Arizona St Blog
November 4, 2011
Arizona State (6-2 4-1 Pac-12, #19 BCS) at UCLA (4-4, 3-2 PAC-12)
7:30PM EST, Versus
Spread: Arizona State by 10
By: David Siorek
With bowl eligibility already attained, the Arizona State football team sets their sights on the next goal: the Pac-12 South title. Although four conference games remain, the Sun Devils can nearly clinch the crown this Saturday. UCLA is the only other eligible Pac-12 South team with less than four conference losses. A win this week would give ASU a two game lead and the tiebraker over the Bruins, and the Devils would only need either one win or one UCLA loss to clinch. ASU has a clear talent and speed edge again this week, but they must not look past the Bruins. UCLA defeated a tough Cal team at home last week by 17 points, and ASU’s only two losses this season have come on the road. UCLA is fighting for bowl eligibility in addition to the division title. They need to win two of their final four games, and that will not be easy. They play Colorado at home, but face two tough road tests at Utah and USC. The Bruins have feasted on the weaker teams on their schedule, but have gone 0-3 against team that are currently ranked (Houston, Texas, Stanford). They will be playing desperate football this week as Rick Neuheisel needs a strong finish to keep his job.
Arizona State rebounded from their loss at Oregon by dominating Colorado last week in a game that was never in doubt. ASU stormed out to a 21-0 first quarter lead and cruised to a 48-14 victory. The yardage difference of 522-420 was quite misleading as most of the Buffaloes’ yards came in garbage time. Colorado was not able to do any damage in the running game and ASU dominated the turnover battle again with five takeaways and only one turnover. The offense was able to do whatever it pleased. Brock Osweiler was brilliant and Cameron Marshall continued his touchdown barrage.
UCLA entered last week’s game against Cal as five point home underdogs, but they recorded a relatively easy victory. They ran at will against the Golden Bears to a total of 294 yards on the ground and also forced five turnovers. Kevin Prince passed for a measly 92 yards, but the passing game wasn’t needed.
Arizona State on Offense
UCLA is not great on defense against the run or pass, so this appears to be another game where Arizona State should dominate on offense. The Bruins rank 83rd against the run and 81st against the pass in yardage allowed. They also give up an average of 31.9 points per game which checks in at 92nd in the nation. On the flip side, ASU has the 18th ranked passing offense and is 22nd in the nation with 35.9 points per game. Despite winning the turnover battle against Cal, UCLA is even for the year in turnover margin. Five of their fourteen takeaways occurred last week.
Marshall has scored in every conference game and has 10 of his 12 touchdowns in Pac-12 play. Look for that trend to continue. Cameron looks nearly fully healed from his ankle injury and has been vital to the offense’s success the last few weeks. He should be able to feast on UCLA’s poor run defense on his way to another multiple score day.
When Osweiler has had trouble with turnovers, ASU’s offense has struggled. Multiple turnovers in the Illinois, Oregon State, and Oregon games have led to lackluster performances by the offense. I think that Brock may give the ball up a couple of times which may allow the score to be closer than it should be. He has done a terrific job of spreading the ball around to the open receiver. The Sun Devils don’t have a receiver that is putting up astronomical numbers, but they have multiple weapons that can have huge games in any week. Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, Jamal Miles, and Aaron Pflugrad have all had their moments in 2011. Brock has looked much more comfortable in the pocket as the season has progressed. His accuracy has improved significantly and he has played much better on the road after ASU’s first loss at Illinois.
Arizona State on Defense
The UCLA offense will give Arizona State a chance to dominate this game. The Bruins are an effective running team, but have one of the worst passing offenses in the Pac-12. ASU is definitely stronger in their front seven than in the defensive backfield. ASU also has a glaring edge in creating turnovers. They have had multiple takeaways in every conference game, including three games where they had five.
Prince was unstoppable on the ground last week against Cal, finishing with 163 yards on only 19 carries. ASU’s fast front seven would appear to cause problems for the QB run, but in three games against mobile quarterbacks (Missouri, Illinois, Oregon) they have given up 289 yards to opposing QBs. Prince won’t duplicate last week’s performance, but he should be able to find some running room. UCLA’s running back tandem of Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin have combined for nearly 1,000 yards already this season, and they should be able to do some damage as well. The Bruins will need to run for nearly 300 yards on Saturday to have any shot at the upset.
If the Bruin run game is stalled, this one will be a laugher. UCLA’s passing offense is much better served with Richard Brehaut in the pistol, but he is still out with a broken leg. Prince only completes about half of his passes and has a poor TD-Int ratio (3-4). His only respectable passing games of the year came against poor defenses (Arizona, Washington State), and much of his numbers against Arizona came in garbage time. The UCLA quarterback will make a couple of poor decisions in the pocket and ASU will most certainly capitalize on those and give the offense a short field. UCLA will have some receivers back in the mix this week; they return from a suspension resulting from a skirmish against Arizona. However, they really don’t have many weapons there. Nelson Rosario is their leading receiver, but he has struggled with drops and inconsistency.
Junior Onyeali should play much better this week in his second game back after injury. His presence, along with ASU’s linebackers, should make it much more difficult to run on the edges.
Arizona State 41-20
October 29, 2011
Arizona State (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12, #21 BCS) vs. Colorado (1-7, 0-4 Pac-12)
6:30PM EST, Fox Sports Arizona
Spread: Arizona State by 30.5
By: David Siorek
The Sun Devils have had a week to lick their wounds following their tough road loss to Oregon. They have a very good opportunity to get back on the right track when hapless Colorado comes to town. The Buffs have played a very difficult schedule this year, but are still one of the worst statistical teams in the nation. They are winless in conference and only came close to winning one of those games, a 31-27 home loss to Washington State. Arizona State, on the other hand, looks like they’re on the path to the Pac-12 Championship game. Thanks to a UCLA loss to Arizona, ASU remains alone in first place in the South (USC is tied, but ineligible). The Devils travel to the Rose Bowl next weekend in a game that could basically clinch the division. ASU must not look ahead to next week. The last time that ASU played a lesser opponent, they came out flat and played sloppy against Oregon State. They were still able to win by two touchdowns, but they need to learn to play consistently every week. The bye week has also allowed ASU’s injured players more time to recover. Cameron Marshall’s ankle should be close to 100%. Junior Onyeali and Evan Finkenberg have made progress and should be back soon. The biggest news is that Omar Bolden is back on the practice field and in rehab mode. He may still be a few weeks away, but that has to be a big emotional boost for this team. ASU probably has enough talent to play below average football and still come out ahead, but they need to build some momentum for the second half of the year and blow out Colorado. A win here also makes ASU bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
Arizona State on Offense
ASU’s offense struggled in the second half against Oregon, and they will be searching for some revenge on Saturday. Luckily for the Sun Devils, Colorado is 117th in the nation in points allowed, giving up 37.1 per game. Stanford, Washington, and Oregon have scored a total of 145 points the last three weeks against the Buffaloes. Colorado is also subpar against both the run and the pass. They are ranked in the 80’s nationally in both passing and rushing yards allowed. Arizona State should be able to do whatever they want to on offense. Marshall has been moving around a lot better in practice, and he should be able to find bigger holes in the ground game. Garth Gerhart and Aderious Simmons are recovered from minor injuries, so Marshall will have more room to roam. Brock Osweiler played reasonably well against Oregon. He played nearly perfect football in the first half other than an interception late in the second quarter. The second half was more of a struggle, but he ended up with pretty respectable numbers (which would’ve looked better if Jamal Miles was able to come up with a late touchdown catch). Gerell Robinson and Mike Willie have turned it on the last few weeks, and I expect them to continue their success if Colorado tries to limit the short passes out of the backfield. Miles and Marshall may also have success in the passing game because Colorado doesn’t have the speed to match up with them. ASU should have no trouble putting up 35+ points in this contest.
Arizona State on Defense
Despite giving up 41 points to Oregon, ASU played pretty well on defense. The main problem was lapses on certain drives that allowed the Ducks to score on quick drives. However, Oregon does that to everyone, so it’s not very worrisome to me. Penalties played a huge role in the loss, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Many of those penalties were questionable and were probably the result of some Oregon home cooking. Luckily for ASU, Colorado’s offense was subpar even before losing many of their best players to injury. They had already lost their leading rusher Rodney Stewart and leading receiver Paul Richardson. Starting QB Tyler Hansen will also be out for this game, leaving untested redshirt Freshman Nick Hirschman behind center. They were unable to do anything against Oregon last week, scoring their only 2 points on a safety. They rank 107th nationally in points per game, 113th in rushing yards, and 58th in passing yards (passing will be even more difficult without their QB and WR). Onyeali and Bolden are not back in the lineup yet, but this offense will not pose a challenge to ASU. Vontaze Burfict showed more intensity against Oregon and seems to be making more plays in the last few games (despite the reemergence of personal foul problems). Colorado will have a very difficult time moving the football down the field. Colorado has held on to the ball well this year, only turning it over seven times. However, ASU has forced twenty turnovers this season and are 10th nationally in turnover margin. Look for Colorado to lose that battle as well.
This game will be a rout as long as ASU doesn’t look ahead to their big matchup with UCLA next week.
October 15, 2011
Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12, #18) at Oregon (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12, #9)
10:15 PM EST, ESPN
Spread: Oregon by 16
By: David Siorek
Arizona State faces its biggest test of the season this Saturday when they travel to Eugene to face last year’s National Runner-Up Oregon. Both teams come into this matchup on a roll. Arizona State has started the Pac-12 conference slate by winning three games in a row by at least 15 points and taking a commanding lead in the South Division. The Ducks have rebounded from an opening week loss to top ranked LSU by winning its last four games by a total score of 224-73. Many view this game as a potential conference championship game matchup. Arizona State appears to be in the driver’s seat in the South. The Sun Devils have already defeated USC, Oregon State, and Utah in conference play. UCLA is 2-1 in conference, but their wins came over Oregon State and Washington State. Their conference schedule gets much tougher the rest of the season, while ASU’s eases up after this game. The other eligible teams in the South (Utah, Arizona, Colorado) are winless in conference play. Oregon plays in the much tougher North Division. They still have to face Stanford and Washington on the road, but many are predicting an undefeated conference record for the Ducks.
The big story in this game is the availability of Heisman Trophy hopeful LaMichael James. Oregon’s star running back is leading the FBS in rushing yards per game (170.4 YPG), but he dislocated his elbow last Thursday against California. Most reports out of Oregon say that James will miss this game. That is obviously huge news, but Oregon has plenty of world class athletes at that position that should be able to fill in for James.
Last year’s contest between these two teams in Tempe was a strange one. ASU actually outgained the Ducks by over 200 yards of offense and limited Oregon to 125 yards rushing on only 3.6 yards per carry. Oregon was held under 200 yards rushing only three times last year. Arizona State also had 31 first downs compared to Oregon’s 20. Despite the statistical disparity, Oregon was able to come away with a 42-31 victory thanks to seven Sun Devil turnovers.
Arizona State will have a chance to end a nine year losing streak against top 10 teams. Their last victory came over#6 Oregon at Autzen Stadium in 2002. Even without James, coming away with a victory will be a tall task. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and a possibility of rain, which is obviously much different than the Sun Devils are used to. Playing in Eugene is always a tough task, and the Ducks come into this game looking to win their 20th consecutive home game. The crowd will be extra amped up due to the arrival of ESPN’s College Gameday, which will be handling the pregame festivities.
