Mike Nixon returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown and blocked a punt to lead Arizona State past outmatched Idaho State 50-3 Saturday night. The senior linebacker became the first Sun Devil with three picks in a game in 20 years.
Defense is supposed to be the strength of Arizona State this season. The Idaho State Bengals would agree.
Mike Nixon returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown and blocked a punt to lead Arizona State past Idaho State 50-3 Saturday night.
The senior linebacker became the first Sun Devil with three picks in a game in 20 years.
"He makes plays," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's in the right place at the right time. They just don't see him and then they throw the ball and he picks it."
The Bengals, who play at Oklahoma next Saturday, committed five turnovers and managed just 37 yards, zero in the first half.
"Defensively, we totally dominated," Erickson said, adding empathy for Idaho State's limitations. "That is how it is when you only have 65 scholarships. I've been there. That is hard."
Thomas Weber tied an Arizona State record with five field goals, all inside of 30 yards.
Danny Sullivan, in his first start after two seasons as Rudy Carpenter's backup, completed 13 of 25 passes for 165 yards in 2½ quarters for the Sun Devils.
"I think it went pretty well," Sullivan said. "There were a couple of unfortunate events out there but that's the game."
Jarrett Huk kicked a 54-yard field goal for the lone score for Idaho State (0-1), coming off a 1-11 season in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly NCAA Division I-AA.
Idaho State coach John Zamberlin said there were too many mismatches between his offense and the fast, athletic Arizona State defense.
"Their defense forced a lot of those with their speed and size," he said.
The 37 yards, which included a 32-yard loss on Idaho State's final play, was the fourth-fewest allowed by Arizona State in school history.
Nixon, who had five career interceptions before Saturday night, became the first with three in a game for the Sun Devils since Nathan LaDuke did it against Houston on Sept. 23, 1989.
"If you execute the defense and they make some mistakes that's what's going to happen," Nixon said. "I wish I could say I did something great on those picks but it was just kind of being in my drop and them making bad reads."
Nixon's second pick came at the Idaho State 34 and he ran untouched to the end zone to put Arizona State up 20-0 with 2:12 left in the first half.
The Sun Devils' defense stuffed the Bengals again on Idaho State's next possession, then Nixon burst up the middle to block Jon Vanderwielen's punt. Arizona State's first blocked punt in three seasons set up Weber's 27-yard field goal that made it 23-0 as the half ended.
Weber's five field goals were one shy of the Pac-10 record. He missed a 27-yarder in the first half.
Idaho State starter Kyle Blum was intercepted three times in the first half and his replacement Russel Hill once in the second.
True freshman Brock Osweiler relieved Sullivan halfway through the third quarter and later threw 16 yards to a diving Brian Motsumoto for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. It was Motsumoto's first career catch.
Brandon McGee intercepted Blum's underthrown pass and returned it 11 yards to the Bengals 40 to set up the only touchdown scored by ASU's first-team offense.
Arizona State was pushed back to third-and-21 at its 49, but Sullivan ran 17 yards, then threw seven yards to Gerell Robinson to convert a fourth-and-4 situation. Dimitri Nance's 9-yard run on the first play of the second quarter made it 10-0.
"ASU had some tricky plays to get their first TD," Zamberlin said, "but it was a their defense that stood out."
Erickson said "five or six" players missed the game for violating team rules.