Big Sky)
  • Head Coach: Chris Ball (First season)

The Stats

  • 2018 Offense: 60th in total offense, 384.6 yds/game, 25.8 pts/game
  • 2018 Defense: 57th in total defense, 382.4 yds/game, 32.2 pts/game

2018 Recap

The Lumberjacks entered the 2018 season coming off an at-large bid in the FCS playoff. NAU started the season 1-0 after a win on the road at UTEP in week one. Then, in week two, standout quarterback Case Cookus broke his collarbone and they lost a close game to the eventually FCS runner-up in Eastern Washington.

From there, they went 2-5 in their next seven games. Just as you thought NAU’s season couldn’t get worse, their week 11 matchup with Sacramento State was cancelled as a result of poor air quality from the Northern California wildfires.

The season hadn’t gone they way they expected given the lofty preseason expectations. However, they did finish the season on a positive note at home with a win against North Dakota.

Offensive Outlook

When starting quarterback Case Cookus is healthy, the Lumberjacks have scored nearly a touchdown more per game during his tenure. It may not be necessary to delve too much in his ability as some might remember the 2017 matchup against UA when he threw for 306 yards.

Cookus will be without standout receiver Emmanuel Butler which could be a problem. Brandon Porter and Chancellor Brewington were the second and third leading receivers, respectively, behind Butler. They combined for 51 receptions for only 571 yards and two touchdowns. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it was 29 and 28 percent of the total production, respectively. The point is Cookus makes everyone better and without him the offense really struggled.

Cookus’ counterpart in the backfield is senior Joe Logan. Logan also missed time due to injuries in 2018. When he is healthy, he has proven to be an asset. If all goes according to plan from a health perspective, he should easily eclipse the 2,000 yard mark for his career.

The offensive line is a strong piece to the equation which is led by left guard Malik Noshi. Noshi is the only offensive linemen to receive all conference accolades in 2018. Additionally, left tackle Cole Habib would have been a major contributor had he not torn his ACL. He is expected to be ready for the season.

Defensive Outlook

Up front, the name to watch for is defensive tackle Jalen Goss who earned all-conference third-team honors in 2018. He will have help from Aaron Andrews and Carson Taylor. Jonathan Lolohea is a transfer from Washington State who could offer immediate impact on the line.

Tristen Vance is the top returning tackler from a year ago. NAU lost a top linebacker Jake Casteel (son of former UA Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel) but senior Taylor Powell could offer experience at the position if he returns healthy. Powell only played in three games last season due to injuries.

The secondary will be without all conference standouts Maurice Davison (CB), Kam’ron Johnson (Safety) and Wes Sutton (Safety). The good news is first-team, all-conference cornerback Khalil Dorsey is back. Opposite of him could be a combination of redshirt sophomore Dyvine Wallace and senior Marcel Myers. Both appeared in 10 games last season.

Unfortunately for the safeties, there isn’t much experience to backfill for the absences of Johnson and Sutton. Anthony Sweeney, Sherrod Paige and Jalen Cook saw the most action in reserve roles last season which makes them the most likely candidates to fill the void.

3 Players to Watch

Case Cookus, QB

The graduate student had the option to transfer and play immediately but opted to stay put in Flagstaff. If he stays healthy, you can expect him to return to his All-Big Sky First Team self.

Malik Noshi, OG

All-Big Sky Honorable Mention in 2018. Noshi is a key piece to NAU’s strong offensive line. He has 23 starts in his career and can play either right or left guard.

Khalil Dorsey, CB

Dorsey was the only Lumberjack to receive All-Big Sky First Team honors in 2018. He has played in 33 games (with 29 starts) and has recorded 129 total tackles, eight interceptions and 29 passes defended.