Arizona State Offense vs. Oregon Defense
Brock Osweiler has made one previous start at Oregon. He was a freshman making his first career start and it showed. He completed half of his passes for less than 20 yards before leaving due to injury in 2009. The quarterback that the Ducks see on Saturday will be much different and far more confident. Brock is averaging almost 280 yards per game, and followed up a sloppy effort against Oregon State with a near flawless performance at Utah last week. The main problem for ASU last year against the Ducks was turnovers (especially Steven Threet interceptions), and Osweiler has been picked off six times so far this year. Luckily for ASU, this year’s version of the Ducks has only forced four turnovers through five games. Star cornerback Cliff Harris has been in some off the field trouble and has been inconsistent when he’s been in the game. ASU’s bread and butter on offense is usually short passes out of the backfield to Jamal Miles, Kyle Middlebrooks, and Cameron Marshall. However, when Utah shut that down last week, they were able to feature big WR’s Gerell Robinson and Mike Willie. How ASU attacks the Ducks on defense will depend on whether Oregon plays zone or man. If early passes to Miles and Co. are unsuccessful, Osweiler will look for wide receivers getting single coverage. If Oregon plays more zone, the Devils will be able to get the ball to Miles in space.
The run defense for Oregon is in the middle of the pack nationally, as they give up about 130 yards per game on the ground. ASU’s run offense averages a near identical amount of yards per game. Marshall has really only had one outstanding game so far this year (vs. USC). Marshall may be able to find some holes, but I don’t expect him to have a huge game.
Arizona State Defense vs. Oregon Offense
The Sun Devils’ defense will have a near insurmountable task on Saturday. Since Chip Kelly took over as head coach, Oregon’s offense has been a machine. Many teams have been able to hold the offense in check for portions of the game, but few have been able to consistently slow down the Ducks for 48 minutes. Obviously, James’ absence is bad for Oregon, but they have so much depth that it might not matter. Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas have just as much big play potential as LMJ. The obvious goal for the defense is limiting those 40+ yard plays. However, that is much easier said than done. If ASU is able to contain the run like last year, Darron Thomas is an extremely efficient dual threat quarterback. The stars in the passing game are WR Lavasier Tuinei and DeAnthony Thomas. Even with Darron Thomas’ prowess in the passing game, I would much rather take my chances with him making big plays. Keeping the Ducks under 200 yards on the ground is imperative to a victory.
The biggest problem with last year’s meeting was obviously the turnovers. If ASU continues to give Oregon a short field, keeping the big plays at a minimum really won’t matter. I actually think ASU has a huge edge in the turnover battle this year. They have forced ten in the last two games. Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are much less experienced than James, so ball security in the run game could be a factor. If Oregon has to go to the pass, ASU’s cornerbacks and safeties have shown an incredible ability to intercept the ball.
October 13, 2011
Arizona State 35, Utah 14
By: David Siorek
The forced turnovers continued with a torrential pace and the Sun Devils were able to take a commanding lead in the Pac-12 South in Salt Lake City. Arizona State started slow, but a third quarter filled with Utah turnovers allowed the Devils to turn this conference matchup into a rout. Shelly Lyons and Clint Floyd led the charge as ASU was able to score 25 unanswered points to end the game. Brock Osweiler, Gerell Robinson, and Mike Willie all had tremendous games for the offense, but they were overshadowed by the shorthanded defense.
Utah’s first time starting quarterback Jon Hays was able to lead the Utes on scoring drives in each of the team’s opening drives of the half. Utah scored touchdowns on their first possession in the first and third quarters, but ASU’s defense didn’t allow anything else. No one expected Hays to light up the scoreboard, but head coach Kyle Willingham must have hoped for more. Hays threw three picks and Utah gave up two more fumbles. Utah suffered five turnovers and a double digit loss in their second consecutive Pac-12 home game as they followed up a defeat to Washington with a humbled loss at the hands of the Devils. Utah is finding out that life in the Pac-12 isn’t as rosy as their life as a weak scheduled BCS buster out of the Mountain West Conference. They are now 0-3 in their inaugural season in their new conference.
Arizona State has struggled in road games under Dennis Erickson, and this game looked like déjà vu for the team. ASU had lost its only previous road game of the year to unbeaten Illinois and they looked sloppy again early on. Given a short field multiple times, Osweiler was able to use his vast arsenal of weapons to turn in yet another spectacular game. The victory sets up the first ever Pac-12 matchup between ranked opponents next week at Oregon. ESPN has found the game so intriguing that they decided to send Chris, Kirk, Lee, and the rest of the Gameday gang to Eugene for the pregame festivies. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a look back at the Utah game.
ASU on Offense
Osweiler turned in a tremendous performance a week after a sloppy performance against hapless Oregon State (who, by the way, beat 1-5 Arizona by 10 and caused the firing of head coach Mike Stoops). For Brock’s standards, his 61% completion percentage wasn’t great, but he avoided a turnover after committing four last week. Utah came into the game wanting to stop the swing passes to ASU’s quick playmakers out of the backfield. Jamal Miles, Cameron Marshall, and Kyle Middlebrooks have killed opponents on yards after the catch so far this year. The Utes obviously didn’t want that to happen. However, Brock was smart enough to utilize his two massive wide receivers who found themselves in single coverage all day. Both Willie and Robinson had career games. Gerell had his first 100 yard game, hauling in seven passes for 101 yards. It seemed that all of those passes came over the middle and resulted in gigantic hits. Robinson was able to hold on to almost all of those passes. After getting shutout against Oregon State, Willie dominated the second half. He scored two of ASU’s final three touchdowns and also grabbed a beautiful out pass for the Sun Devils’ longest play of the day (32 yards).
Utah did a tremendous job of shutting down the running game. Marshall only gained 47 yards on 21 carries (with 16 coming on one run), but he did have a huge four yard touchdown. Osweiler had the biggest running play of the day. He scampered for a 25 yard run that set up Marshall’s touchdown and gave ASU a 28-14 lead. The passes to the running backs, which have been very successful this year, only resulted in 36 yards on four completions. In all, it wasn’t a complete game for ASU’s offense, but the combination of a short field and Osweiler’s adjustments allowed the Sun Devils to put up 30+ points for the fifth time this year.
ASU on Defense
Turnovers were the big story on Saturday. It was a perfect storm of ASU’s opportunistic defense and Utah’s mistake prone offense. The Utes got the unfortunate news that starting QB Jordan Wynn would miss this game with a shoulder injury (he has since been ruled out for the rest of the year, which may be bad news for their bowl eligibility). Jon Hays was not up to the task for most of the game. If it wasn’t for a beautifully designed fake punt early in the fourth quarter, Utah would’ve been shutout for the last 25 minutes of the game. Hays had a respectable 60% completion percentage, but he made some horrible throws that led to three picks (by Eddie Elder, Alden Darby, and Floyd). Utah’s leading receiver DeVonte Jefferson had a lackluster game, catching only two passes for 21 yards. Reggie Dunn led the team with four catches for 55 yards, but also had some important drops and a big fumble that led to a touchdown. Despite starting cornerback Osahon Irabor going down with back spasms, ASU held Utah to under 200 yards of passing. ASU also had three sacks and continued their fine performance in that department despite the absence of Junior Onyeali. Defensive MVP Colin Parker recorded a sack to go along with his seven tackles. Gannon Conway also took Hays down, while Joita Te’a (in his first collegiate action) and Carl Bradford combined for another sack.
The run defense for ASU wasn’t great as Utah was able to gain 121 yards on 30 carries. Those numbers are even worse for the Sun Devils if Jon Hays eight carries and -4 yards are subtracted. John White IV is a quality back and he was able to gain 85 yards on 17 carries. Sure, some of those number may have been inflated due to the 15 yard fake punt rush from punter Nick Marsh, but giving up rushing yards is always a terrible sign before taking out LaMichael James (maybe), Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas, and Darron Thomas. Even if James is out, ASU is in trouble if they don’t improve in the run defense. As evidenced by James Franklin and Nathan Scheelhaase, ASU has had trouble stopping the quarterback run. Chip Kelly hasn’t run Thomas too much this year, but you can be he will if he finds the opportunities.
ASU is among the top teams in the country in forcing turnovers. Also, Oregon is near the bottom in that category. If those statistics continue, ASU has a shot to keep this Saturday’s game close. As any ASU fan knows, this team usually underperforms on the road, especially against top 10 teams. Winning the turnover battle is imperative to staying in the game. Also, defensive penalties must be eliminated. Giving Oregon extra plays is a recipe for disaster.
Dennis Erickson entered this season on the hot seat after consecutive subpar seasons, while Arizona’s Mike Stoops was riding the momentum of three consecutive bowl appearances. Who would’ve thought that it would’ve been Stoops that was canned after six games? It remains to be seen where Arizona goes from here. They may dream of getting Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but why would he leave Boise State for a worse job? An interesting choice may be former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
October 6, 2011
Arizona State (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12 #22) at Utah (2-2, 0-2 Pac-12)
3:30PM EST, Fox Sports Arizona
Spread : Arizona State by 4
By: David Siorek
Even though we are only five weeks into the 2011 season, Arizona State has a chance to essentially shut the door on the rest of the Pac-12 South. As everyone already knows, USC is ineligible to represent the division in the conference championship game. They are the second best team in this division, and ASU has already defeated the Trojans by three touchdowns. Utah was projected to be up there with the Sun Devils, but they have already suffered defeats to USC and Washington. A loss here would drop them to 0-3 in the conference. The Utes’ Pac-12 schedule eases up after this game, but they still have road games against California, Arizona, and upstart Washington State. Arizona is probably the fourth best team, but they are already 0-3 in the conference, with a road tilt at ASU still coming later in the year. UCLA and Colorado don’t appear to have much of a chance to win it this year.
This won’t be an easy game for the Sun Devils, despite a talent advantage on both sides of the ball. They played very poorly in their only road game of the year against Illinois and sleepwalked to a victory against winless Oregon State last week. Turnovers were the main culprit in those contests, and Utah has already proven what they could do if they benefit from turnovers (a dominating win over BYU). The injury bug has begun to strike the offensive line after terrorizing the defense earlier in the year. Starting LT Evan Finkenberg suffered a similar injury as Junior Onyeali (torn meniscus) and will miss 4-6 weeks. Starting Center Garth Gerhart also missed a major portion of the last game due to an ankle injury, but Dennis Erickson is hopeful that he can start this week. Dan Knapp will move over from Right Tackle to take Finkenberg’s spot and Aderious Simmons or Tyler Sulka will fill in at Knapp’s spot. If Gerhart can’t go, Kody Koebensky will start at Center. Injuries are also a factor for Utah. Quarterback Jordan Wynn is out and Jon Hays will be behind center for the Utes. The junior QB passed for 156 yards, a touchdown, and an interception filling in for Wynn last week. With the injuries issues for both offenses, this might turn into a defensive battle.
Arizona State Offense vs. Utah Defense
Brock Osweiler put up decent yardage numbers against the Beavers (258 yards), but he turned the ball over four times. He still made enough plays to lead the Sun Devils to a 15 point victory, but a similar performance won’t get the job done against Utah. Due to the offensive line struggles, most of Osweiler’s completions went to the running backs on short routes (Jamal Miles, Kyle Middlebrooks, and Cameron Marshall). It will be imperative for the wide receivers to get involved and get open on those 15-20 yard routes. Aaron Pflugrad has slowed down after his hot start, and Mike Willie has been almost invisible. Gerell Robinson has provided some big plays, but he needs much more than two or three catches to make a big impact. This may be a game where Cameron Marshall has to come up big again. He appears to be close to 100% and has gained 221 yards on the ground and five touchdowns in his last two games. Another big performance will be beneficial for Brock and the WRs.
Arizona State Defense vs. Utah Offense
Pressuring the inexperienced Hays is a must for the Sun Devils. Jamaar Jarrett has been a beast in the absence of Onyeali. He accumulated two sacks last week. More blitzes from the linebackers can be a way to increase the pressure. Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr have proven competent enough in coverage that ASU should be able to increase the blitzing. The Utes lack a dominant wide receiver, so that should make life easier on Irabor and Carr. Starting RB John White IV started out the season strong, but only had 35 yards last week. Colin Parker and Vontaze Burfict should be able to neutralize the running game on Saturday. I think Hays will have a tough time in his first career start, and I don’t see Utah lighting up the scoreboard unless ASU consistently gives them a short field.
Alex Garoutte’s kicking has been shaky after a strong start. Utah should have a definitive advantage in that department. However, Jamal Miles has been ridiculous this year. He is the only player in college football that has scored a touchdown four different ways (pass, catch, kick return, punt return). I think it’s a good bet that he gets in the end zone on the ground before the end of the year. He is also halfway to his optimistic prediction of four kick returns in 2011 with seven games remaining. I think Marshall will be the key to the game. If he can find room on the ground, ASU will prevail. If ASU avoids turnovers, this may turn into a blowout
Arizona State 24-21
September 29, 2011
Arizona St 43, USC 22
By: David Siorek
The Sun Devils got back on track after a road loss to Illinois by finally slaying the mighty Trojans in Tempe. Arizona State had previously lost 11 games in a row to USC, with the last win coming last century. Cameron Marshall, who wasn’t expected to play a big role due to an injured ankle, ran for 141 yards on only 25 carries against USC’s usually stout run defense. He scored on a 70 yard run on the fourth play of the game to give ASU a 7-0 lead and added two more scores on the ground. After being sacked six times and throwing two interceptions against Illinois, Brock Osweiler had a mistake free game. He was only sacked once for a loss of three yards and didn’t turn the ball over. The result was a completion percentage over 78% and two touchdowns. ASU stormed out to a 21-9 halftime lead thanks to touchdown catches from Gerell Robinson and Jamal Miles. The Trojans came out of the half on fire, scoring two quick touchdowns and taking a 22-21 lead. For a while, this game was eerily similar to the 2005 meeting between these teams in Tempe. ASU had a 21-3 halftime lead over the number one ranked Trojans, but Reggie Bush led USC to victory. The script had a different ending in 2011. ASU scored the last 22 points in what became a pretty lopsided game at the end. This game proves just what the Sun Devils can do if they limit their mistakes and force the opponent to cough the ball up. This win gives ASU the inside track to the Pac 12 South crown and a trip to the conference championship game. USC is ineligible for the game, and they have already beaten ASU’s top competitor Utah. The Sun Devils travel to Utah in two weeks for a game that will go a long way towards deciding who wins the division. Let’s look at some key players and stats from the game.
I mentioned Marshall’s huge game above. Despite starting the season out slowly, Marshall ripped through USC’s defense like he usually does. In his three games against the Trojans, he is now averaging just under 80 yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry. The addition of a running game was huge, especially because ASU didn’t think they would have the services of Marshall on Saturday. Dennis Erickson said after the game that Cameron’s ankle probably won’t be 100% until after the bye week on October 22nd. The Sun Devils thought they would have to rely on Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks in the running game, but Marshall’s breakthrough game allowed those two (especially Miles) to thrive in the passing game.
The improved play of the offensive line gave Osweiler plenty of time to throw, and he took advantage of that. ASU really didn’t spread the field vertically with the pass (longest gain was a 21 yard pass to AJ Pickens), but they abused the Trojans on intermediate routes. The size of Gerell Robinson and Mike Willie were too much for USC’s corners, most evident on Robinson’s two yard TD catch. Aaron Pflugrad was steady as always despite mediocre numbers. Brock spread the ball to eight different receivers with Miles getting most of the work with nine catches.
Third down and red zone efficiency were huge in this game as well. ASU struggled converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns last year, but they reached the end zone on three of four chances on Saturday. They were also six for twelve on third downs. Most importantly, the Sun Devils didn’t kill drives by turning the ball over. They won the turnover battle 4-0 and outscored USC on points off turnovers 22-0.
Vontaze Burfict was getting most of the media attention before the game. USC QB Matt Barkley called him a dirty player and OT Matt Kalil promised to deck Burfict if he had the chance. Despite being called for two penalties (an offside that took a missed field goal off the board and a personal foul in the second quarter), Vontaze made one of the more exciting plays of the game. With ASU leading 14-6 and USC driving the ball to ASU’s 12 yard line, he dropped back in coverage after showing blitz and picked off Barkley’s pass. Burfict returned the ball 36 yards to ASU’s 48 yard line before being tackled by Barkley. In a surprisingly show of sportsmanship, VB then helped Barkley up. The interception was the first in his Sun Devil career.
The most exciting play for the defense essentially ended all hopes the Trojans had of making a comeback. With USC down two touchdowns and about seven minutes off the clock, Burfict’s high school teammate Shelly Lyons picked off Barkley and took it to the house for a 41 yard touchdown. That proved to be the final margin of victory for ASU.
Other standout players on the defense were Deveron Carr, Bo Moos, and Greg Smith. Carr made a nice deflection on a ball in the end zone that looked to be a sure touchdown for USC WR Robert Woods. Moos had two tackles for loss including a sack of Barkley that forced a fumble. Smith forced Marc Tyler (who didn’t earn his hefty paycheck) into a red zone fumble.
Penalties weren’t a bright spot for ASU, but they weren’t as devastating as usual. ASU was penalized only six times (but for 78 yards). However, that number looks great compared to USC’s infraction totals (10-87).
For the second time this year, a big home win vaulted ASU into the national rankings. Last time, they played poorly in a road loss to Illinois. They get a bit of a break this week as they play a home game against the inept Oregon State Beavers. However, Oregon State has beaten ASU three consecutive times. Erickson has to make sure his team doesn’t look ahead to the tough two game road stretch against Utah and Oregon.
Apparently Omar Bolden might be ready to get back into the lineup after the bye week. He has been working out and has made an incredible comeback from his torn ACL suffered in the spring.
ASU didn’t suffer any big injuries this week, and that is a relief after what they have been through already this season.
September 17, 2011
Arizona State (2-0, #18) at Illinois (2-0)
7:00PM EST, TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Illinois by 1
By: David Siorek
Arizona State, now ranked in both polls, faces their first road test of the 2011 season when they travel to Champaign to face the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Sun Devils come into this game with a ton of confidence after Brock Osweiler found Jamal Miles for an 11 yard touchdown in overtime to down the Missouri Tigers. This is the season consecutive year where ASU travels to Big Ten country. They hope for a better fate than last year’s devastating 20-19 loss to Wisconsin. The Devils come into the game as the more battle tested team, starting 2-0 with wins over UC Davis and formerly ranked Mizzou. Illinois has faced two cupcakes, winning in an uninspiring performance over Arkansas State and demolishing FCS South Dakota State. Illinois features a similar offense to Missouri led by duel-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. The Illini pass defense struggled against Arkansas State, which could bode well for Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad, and the rest of the ASU passing game. This game appears destined to be a shootout unless the Sun Devil defense improves their tackling.
Brock Osweiler is simply on fire. After an efficient opener against UC Davis, Brock shredded the Mizzou defense with short passes to the running backs, intermediate throws for first downs, and the occasional deep ball. He has established a great chemistry with Aaron Pflugrad, who has 4 touchdowns in two games. It will be interesting to see how Illinois plays the receivers. Missouri often decided to double team Mike Willie or Gerell Robinson and left Pflugrad with single coverage. That strategy completely backfired. If Illinois tries to take Pflugrad out of the game, look for Willie, Robinson, Jamal Miles, or one of the other receivers to have a big game. The pass defense of the Illini appears to be below average despite completely shutting down hapless South Dakota State. The ASU offensive line has been impenetrable in the pass block, and Osweiler has shown much improved accuracy when given the time. If that trend continues, look for Brock to have another huge game.
A better performance from Cameron Marshall would go a long way towards helping Osweiler even more. The junior tailback only has 84 yards through 2 games, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. As I mentioned last week, the play calling in the run game has been very vanilla, basically featuring shotgun draws up the middle. Illinois isn’t as strong a tackling team as Missouri, so perhaps Marshall can break a few tackles and get to the second level. Instead of handing off to the backs, ASU has used short swing passes as a de facto running game. Those plays have found success (Marshall, Miles, and Kyle Middlebrooks have combined for 16 catches and 183 yards), but the lack of success on traditional running plays played a factor in ASU coughing up a 14 point 4th quarter lead last week. Illinois has been dominant against the run this year, but I wouldn’t read too much into that due to the atrocious opponents they have faced. Marshall should have his best game of the young season if he is featured more outside of the box.
Arizona State Defense vs. Illinois Offense
The Sun Devil defense came into the season with a lot of hype and they haven’t lived up to that so far in 2011. The amount of missed tackles in the Missouri game was inexcusable. Tiger QB James Franklin was able to break the pocket multiple times for big gains. If the poor tackling continues, Nathan Scheelhaase will replicate Franklin’s performance. The Illinois QB had 868 yards rushing as a freshman and has already accumulated 117 yards in 2011. The loss of tailback Mikel Leshoure to the NFL Draft may hurt the Illini in the long run, but the combination of Jason Ford, Troy Pollard, and true freshman Donovonn Young have filled in quite nicely. The running back by committee along with Scheelhaase has led Illinois to 566 yards rushing in their first two games. Vontaze Burfict will have to play much better in run defense to slow down the Illini. He has gone for big shoulder tackles instead of wrapping up, and that has led to broken tackles and yards after contact. Colin Parker was the defensive MVP of the Missouri game mostly because he was one of the only Devils that could be counted on to make a tackle. I would have to believe that the tackling will improve after last week’s subpar performance, and that Illinois’ running game will come down to Earth.
Despite actually being ahead of Osweiler in the national passer ratings, Scheelhaase is still relatively unproven as a passer. He’s averaged well over 10 yards per pass this year against two dreadful defenses, but has only thrown 31 passes. I would expect that number to come back near the 7 yards per pass he averaged last year. Illinois has senior WR AJ Jenkins and not much else at receiver. He has caught 16 of the Illini’s 33 completions this year for 219 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Darius Millines also appears to be a dangerous deep threat, averaging almost 20 yards per catch on 8 receptions. No one else on the Illini has caught more than 2 passes (as opposed to ASU, which has 8). The Sun Devils don’t have a great secondary, but corners Osahon Irabor, Deveron Carr, and Alden Darby are solid. Jenkins will get his catches, Millines might break a big play, but they need someone else to step up or else ASU will be able to crowd the box.
Miscellaneous Notes and Prediction
These teams haven’t met since the late 80s, with ASU going 2-0 in those games.
The ability to create turnovers by the ASU defense has been just as bad as their tackling. Their only takeaway of the year was a recovered fumble on a punt return. They’ve done a decent job protecting the football, only turning it over 3 times (including only 1 interception after throwing 17 as a team last year). Illinois has done a better job in the turnover department; they have 5 takeaways and only 1 turnover. Winning games on the road is largely predicated on a couple of factors: turnover margin and penalties. ASU does not want to get into the habit of losing the turnover battle.
Speaking of penalties, ASU had a disgusting amount of them last week. In my opinion, the Missouri game was called much too close on both sides, but some of those penalties were inexcusable. Burfict has stayed clean, with only one defensive holding penalty, but Mike Willie had a big unsportsmanlike foul last week that stalled a drive. Penalties and lost opportunities cost ASU their Big Ten road game against Wisconsin last year, and if they’re not careful it may happen again.
The artificial turf playing surface at Memorial Stadium should favor the speedy Sun Devils. Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks will be the fastest players on the field, and that could pay huge dividends.
Both teams should be pretty close to full strength. Aderious Simmons might still be out, but defensive end Davon Coleman should be ready.
Both coaches came into the season on the hot seat. A 3-0 start for the winner will alleviate some of that pressure going into conference play.
Prediction: ASU 41-34
September 14, 2011
Arizona State 37, Missouri 30
By: David Siorek
The Sun Devils are 1-0 with their new black jerseys and helmets. A sellout crowd cheered as they overcame penalties and survived a late comeback by Missouri to win their first game against a ranked team since October 27, 2007 against California. The win also catapults ASU to a top 25 ranking in both polls for the first time since September 2008. Jamal Miles caught an 11 yard pass from Brock Osweiler on the first possession of overtime, and the Sun Devils’ struggling defense held Mizzou when they got the ball for a 37-30 victory.
Both teams moved the ball with ease, combining for 993 yards of total offense, but this game was marred with penalties by both schools. ASU was penalized 12 times for 110 yards, while the Tigers were flagged 11 times for 114 yards. The infractions made the game very difficult to watch, but ESPN viewers were awarded with a great finish for the second consecutive Friday.
Let’s take an ASU-focused look at the offense and defense, and what ASU needs to improve upon going into their first road game against Illinois
The passing offense is running on all cylinders. Brock Osweiler completed 75% of his passes for 353 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jamal Miles also connected on another trick play for a 35 yard touchdown. Osweiler is now ranked 10th in the FBS in passer rating, completing over 74% of his passes, averaging over 300 yards per game, and throwing for 5 touchdowns. The offensive line did another terrific job protecting the pocket. Brock was only sacked once for a three yard loss, and he seemed to have all day to find open receivers. Osweiler is also showing his prowess on the ground. He rushed for 34 yards, including a Jake Plummer-esque 12 yard touchdown scramble to give the Devils a 30-16 lead.
Aaron Pflugrad is playing out of his mind, and he has emerged as Osweiler’s favorite target. The senior wide receiver had two more huge touchdown catches on his way to a career high 180 yards. Seven of his eight receptions went for first downs, including a huge 3rd down catch that set up Miles’ game winning TD catch. The swing pass out of the backfield has also found more success so far in 2011 than it did last year. The running backs (Miles, Cameron Marshall, and Kyle Middlebrooks) averaged over 8 yards per catch on their 10 receptions. That play last year routinely led to incompletions, fumbles, or very short games. For a team that is struggling to run the football, that play is opening up the rest of the field for the receivers to work. Gerell Robinson also got open for a 51 yard catch. The dropped passes that plagued the Devils’ wide outs last year have also mostly disappeared.
I mentioned the struggles of the running game above. Marshall only averaged 2.8 yards per carry on 22 attempts. The play calling in the run game seems very unimaginative. Almost every play was a run out of the shotgun up the middle, and Missouri quickly realized that. This is not a good sign against a Tiger defense that was missing some of their top players. It’s strange that an offensive line that used to be able to block for Marshall is getting dominated at the line of scrimmage. ASU is lucky that Osweiler’s proficiency saved this game because the ground game looks helpless.
The same problems that plagued ASU’s offense returned on Friday night. Penalties helped stall many drives, and Alex Garoutte’s blocked extra point would’ve given Dennis Erickson gray hairs if his head wasn’t already full of them. This is a game that ASU would’ve blown last year, but the signs don’t look promising if ASU doesn’t improve on the discipline.
The tackling was absolutely dreadful against Missouri. The same running attack that was basically shut down against Miami(Ohio) shredded the Devils defense for big gains. Henry Josey had 9 carries for 94 yards, including a huge 39 yard gain when Mizzou was backed up against their own goal line. Before the game, I thought that James Franklin had no chance against this speedy defense, but he managed 84 yards on 27 carries. If you take away the two sacks for 19 yards, those numbers improve to 25-103. He was able to break the pocket and outrun the linebackers on his way to big first downs. In his weekly press conference, Erickson admitted that the defense might’ve been thinking too much, resulting in the poor tackling. Whatever the reason was, ASU needs to shore up that part of the defense because they will face another speedy QB next week in Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase.
The secondary also played relatively poorly. Franklin rebounded from a poor performance against the Redhawks to throw for over 300 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Some defensive pass interference and holding calls also plagued the Sun Devils. They kept T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew in check for the most part (9 catches for 75 yards), but the rest of the Tigers’ receivers and backs found ample room to work. This is another part of the defense that needs to improve because Scheelhaase actually is ahead of Osweiler in passer rating. Although he has only thrown 31 passes against two dreadful opponents (Arkansas St, South Dakota St), he looks improved through the air.
The Sun Devil defense has still not caused a turnover (the only takeaway was a fumble recovery on a punt return against UC Davis). This is another area in need of tremendous improvement. Although Osweiler has been moving the ball with ease, a short field would go a long way towards keeping the offense going.
Senior linebacker Colin Parker was one of the few bright spots for the defense. He had 11 tackles, and was one of the only players that repeatedly made solid tackles. Vontaze Burfict’s final stat line (5 tackles and another sack) looks serviceable, but he overran a lot of plays and failed to wrap up on many occasions. He did keep his cool, but had one bad penalty; a bad defensive holding penalty that negated an incompletion.
ASU successfully avoided major injuries. Defensive end Davon Coleman (who was a pleasant surprise) sprained his ankle. However, he should be ready to go next week. Offensive tackle Aderious Simmons didn’t play and still might not be able to go next week. Brice Schwab didn’t play again, and he will most likely be redshirted barring injuries on the line.
A Jamal Miles fumbled punt started Missouri’s comeback. ASU was leading 30-16 early in the fourth quarter and was about to get the ball back with a chance to put the game away. However, the botched punt return led to a Mizzou score that got them within one possession.
Missouri actually had a chance to win late in regulation, but Grant Ressel’s 48 yard field goal sailed wide left. The air out of the stadium had been let out, and the fans were certain that their team was about to blow another winnable game. The miss gave the Devils a new life, and they didn’t look back from there. Ressel came into the game with only 3 missed field goals for his career, but he missed two big ones on Friday.
With a win next week against Illinois, I would expect another sellout crowd in their next home game against USC. The fans will be hoping for the first win over the Trojans since 1999.
September 8 , 2011
Arizona State (1-0, #23) vs. Missouri (1-0, #19) Preview
10:30PM EST, TV: ESPN
Spread: ASU by 8
By: David Siorek
Black Out time is finally here. Arizona State debuts their new all black uniforms in front of what should be a larger than normal crowd on Friday night at Sun Devil Stadium. The temperatures will be in the 100s, and it should be quite muggy due to a chance of thunderstorms. The Missouri Tigers come to town for the biggest non-conference home game since Georgia travelled to Tempe in 2008. Both teams won their season opener at home last week. Missouri struggled on offense in a 17-6 win against last year’s MAC Champion Miami Redhawks, while the Devils demolished the overmatched UC Davis Aggies 48-14. This is a measuring stick game for both programs. Missouri is breaking in new quarterback James Franklin, who replaces 1st round pick Blaine Gabbert. Although Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State all currently reside in the top 15, Missouri still aspires to finish in the top half of the Big 12 and earn a decent bowl bid. Arizona State has much higher aspirations because they return most of their important pieces from offense and defense last season. With USC ineligible for the Pac 12 Championship game, Oregon sputtering at the beginning of the season, and Stanford left off the schedule, the Sun Devils have dreams of a Pac 12 Title and a Rose Bowl bid (and perhaps more). A strong showing is imperative for ASU for two reasons; impressing poll voters, and gaining confidence as the season goes along. Early season losses have derailed the Sun Devils in recent years, and they need to build momentum before the conference slate begins. Neither team is at full strength as plenty of starters are missing on both sides of the ball for both teams. Missouri will be without starters OT Elvis Fisher, RB Kendial Lawrence, and DE Jacquies Smith, among others. Arizona State will go into the game (and the rest of the season) without CB Omar Bolden, LB Brandon Magee, and WR TJ Simpson. The injuries have caused the game to lose a little bit of its luster, but it should still be a good one (though not as exciting as last Friday’s TCU-Baylor game on ESPN).
Arizona State Offense vs. Missouri Defense
Brock Osweiler looked strong in his first home start last Thursday. He completed 73% of his passes en route to 262 yards and two touchdowns in about 3 quarters of action. He spread the ball around to many receivers and found Aaron Pflugrad on his two touchdowns. He will be facing one of the better defenses in the country. Missouri continued its success from last year (16.1 ppg) allowing only 6 to Miami. The Tigers did lose 3 of their 4 starting defensive backs from 2010, so Osweiler will have a chance to take advantage of that inexperience. The Redhawks were able to throw for about 200 yards, but QB Zac Dysert needed 39 throws to get there. ASU does try to establish the short passing game by throwing to Jamal Miles and Cameron Marshall out of the backfield, however Missouri is a strong tackling team so those short throws may not find success. Brock will need to have protection up front and be accurate in those 15-20 yards throws down the field. The Devils’ offensive line is helped out by the fact that Aldon Smith left to become a first round draft pick and the aforementioned Smith will be missing in action.
I think Missouri has the edge against ASU’s running game. Losing Deantre Lewis hurts, and although Cameron Marshall scored 2 touchdowns last week, he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry against UC Davis. Mizzou only gave up about 150 yards per game last season, and limited Miami’s rushing attack to 76 yards on 36 carries. ASU definitely didn’t show their entire offensive arsenal last week, so perhaps Marshall will find some larger holes this week. I mentioned the strong tackling ability earlier, and I think the Tigers will keep ASU’s rushing totals well under the 217 yards they gained last week.
Arizona State Defense vs. Missouri Offense
This matchup is overwhelmingly in favor of the Sun Devils, in my opinion. Despite returning all of their top receivers, Missouri has to replace one of the best quarterbacks in their history. James Franklin has a lot of pressure to continue the success of the last 3 Tiger quarterbacks (Gabbert, Chase Daniel, Brad Smith). He certainly wasn’t up to the task in Week 1, and the stats show that fact. He threw for only 129 yards on 26 throws and had a terrible interception that set up Miami’s only touchdown. He does have weapons to go to though. Although TJ Moe is a small target, he had 92 catches for over 1,000 yards in 2010. Tight end Michael Egnew is probably the best tight end in college football, and he accumulated 90 catches and 762 yards. However, those two combined for just 8 catches and 68 yards in the opener. They will be facing an undermanned secondary that played very well in their first game. Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor (who reportedly suffered a minor wrist injury on Wednesday’s practice) are pretty much the only cornerbacks that ASU has left. The safety position is strong with Eddie Elder, Clint Floyd, and Keelan Johnson, but the secondary has suffered even more losses since the season began. True freshman Ezekiel Bishop is out with a torn ACL and backup corner Harrison Evens has left the team. In all honesty, ASU is very lucky that they are playing a team that appears to struggle passing the football.
Missouri’s running backs didn’t do much last week. Kendial Lawrence left camp as the starter, but gained only 10 yards on 9 carries. He then proceeded to break his leg and will miss about a month. Lawrence joined De’Vion Moore and Henry Josey to form a respectable backfield a season ago, but none of them are considered a top back. They combined for about 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns, while averaging well over 5 yards per carry, but none of them had over 100 carries. The will need to do much better than the 21 carry, 76 yards performance from last week to give Franklin a chance to move the ball through the air. Perhaps the biggest weapon on the ground for the Tigers is their quarterback. He looked like a poor man’s Brad Smith last week on his way to 72 yards and a score. Vontaze Burfict and the rest of the Devils’ defense are hopeful that those designed quarterback runs continue. UC Davis was not able to do anything against the first team defense, and Burfict was able to take down the QB 3 times. I fear for Franklin’s health if he scrambles too much. If the blitzing defense is able to find similar success for a second consecutive week, it will be a struggle for the Tigers to move the ball.
Miscellaneous Notes and Prediction
The heat will definitely be a factor, and one would think that would give ASU the advantage. However, that might not be the case with all of the cramps that the Devils suffered last week.
The most frustrating aspects of the 2010 version of the Sun Devils were the kicking game and undisciplined penalties. They have A+ in both of those categories so far this year. Only 4 penalties (and no personal fouls) last week and 8-8 on field goals and extra points.
Both teams were just OK in the turnover department last week. The Tigers had a 2-1 advantage (lost 6-0 on points off turnovers), while ASU had a 2-1 deficit (won 7-0 on points off turnovers). Turnovers are always a big factor between relatively evenly matched teams (see: South Florida at Notre Dame last Saturday).
The Arizona State players and fans have circled this game on the calendar since the Black Out was announced in the spring. The city is buzzing and black “Fear the Fork” shirts are flying off the shelves. Fan support will be unbelievable unless too many people have too much fun (drinks) in the hot sun before the game (hint: wear a white shirt during the tailgate and toss on the black one before the game).
Prediction: Arizona State 27-10
September 8, 2011
Arizona State vs. UC Davis Recap
By: David Siorek
The Sun Devils have to be happy with their first game of the year. Most importantly, they avoided major injuries. Offensive tackle Aderious Simmons left with an ankle sprain and is doubtful for Friday’s game against Missouri. The depth on the offensive line actually isn’t a problem this year, so Dan Knapp should be able to fill in for him if needed. True freshman safety Ezekiel Bishop suffered a much different fate in his first collegiate action. He suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season. That’s another tough blow for the already depleted secondary. Other than Bishop and Simmons, the only other health issue was Brock Osweiler’s cramping. His accuracy and arm strength weren’t affected, but he needs to hydrate better because the Arizona heat won’t be gentle on Friday night. I’ll highlight some of the better moments and try to identify some improvement areas (which will be tough to do because the first team was pretty perfect).
-Cameron Marshall didn’t run the ball very effectively (7 carries for 23 yards), but ran for 2 scores, and caught 4 passes for 86 yards. Despite missing Deantre Lewis, the backups running backs performed admirably. The combination of Kyle Middlebrooks, R.J. Robinson, and Marcus Washington tallied 132 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. ASU will need some production from Marshall’s understudies if Lewis continues to miss time.
-The offensive line was probably the highlight for the offense; they gave Osweiler all day to throw. This allowed Brock, Michael Bercovici, and Taylor Kelly to effectively spread the ball around to 12 different receivers. Marshall tied Gerell Robinson for the lead in catches and also led in yards. Aaron Pflugrad recovered from an early drop to pull in 2 touchdowns. George Bell also looked a lot more comfortable than he did in his drop filled 2010 season. I don’t think ASU will end up having any receivers with over 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns. Osweiler will just spread the ball around to the open man.
-Jamal Miles is now ¼ of the way towards his goal of 4 return touchdowns. He took the opening kick of the second half to the house. This is now the second consecutive home game where Miles has returned a kick for a score. Jamal added 54 yards on 3 punts as well. AJ Pickens returned a kick 54 yards, and Rashad Ross averaged 13 yards on 3 punts. Despite the loss of Omar Bolden and Lequan Lewis, the return game looks just as strong for Devils in 2011.
-On defense, Arizona State blitzed much more than it did in 2011. Vontaze Burfict started his promising season strong with 3 sacks. More importantly, he didn’t let the emotion get the better of him. If he keeps this up, he’ll be hearing his name a lot during awards season. Junior Onyeali had 2 tackles for loss and a sack, and Oliver Aaron also got to the quarterback.
-Despite the lack of depth in the defensive backfield, the Sun Devils were excellent in coverage. Losing Bishop will hurt in the long run, but the Aggies were held to 155 yards passing. Missouri QB James Franklin had problems throwing the ball against Miami (Ohio), and I could see that trend continuing on Friday night.
-My favorite stat from Thursday’s game was the penalties, or lack thereof. ASU only had 4 penalties for 40 yards, all on the offense. One of the most frustrating things from last year was those devastating defensive penalties by the defense that kept drives going. After the first game, this team looks much more disciplined.
-The kicking game was also wildly successful. Alex Garoutte connected on field goals from 49 and 25 yards and made all 6 extra points. Josh Hubner only punted once for 54 yards, which was fumbled by UC Davis and recovered by Alden Darby. This will give Garoutte some added confidence going into the next game.
-The second team defense was a little porous against the running game in the fourth quarter. They allowed the only points on two rushing touchdowns. I’m not overly concerned about these facts because the backups won’t be counted on to make too many plays. However, you never want to give up big runs against a less talented team like UC Davis.
-Finally, some redshirt news. Bercovici saw some action, basically ending his chance of being redshirted. However, Dennis Erickson decided to give Taylor Kelly some playing time. Kelly was actually allowed to throw more than Berco. Both players looked good, but if Bercovici will be counted on as the backup quarterback, I would’ve liked to see him in the game for the whole fourth quarter. Also, former highly touted JUCO transfer Brice Schwab didn’t play at all in this game, leaving the possibility open for him to be redshirted this year. I think this would be a great move if the depth allowed. Starting guard Mike Marcisz is a senior, so Schwab would be able to step in for him next year.
September 1, 2011
Arizona State vs. UC Davis Preview
10:30PM EST, TV: Fox Sports Arizona/Fox College Sports Pacific
Spread: ASU by 35.5
By: David Siorek
Arizona State’s much anticipated 2011 season kicks off on Thursday night against the FCS UC Davis Aggies at Sun Devil Stadium. Davis finished last season with a 6-5 record, including 1-1 against the FBS. They were demolished by Cal 52-3 and beat a San Jose State team that cost ASU a bowl appearance 14-13. The Sun Devils will certainly want to play a crisp game to prepare for Missouri on September 9th, but this game will never be in doubt even if ASU doesn’t play its best. Unlike previous FCS teams that have knocked off quality FBS schools (Appalachian State over Michigan, James Madison over Virginia Tech), the Aggies aren’t a top notch lower division school. This game will be a great chance for the starters to get their first game experience of the year, hopefully avoid injuries, and turn it over to the backups in the second half. We’ll take a look at some players to watch on both sides of the ball for the Devils, the top players for the Aggies, and some keys for ASU to focus on.
Arizona State on Offense
QB Brock Osweiler – This is Brock’s first start at Sun Devil Stadium. He led ASU to victories in the final 2 games of the 2010 campaign, and he goes into this season as the starting QB for the first time. The Aggies have a respectable pass defense for an FCS team, but they did give up over 250 yards passing and 3 touchdowns to Cal last year in a little over a half of football. Osweiler should see a similar amount of playing time in this one. He needs to do a few things in this de facto preseason game to prepare for Mizzou. The most important thing will be for him to display the accuracy that was absent in the 2010 finale against Arizona. In ASU’s quick strike passing offense, the ball needs to be on target for the receivers to be able to pick up yards after the catch. Also, this will be a good chance for Brock to get the timing down in the no huddle offense. Watch for ASU to get their plays off quickly. Finally, I think it’s imperative for the offense to identify their go to receivers. It would benefit their future success to figure out who will be the go-to-guy on third downs, deep balls, and short passes out of the backfield.
QB – Mike Bercovici – It’s a bold move by Dennis Erickson to list Berco as the backup and forego a chance to redshirt him. If Osweiler stays healthy, the true freshman won’t see much of the field anyway. However, Erickson is all in for this year and thinks that Bercovici is the best option. He should see his first game action as a collegian in the second half against UC Davis. The playing time will at least prepare him in case Brock goes down. He will display a huge arm, and I think the coaches will let him show it off even if the game is out of hand.
RB – Cameron Marshall – The starting tailback has a goal of a 1,500 yard season, and he should get a head start in this one. In a game versus a similar caliber team last year against Portland State, Marshall scored 3 touchdowns and gained 104 yards on only 4 carries. With an experienced offensive line, I think ASU will try to pound the ball on the ground on Thursday. With Deantre Lewis out for at least this game, and backup James Morrison still battling minor injuries from camp, you can bet on Marshall getting at least double digit carries. Just like Osweiler, I don’t see Marshall seeing much second half action. Kyle Middlebrooks has shifted back to running back on the depth chart due to the injuries, and he’ll probably break a big play as well.
Arizona State on Defense
LB – Vontaze Burfict – All eyes will be on the Junior All-America candidate. He’s had problems with personal fouls in the past and has been the focus of some exaggerated, if not borderline slanderous, news reports by some sports blogs. The Aggie offense will be completely overmatched against the Devils’ star middle linebacker. Burfict doesn’t blitz much, so he may not get to the quarterback, but expect some bonecrushing hits before he exits the game.
DE – Junior Onyeali – I’m predicting that Onyeali will lead the Pac 12 in sacks this year, and he will get off to a big start in the opener. The UC Davis line can’t contain his speed, and I expect at least two sacks in this one. Defensive tackle Will Sutton and the rest of the line will completely shut down the running game, showing glimpses of what should be a stellar defense.
Defensive Backfield – If there is a weakness on defense, it’s the depleted secondary. Omar Bolden is most likely gone for the season, and backup Devan Spann has been shut down for the year after his third shoulder injury in less than a month. Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr will begin the year as the starters, and they should be solid. However, behind them are sophomore Alden Darby and true freshman Rashad Wadood. Darby has moved from safety to corner out of necessity, so this game will be a good opportunity for him to get more comfortable at the position. It will also be a chance for Wadood to get some solid experience. Both players will be needed at some point in the year.
UC Davis Key Players
QB – Randy Wright – The Aggies’ QB was a Big West Conference All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2010, and the freshman player of the year. He threw for over 2,400 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions last season. With UC Davis probably facing a large deficit and a green secondary, Wright might have an opportunity to make some big completions.
FS – Kevyn Lewis – The junior safety is the best player on a pretty decent secondary. He has started the team’s last 19 games, and accumulated 69 tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 interception in his first two seasons. Lewis and the rest of the Aggie secondary will certainly be pressured by ASU’s quick passing game. How they respond will determine just how lopsided the game ends up.
Prediction - Arizona State 59-10
August 31, 2011
Arizona State Best/Worst/Realistic Scenarios
By: David Siorek
9/1 – UC Davis
9/9 – Missouri
9/17 - @Illinois
9/24 – USC
10/1 – Oregon St
10/8 - @Utah
10/15 - @Oregon
10/29 – Colorado
11/5 - @UCLA
11/12 - @Washington St
11/19 – Arizona
11/25 – California
Best Case Scenario
After last season, Arizona State’s best case scenario would have been at least a berth in the Rose Bowl. However, the losses, mainly on defense, have been devastating. Two starters have left the program (Lawrence Guy to the NFL Draft and James Brooks to North Alabama), three other starters are most likely out for the year (Omar Bolden, Brandon Magee, TJ Simpson), and two other main contributors seasons’ are in doubt (Deantre Lewis, Devan Spann). All of the missing pieces drain the confidence a little bit. However, it doesn’t mean that the season is lost. ASU starts out with a cakewalk again UC Davis. I think Sun Devil Stadium will be full and rocking for the first game with all black uniforms against Missouri. The Tigers lost Blaine Gabbert and will be without their best offensive lineman Elvis Fisher. ASU’s defense will dominate and Brock Osweiler’s offense will outlast the Mizzou defense. The first road game is a tough one at Illinois, but ASU is much more talented that the Fighting Illini. ASU should have beaten USC in 2010, but a blocked extra point and missed field goal proved to be the difference. USC has no chance to reach the inaugural Pac 12 Championship Game, so that lack of motivation will be enough for the Sun Devils to come out on top. The next two games against Oregon State and Utah will be tough, but again, ASU’s talent on defense will prevail. The road game against Oregon is the toughest on the slate. Arizona State played well enough to win against the Ducks last year, but seven turnovers were their undoing. I doubt they’ll turn it over that much this year, but playing in Autzen Stadium will be too tough. The schedule eases up after that game, and ASU sweeps the rest of the regular season to finish at 11-1. They meet Oregon again in the Pac 12 Championship Game, again in Eugene. The result is the same. Oregon prevails and reaches the National Championship Game again. Stanford also ends up at 11-1, so they are chosen for a BCS Bowl ahead of ASU. A berth in the Alamo Bowl is a nice reward for the Devils
Worst Case Scenario
The worst outcome for ASU still ends in their first bowl game since the 2007 Holiday Bowl. They will beat UC Davis, Oregon State, Colorado, UCLA, Washington State, and California. Just like teams of the recent past (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010), an early/midseason swoon proves too much to overcome. A loss to Missouri drains the optimism from the team and the fans. Losses to Illinois, USC, Utah, and Oregon follow in the next month. To make matters worse, ASU gives the Territorial Cup back to Arizona in the second to last game of the year. A lower tier bowl isn’t enough to salvage Dennis Erickson’s job. In the end, ASU is again one of the most penalized teams in the nation and suffer from the same types of mistakes that plagued them last year.
ASU will start out quick, winning their first five games. However, Utah is a tough place to play. The Devils will fall to the Utes, then drop another game against Oregon the next week. They will rebound to take the last five games and end up 10-2. USC will finish as the top team in the Pac 12 South, but they aren’t allowed to participate in the conference championship game. I don’t think the Utes will be able to survive the Pac 12 without three losses. That means that ASU still makes the Pac 12 Championship Game against Oregon. Another loss against the Ducks follows. The Sun Devils will end 2011 with a strong season, but don’t reach the heights that they envisioned before the year started.
August 30, 2011
All-American Burfict Leads Depleted Sun Devil Defense
By: David Siorek
Arizona State’s defense was supposed to be the backbone of a team expected to compete for the Pac 12 South crown. The Sun Devils return All-American candidate Vontaze Burfict; the aggressive linebacker has piled up the big hits and personal fouls during his first two years. Reports say that he has matured in the offseason, and ASU hopes he takes the next step in what will probably be his last season in Tempe. The defense still may live up to that promise, but it will be much more difficult due to some crippling injuries to some important pieces. Even though DT Lawrence Guy made the decision to leave school early for the NFL Draft (7th round pick of the Packers), the defense looked loaded coming into spring practice. However, star cornerback and returner Omar Bolden (who forfeited the chance to participate in the draft) tore his ACL in the spring. The injuries kept on coming. Bolden’s replacements Deveron Carr and Devan Spann have suffered from nagging injuries during fall camp, but should be ready for the season. Senior LB Brandon Magee, however, will not. The Sun Devils’ most consistent linebacker from 2010 ruptured his Achilles during a scrimmage and will not play this year. He will redshirt and play in 2012, but he will be missed. Also, senior DE James Brooks decided to leave the program and transferred to North Alabama. Brooks had behavioral problems during his tenure as a Sun Devil, but he singlehandedly beat Arizona with two blocked extra points. If Burfict matures, ASU might have enough depth on defense to continue their strong performance. Whether or not he does that remains to be seen. Let’s take a look at the key players on defense.
Starters - DE – Junior Onyeali, Jamaar Jarrett, DT – William Sutton, Bo Moos
Onyeali is the star of this line. His exemplary freshman season won him the Pac 10 Defensive Freshman of the Year honor. Despite starting the season as a reserve, the undersized Onyeali led the team with 6.5 sacks. Built out of the Dwight Freeney mold, Onyeali uses his speed to get to the quarterback at will. With a full season as a starter, I think he will take the next step and lead the conference in sacks. Replacing Brooks on the other end is senior Jamaar Jarrett. He played better than Brooks most of last season, accumulating more tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss. The starting ends should increase their production, but the depth may be lacking. In the offseason, it appeared that the weak spot on the defense would be at tackle. ASU lost starters Guy and Saia Falahola. However, Sutton (returning from academic ineligibility) and Moos are capable of replacing them. Although Moos isn’t a physical specimen like many of his other defensive teammates, he always seems to make plays and definitely will not be a weak link. Sutton hails from the same high school as Burfict, Magee, and LB Shelly Lyons. He is back on the field after missing a season and has had a terrific camp. The sophomore looks like he may become a star on this line.
Reserves – DE – Greg Smith, DT – Toi Tuitea, Corey Adams
Brooks’ departure leaves the defensive line thin. Smith and Dean Deleone are the only defensive ends with much experience. They haven’t produced much, but they are serviceable enough to fill in for Onyeali and Jarrett. The highly touted Adams returns after suffering from injuries during most of his Sun Devil career. He has pushed the starters during camp, and should see extensive time. I can easily see Adams replacing Moos as a starting and creating a formidable duo with Sutton.
Starters – Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons, Oliver Aaron/Colin Parker
The loss of Brandon Magee to a ruptured Achilles means one of ASU’s defensive leaders will miss the season. Like I said in the intro, he will reportedly redshirt this year and return for his senior season in 2012, but the other linebackers will definitely have to pick up the slack. They are capable of doing just that. Burfict, as I mentioned above, has huge potential, but must find a way to keep up his aggressive play without racking up penalties. Lyons returned this year after missing the second half of last year due to an injury. Despite losing Magee, the Sun Devils did have some depth behind him and shouldn’t miss a beat. Aaron and Parker are both experienced seniors who will fill in admirably at one of the outside linebacker positions. Even with the injury, this should be one of the top LB corps in the Pac 12 and the nation.
Reserves – Carl Bradford, Israel Marshall, Anthony Jones, Kipeli Koniseti
ASU should be able to withstand one devastating injury, but another one would substantially impair their depth. None of these reserves listed here have any major college experience. Bradford is a redshirt freshman, Jones redshirted in 2009 and sat out last year, Marshall is one of the only true freshmen on the roster who will see action, and Koniseti is a JUCO transfer. These guys have the tools to be serviceable linebackers, but if they have to be relied upon for extended playing time, the defensive production may suffer.
CB – Deveron Carr, Osahon Irabor, S – Clint Floyd, Eddie Elder
The Sun Devils’ defensive backfield has also suffered some notable injuries, but they don’t quite have the depth of the linebackers. Bolden will be gone for most, if not all, of his senior season. Deveron Carr has shown flashes, but has had injuries problems of his own. He has missed time in both of his active seasons for ASU. Irabor recovered nicely from a wrist injury in 2009 to start 7 games as a redshirt freshman. He had a great camp, and may turn out to be ASU’s best corner this year. Arizona State doesn’t have any stars at safety, but they do have depth. Floyd, Elder, and Keelan Johnson all have starting experience. If the cornerbacks are able to stay healthy, this unit has a chance to be near the top of the Pac 12, even without the services of Bolden.
Reserves – Alden Darby, Rashad Wadood, Shane McCullen, Ezekiel Bishop, Devan Spann, Omar Bolden
Darby has traditionally been a safety, but has moved to cornerback in camp due to need. Spann was playing great during practices, but he hasn’t been playing at 100%. Wadood and Bishop are two more true freshmen who may see action in 2011. This is another unit that can’t afford to sustain any more serious injuries. I list Bolden on here because he is still cautiously optimistic about returning in the later part of the season. I think that is highly doubtful, but he has successfully returned from injuries in the past and I’ll never count him out.
Starter – Josh Hubner
Trevor Hankins had one of the bigger legs in the Pac 10 last year, and he has graduated. Hubner was one of the top kicker/punter prospects out of the JUCO ranks, and he will be counted upon to fill Hankins’ shoes. Judging by his JUCO numbers (41.2 yards per punt as a freshman and 40.2 as a sophomore), he probably won’t approach Hankins’ 44.6 average from last season, but perhaps Hubner can improve on the net punting average. Hankins’ net was only 33.9 and he had 3 punts blocked.
August 19, 2011
Osweiler Gets His Chance in Year Two of Mazzone’s Offense
By: David Siorek
Arizona State’s offense took a huge leap forward in 2010 under the tutelage of Noel Mazzone. After two seasons of subpar performances in which they averaged 22 points per game, the Sun Devils increased their per game scoring to 32. Steven Threet put up some big yardage numbers in his 10.5 games of action, but turnovers were his bugaboo. He tossed 16 interceptions, including 4 against national runner-up Oregon. Threet (who retired due to multiple concussions) and wide receiver Kerry Taylor are the only departing starters from last year’s squad. ASU returns its entire offensive line this season and hopes the skill position players take huge strides. Injuries have taken their toll on some important players, but the offensive side of the ball should continue their improvement in 2011. Here’s my break down each position’s expected starters and important backups.
Starter – Brock Osweiler – After flirting with joining the Sun Devil basketball team last fall, Osweiler got his opportunity as a starting QB because of a Threet injury against UCLA. Brock entered the game facing a 17-0 deficit and all he did was orchestrate a 55-34 pounding of the Bruins with 415 total yards, 5 total touchdowns, and no interceptions. His second career game as a starter came on the road against rival Arizona. He had a subpar game throwing the football, but ended the game with over 300 yards of total offense and no turnovers (although about five possible interceptions were dropped by the Wildcat defense). Despite the inaccuracy, he showed his ability as a leader in that game. His mobility in the pocket and giant 6’7” frame will be a huge asset for the offense. The zone read running plays that the Sun Devils often ran last season should be more effective now that the quarterback is a threat to run. Keeping Osweiler healthy is imperative because his backups have never taken a snap at the collegiate level.
Backups – Taylor Kelly, Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank – The experienced Threet and former backup Samson Szakacsy both left the team (although Threet has stayed on as an assistant). That leaves this troika of inexperienced signal callers to back up the still unproven Osweiler. Kelly ran the scout team last season and entered the spring as the expected number two QB. However, Bercovici (who was more highly touted than Kelly coming out of high school) was in camp for spring practice, displaying his Pac-12 quality arm strength. Dennis Erickson has not made a decision for a primary backup, but hopes to do so soon. Bercovici definitely has more long term potential, but it would make sense to redshirt him unless Osweiler suffers from injuries. Eubank comes to Tempe even more highly touted than Bercovici, but he doesn’t have the added advantage of being in for the spring. Eubank is by far the most mobile QB ASU has had on campus since Jake Plummer, but he will most likely redshirt this season. The Sun Devils will have a nice conundrum at QB in the coming years, provided that neither of these true freshmen decides to transfer.
Starter – Cameron Marshall – Marshall returns for his third season, and the plan is for him to get more touches this season than ever before. He has flashed the ability to break the long run (with long touchdown runs of 75 yards as a freshman and 71 yards as a sophomore) and has averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry each year. He is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, pulling in 21 balls for 227 yards in 2010. A stronger, more experienced offensive line will only help Cameron and his backfield mates develop even faster.
Backups – Deantre Lewis, James Morrison, Marcus Washington – Lewis was explosive as a freshman, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and 16.1 yards per catch. He’s much more dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield than Marshall and is a threat to reach the endzone whenever the ball is in his hands. However, he suffered an accidental gunshot wound in February and just returned to practice on August 18. There was talk of him redshirting this season, but he is determined to play and contribute in 2011. Morrison almost transferred in the offseason, but returned with hopes to earn more carries than the 18 he had last season. He is more of a bruising short yardage back than Marshall and Lewis, but has shed weight and gained quickness. Morrison will play a big role as a backup in case Lewis is less than 100%. Washington grayshirted in 2009 and redshirted in 2010. If Lewis is healthy, Washington won’t get much of an opportunity, but he has taken advantage in the fall and has shown flashes of potential.
Starters – Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, Aaron Pflugrad, George Bell – The top two guys in this group have prototypical WR size and speed, but have been largely inconsistent. Local product Robinson joined ASU as the 11th ranked high school WR, but his career high in yards came last year with 387. He appears to have made strides to join the rank of elite Pac-12 WRs, but needs to prove it on the field. Willie is the perfect complement to Robinson. He had some big games last year and 6 touchdown grabs, but faltered down the stretch in his first year of major college football. He has vacuums for hands and will hopefully put together a full season in 2011. Pflugrad and Bell both had problems with dropped passes in 2010 and hope to put those problems behind them. They have had strong camps and should provide competent options over the middle.
Backups – James Miles, Junior, Kyle Middlebrooks, Sophomore, TJ Simpson, Senior – Simpson was projected to be a starter and was the WR corps’ best deep threat. However, he suffered a torn ACL in spring practice and is doubtful to return this season. Miles and Middlebrooks have split time in the backfield and at wide receiver during their time at ASU. They are best served catching shorter passes and using their electrifying speed to make big plays. Both players will also be instrumental in the success of the return game (Miles has set a goal of 4 return touchdowns this year). ASU’s other backups (JJ Holliday, AJ Pickens, Jarrid Bryant, among others) have good speed, but don’t have the size of Robinson and Willie.
Trevor Kohl, Max Smith, Chris Coyle, Josh Fulton – The Sun Devils rarely use the tight end outside of goal line situations. They are not huge factors in the receiving game. Coyle has moved to wide receiver and has the best chance out the group to make a difference. Fulton, a freshman, has long term potential.
Starters – C – Garth Gerhart, G – Andrew Sampson, G – Mike Marcisz, T – Dan Knapp, T – Evan Finkenberg – For the first time in years, ASU’s offensive line should not be a glaring weakness. Gerhart (Toby’s brother) is an all-conference quality center. Judging by the much improved rushing totals in 2010, the rest of the group are not slouches either. Hopefully with a more mobile starting QB and a more experienced backfield, the offensive line will be a huge strength for this offense.
Backups – C – Kody Koebensky, G – Brice Schwab, G – Adam Tello, T – Aderious Simmons, T – Jamil Douglas – The backups include some promising former junior college transfers who tallied 10 starts last year. Schwab turned down USC to attend ASU, and was touted as a dominant tackle. However, he seems overmatched. He shed a lot of weight and seems more comfortable as a guard. Simmons’ long journey has stopped in Tempe and he has prototypical size for a tackle. Although he is still learning the game, I expect him to earn a starting spot at some point during the season. It is a refreshing sight to see the depth that ASU has across the front line this season.
Starter - Alex Garoutte – Thomas Weber had his ups and downs during his 4 seasons at ASU. He won the Groza award as a freshman, was largely inconsistent during his last three seasons, and made all 5 field goals in his last game against Arizona. Garoutte has fallen victim to the same inconsistency during spring and fall practice, but has made strides. A team with high expectations like ASU needs a kicker they can count on. Hopefully Alex can provide that. My hope is to at least shore up the extra point execution. Blocked XPs arguably cost ASU 2 games last season (at Wisconsin and USC).
November 10, 2010
By: David Siorek
Saturday was another frustrating result which has become the trademark of the Arizona State football team over the last two year. Over the past two seasons, seven of ASU’s losses have been by a combined total of 18 points. Those losses include two games this year where a missed extra point by the Sun Devils has basically determined the game. Thomas Weber had a potentially game tying extra point blocked at Wisconsin earlier this year, and this week he had a chance to give ASU a 34-29 lead in the fourth quarter, but his point after try was blocked and returned for a two point conversion. He then missed a 42 yard field goal with 1:34 left in the game, and I don’t think a single ASU fan thought that kick had any chance of going in. Punter Thomas Hankins missed the game on suspicion of DUI and didn’t make the trip to LA, and his absence also helped to determine the outcome. Weber took over punting duties and performed poorly, averaging only 36 yards per punt. USC also blocked a punt that resulted in a their next drive starting at ASU’s 9. Hankins’ holding job was taken over by Brock Osweiler, and that could’ve caused some issues with Weber’s kicking.
Other Interesting Notes
-Steven Threet had an average game that included three touchdowns, but two more second half interceptions. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown, and the other happened on ASU’s last drive and effectively ended the game. He definitely took a step back against USC, but remains the Sun Devils’ best option at quarterback. USC came in with a pretty bad pass defense, but Threet failed to take advantage.
-ASU was perfect in the red zone in their two appearances, scoring touchdowns both times. They only settled for one field goal (the miss by Weber), and also scored on two big plays by the defense and special teams. The lightning quick LeQuan Lewis returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and Omar Bolden scored his second touchdown of the season on a 66 yard interception return.
-Junior Onyeali was a non factor against USC’s offensive line, but ASU did manage four sacks. Defensive linemen Jamaar Jarrett, James Brooks, and Lawrence Guy accounted for three of those. Vontaze Burfict had seven more tackles, but also had another stupid personal foul. Is he ever going to learn? It’s been almost two full years and he hasn’t made any disciplinary strides. It’s hard to take him off the field because of his productivity, but it’s tough to keep sending him out there if he keeps committing penalties. All that being said, ASU did another good job as a whole limiting infractions. They only had four for 35 yards.
-TJ Simpson had another great game with eight catches for 95 yards. He looks like he has taken over as ASU’s go-to guy in the passing game. Gerell Robinson also continued his resurgence and caught two touchdowns.
Next week’s game against Stanford is officially a must-win. ASU needs to win out to reach the needed seven victories for a bowl appearance. It would be a huge upset to take down the sixth ranked Cardinal, and Andrew Luck seems to be too dominant for the ASU secondary. I wouldn’t expect too much fan participation despite playing a top 10 team. These fans are fickle and probably won’t show up to support a team headed for their third consecutive losing season. The real question is, will this be a Stanford blow out or another close devastating loss for the Sun Devils?
November 4, 2010
By: David Siorek
Arizona State 4-4 (2-3 Pac-10) at USC 5-3 (2-3 Pac-10)
Opening Line: USC by 6
Arizona State heads back to the state of California two weeks after being embarrassed by Cal, and USC tries to regroup after falling to Oregon in their de facto bowl game. This is a matchup of two teams that probably won’t make the postseason, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. ASU does quite a bit of their recruiting in the Southern California region, so a good showing here would help recruiting in future years. Here’s a few things worth watching in this game.
- Has Steven Threet turned a corner, or did he just benefit from playing Washington State? Threet does lead the conference in passing yards with 268 per game, but also leads in interceptions with 13. USC’s defense does have plenty of athletes, but they have been pretty suspect so far this year, especially against the pass as they have given up over 275 yards per game through the air.
- Can ASU keep up the success in the red zone? ASU was 6 for 7 converting opportunities into touchdowns last week. USC has a terrific offense, so the Sun Devils will need to convert all of their scoring chances to keep this game close. The Trojans rank 21st in rushing and passing yards per game and 15th in scoring offense. It’s obvious that the USC offense will be able to get its points, but can ASU avoid settling for 3?
- I’m excited to see Junior Onyeali play against a more talented offensive line. The true freshman certainly had a coming out party against WSU with three sacks and two forced fumbles, but USC’s offensive line is much more talented. Matt Barkley isn’t the most mobile quarterback, but he is surely able to find receivers if his offensive line gives him time. It will be up to Onyeali to limit that time.
-If ASU is down 10 or more points at halftime, you might as well turn off the game and call it a night. The Sun Devils have shown no ability to come back from a deficit, especially on the road. Threet presses too much when behind and forces too many passes.
-Luckily for ASU, it has been unseasonably hot in Southern California. It should feel just like home. Will they have enough to finally take down the mighty Trojans? Probably not, but the game should be more watchable than the last trip to California.
November 3, 2010
Washington State Recap
By: David Siorek
Arizona State 42-0
ASU kept their dwindling bowl hopes within reach with a 42-0 thrashing of Pac-10 doormat Washington State. Coming in, this looked like a trap game for the Sun Devils. Washington State had been getting more and more competitive each week, and ASU was returning home for the first time in over a month one week after getting demolished at California.
However, ASU was up for the challenge as they stormed out to a 28-0 halftime lead before taking their foot off the gas in the second half. Let’s take a look at some keys to the game and other news and notes relating to last Saturday’s game.
- One week after suffering a concussion, Steven Threet put together his best game as a Sun Devil. He threw for 300 yards, completed over 80% of his 32 pass attempts, tossed three touchdowns, and most importantly avoided interceptions. I probably shouldn’t read too much into this success because it happened against Washington State, but confidence is extremely important, and I think Threet’s confidence should be at its highest level of the season. This is definitely important as ASU goes into the difficult home stretch. It looks like the simplification of the play calling helped this week at least.
- I found it interesting that all of the touchdowns came from either running backs or RB/Wide Receivers. Cameron Marshall ran for one and caught one, Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks each ran one in, and Jamal Miles caught two. That’s terrific balance, and it shows how much depth ASU has accumulated out of the backfield.
- The Sun Devils came into the year saying that the wide receiver corps was so deep that a different player could lead the team in receiving yards in each game. Here’s the tally so far this season after eight games. Mike Willie - 2, Gerell Robinson - 2, TJ Simpson - 2, Kerry Taylor - 1, Deantre Lewis - 1. The depth is there, but it seems at times that ASU lacks that go to receiver that can be counted on to make the big catches in crunch time. Willie is the best candidate for that, but he’s only had 4 catches for 22 yards in the last two games.
- Despite only starting the last three games, true freshman Junior Onyeali is fourth in the Pac-10 in sacks. ASU hasn’t had a consistent pass rusher since Dexter Davis’ junior season, so it’s nice to see Onyeali getting to the QB. Despite measuring in at only 5’11” and 233 pounds, he has been able to have so much success due to his blazing speed. He should be a mainstay on the line for years to come.
- The pass rush and the early lead helped ASU shut down Washington State rushing attack. They only had 8 net yards rushing on 33 attempts. Most of the lost yardage was due to sacks, but it was still an impressive performance.
- The Sun Devils found themselves in the redzone seven times and scored SIX touchdowns. Most weeks it seems like they find themselves inside the twenty seven times and end up with a total of twenty points. This is the type of execution the program has been desperate for all season. Add that to only five penalties for 35 yards, and this was as close to a perfect game that ASU fans have seen in years.
- Thomas Weber didn’t miss a field goal! (He didn’t attempt one, but still a moral victory.)
- Over the last two seasons, the Sun Devils are 4-0 against the Washington schools and 0-10 against all other Pac-10 opponents. In fact, since Dennis Erickson took over as head coach, ASU is 8-0 against UW/WSU and 7-17 against the rest of the league. It’s too bad they won’t be in ASU’s division in the new Pac-12.
- Those maroon on maroon jerseys last week were ghastly. Let’s hope we never have to see those abominations ever again.
- On Saturday, ASU tries to defeat the USC Trojans for the first time in ages. USC is coming off a three touchdown loss to Oregon at home last week. Let’s hope ASU can catch them reeling and keep the bowl dream alive.
October 27, 2010
By: David Siorek
Arizona State has historically struggled traveling to the state of California, and this game was no exception. The offense couldn’t get moving, Steven Threet suffered a first half concussion, and the defense couldn’t stop the Golden Bears through the air or on the ground. ASU’s only two touchdowns came on defense and special teams and occurred well after the game was decided. The Sun Devils were able to move the ball through the air on the first drive, which led to another Thomas Weber red zone field goal, but that was basically it for the offense.
Threet struggled in the first half, only completing half of his passes and was intercepted twice. Also, his first pass of the game, a 44 yard completion to TJ Simpson, should’ve been picked as well. Cameron Marshall and Deantre Lewis were not able to do anything on the ground, carrying the ball 18 times for only 52 yards. This was only the second game of the season (Northern Arizona) where ASU couldn’t find any room at all on the ground. The longest run was a 16 yarder by Marshall. Other than Simpson’s 44 yard catch, the longest play from scrimmage was a 17 yard reception by Aaron Pflugrad. Threet left after the first half with a concussion and was replaced by an ineffective Samson Szakacsy. Brock Osweiler was unavailable due to a back injury, and Samson’s lack of arm strength was evident. He’s had numerous elbow problems, and couldn’t throw the ball down the field at all. Many of his throws fell short of their intended targets. Threet looks to be healthy enough to play next week, but if he isn’t, this offense will be unable to put points on the board.
Kevin Riley and Cal picked apart the defense as well. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, and Shane Vereen ran for 91 yards and two scores as well. Vontaze Burfict played reasonably well for the most part, but he had two more personal foul penalties. Although they weren’t as inexcusable as some of the unsportsmanlike fouls, the two facemask fouls are still troublesome. The absence of Deveron Carr has been noticeable for the ASU secondary. Osahon Irabor has a bright future ahead of him, but since Carr was long due to injury, the pass defense hasn’t been the same. Cal also did a great job on third downs. They only converted five of 14, but stopped ASU only 12 of their 15 attempts.
In my opinion, the early play calling was also a little suspect. The Sun Devils came out of the gate throwing, but seemed to run the ball unsuccessfully on first and second downs on subsequent drives. This put ASU behind the eight ball, and they were forced into throwing situations on third and long. I understand the need to establish the running game, but ASU seemed to get away from their offensive identity. By the time they had a chance to turn the game around, Cal had scored 40 unanswered points, and led 40-3.
After this game, ASU is left to pick up the pieces. Their bowl hopes are essentially finished because they need to win four of five against Washington State, USC, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona. Two of those games seem winnable, but the other three will be extremely difficult. Even Washington State has been playing better as of late, only falling to Stanford on the road by 10 points last week. The Sun Devils better be on upset alert because this is probably the Cougars best chance at a Pac-10 win this season.
October 19, 2010
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (3-3, 1-2 Pac-10) at California (3-3, 1-2 Pac-10)
Opening Line: California by 3
ASU heads into this crucial matchup at Berkeley as underdogs for the fifth consecutive week. This is also the final leg of their three game, four week road trip. The Sun Devils were aided by a bye week, while Cal got demolished at USC last week 48-14. The Golden Bears come into the game 3-0 at home, and ASU has lost two of their three road games. This is another game that will help determine the Pac-10 bowl picture. If the Sun Devils lose this one, they’ll have to win at least two of three against USC, Stanford, and Arizona to reach the necessary seven wins. Cal has a much easier road because they only have to reach six wins and get Washington State on the road.
ASU seems to have righted the ship against Washington. Steven Threet only threw one interception and put up impressive numbers in the rain in Seattle. Even more importantly, the Sun Devils were only penalized four times for 31 yards. The bye weeks will allow players such at Aaron Pflugrad and Deantre Lewis to get back to full strength. Unfortunately, starting CB Deveron Carr looks like he is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Osahon Irabor is definitely capable of filling in, but he is only a RS freshman. The secondary is one of the places that ASU can’t afford to lose players.
Cal has been a Jekyll and Hyde type team this year. The dominated UC Davis, Colorado, and UCLA, and nearly upset Arizona on the road. However, the were manhandled at Nevada and USC. Different parts of the defense have faltered in each of those two losses. Nevada ran all over Cal, and Matt Barkley tossed five TD passes last week for USC. Luckily for ASU, they have established a terrific run/pass balance so they should be able to keep the defense off guard. On offense, Shane Vereen is an excellent running back, but Kevin Riley is very inconsistent. Again, the Sun Devils gain an edge because they have been excellent against the run, but suspect against the pass. In Cal’s three wins, Riley has thrown for 8 TD’s and no interceptions, but in the losses, he has 3 TD’s and 6 picks. It’s apparent that Riley’s play will probably determine the game.
The keys to the game are pretty much obvious. If ASU plays like they did against Washington, they will win. If they play like they did against Oregon and Wisconsin, they will probably fall.
Keys for the Offense
Turnovers - Cal has the obvious edge in this category coming in. They rank in the top 30 nationally with a +4 margin, and ASU is only ahead of horrible teams such as New Mexico, Middle Tennessee, and Duke in turnover margin. Threet seems to have turned a corner two weeks ago and was very careful with his throws. The return of Pflugrad will help because his replacement on short passes, George Bell, has been very unreliable. In my opinion, Mike Willie has become the most underrated receiver in the Pac-10. He is a big target, gets open with regularity, and hardly drops any passes. Those two receivers, along with Kerry Taylor and a resurgent Gerell Robinson, will give Threet plenty of open receivers to choose from. The better chemistry should help diminish the turnovers…. If the offensive line is able to block.
Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall - Cal does come into the game ranked 33rd in the country in rushing defense, but they face a surprisingly effective ASU running game. Despite the apparent stout run D, Marshall should be able to soften the middle of the defense, while Lewis will bust some plays outside. The Sun Devil backs should be able to punish Cal for focusing on the passing game.
Keys for the Defense
Personal Fouls - Vontaze Burfict should have a more extended role in this game as he seems to be temporarily out of Dennis Erickson’s doghouse. Although he won’t start, he has seen time with the first team defense this week. Junior Onyeali will also see extended time again this week, and he has had problems with playing after the whistle as well. Like I mentioned early, if the Sun Devils limit the penalities like they did against Washington, they will win. I think Burfict has turned a corner, and I expect more disciplined play this week.
Pass Rush/Pass Defense - These two keys work together. If ASU is able to put pressure on Riley, they will make life easier for the defensive backfield. If not, Riley should be able to make some big plays. Onyeali will be a big part of this. If the front four cannot create any pressure, the linebackers will have to blitz. Omar Bolden is the only stalwart for the back line. Irabor is starting his second career game, and the safeties are talented, but no one has really stepped up yet. The pass defense will determine whether ASU can keep Cal under 20 points.
Prediction - I think the defense will step up and limit Cal, while the offense will be refreshed and balanced.
October 12, 2010
By: David Siorek
Arizona State 24-14
Four penalties for 31 yards. No personal fouls. Four for six in the redzone. No red zone turnovers. Three red zone touchdowns. Only one turnover on a rainy evening. The recap could end right there and that would be enough information to describe why ASU was able to break their three game losing streak and earn their first win against an FBS team since last year against Washington and their first road win since last year against Washington State.
Despite the weather, this was a very clean game by both sides. Both teams turned the ball over only once, and combined for nine penalties for 86 yards. ASU came in averaging more than that by themselves. Both teams gained over 350 yards and were respectable on third downs, but this really wasn’t that exciting of a game. Big plays were at a minimum, probably due to the weather. There were only two plays for over thirty yards, and the longest touchdown was a beautiful 20 yard TD pass from Steven Threet to Mike Willie right before halftime. Washington failed on fourth down with less than two minutes left in the half, and the Sun Devils turned that into a crucial touchdown. Washington had plenty of opportunities in the second half, but that touchdown turned out to be the nail in the coffin.
ASU kept their bowl hopes alive with this win. A loss would’ve effectively knocked them out of the bowl picture. However, now they’re right back in the mix. They have a bye week before traveling to Berkeley, while Cal has to play at USC next week. Two more wins in a row would put the Sun Devils in good position. They would have to beat UCLA at home, then take one at USC, vs. Stanford, or at Arizona.
Washington has created a difficult situation for themselves. They have winnable games against UCLA at home and at Washington State. However, even if they win both of those games, they would have to win two of the following: vs. Oregon State, at Arizona, vs. Stanford, at Oregon, and at Cal. All of those teams seem to be playing much better than the Huskies at this point in the season.
They weren’t too many keys to the game this week, but let’s see how ASU fared.
Red Zone Battles
ASU played their best game this season in the red zone against real opponents. They went 4-6, including three touchdowns. The only two failed opportunities were due to missed field goals. ASU drove to Washington’s 17 in the third quarter, but a fumble on second down put the ball back to the 30. Thomas Weber then missed a 47 yard field goal. In the fourth quarter, up 24-14, a Gerald Munns holding call on a field goal moved the ball back from Washington’s 13 to the 23. Weber proceeded to miss another field goal. Washington came into the game flawless in the red zone, but ASU caused the first failure of the season. They scored two touchdowns in their first two treks inside the twenty, but Omar Bolden intercepted Jake Locker’s pass in the end zone on the last drive to ice the game. Washington reached ASU’s 17 on that drive.
The Sun Devils get the edge here because they had more opportunities and more success.
ASU finally had some semblance of a pass rush on Saturday. Jamaar Jarrett took down Locker twice and Corey Adams had the Sun Devils’ third sack. Junior Onyeali also did a good job of pressuring the QB in his first career start. I find it strange that ASU couldn’t pressure Scott Tolzien or Ryan Katz, who are much less mobile, but had no problem giving Locker a hard time.
The defensive line played its best game against the pass against an FBS team all season.
Due to holding Washington to two scores, ASU only had three kick returns. Kyle Middlebrooks and LeQuan Lewis only averaged 19 yards per kick return, but the fact that Washington only kicked off three times means the kick return game wasn’t really necessary in this one.
The KR’s didn’t score or have any big returns, but they didn’t make any mistakes.
Similar to the kick returners, Burfict didn’t make too much of an impact. He sat the entire first quarter and only ended up with three total tackles. However, what he didn’t do was much more important. He played totally in control and didn’t even come close to causing any problems. He probably took a step towards getting back into Dennis Erickson’s good graces. He wasn’t very aggressive between the whistles though, and he needs to find the right balance to become one of the best.
He needs to be on the field, and the fact that he wasn’t penalized is a huge step in the right direction.
ASU finally gets a breather before another tough stretch. They get another bye before the UCLA and Arizona games, and they need to win at least three out of their next four to make a bowl. The game at Cal is definitely winnable, but the Golden Bears have played well except for their game at Nevada. They have a very strong defense and I would be surprised if either team reached twenty points.
October 9, 2010
By: David Siorek
Arizona State 2-3 (0-2 Pac-10) at Washington 2-2 (1-0 Pac-10)
Opening Line: Washington by 2.5
Two recent trends continued last Saturday. Arizona State couldn’t make enough plays late in the game and lost their third game in a row at Oregon State, and Steve Sarkisian’s Washington Huskies beat USC on a last second field goal again. Going into the USC game, UW looked like they were destined to miss a bowl yet again, but the win puts them on the right track. This is a must win for ASU’s bowl hopes because they have to win five of the last seven games to gain eligibility.
Arizona State does have history on its side in this matchup. They haven’t lost to Washington since 2001, winning six in a row. The Sun Devils’ last win against a FBS school also came against the Huskies last season. Danny Sullivan found Chris McGaha for a fifty yard touchdown with five seconds left for a 24-17 victory.
The Sun Devil defense has been able to bottle up star QB Jake Locker in his two games against ASU. He has completed only 32 of 66 passes for 421 yards, while throwing two touchdowns and three interceptions. His rushing numbers have also been unspectacular, gaining 72 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. Locker rebounded from an atrocious game against Nebraska to put up 310 yards passing in the victory last week. ASU’s run defense has been stout so far, but they have allowed big plays in the passing game. That is where Locker will have to succeed.
It should be rainy at Husky Stadium on Saturday night, and that is a huge advantage for UW. Turnovers have been a problem for Steven Threet in the last two weeks, and a wet ball will not help matters. ASU might need to lean on Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall for the bulk of their offense if the field conditions are a problem. We’ll look at some things that ASU will have to do well in order to keep their season alive.
Red Zone Battles
ASU has been quite awful in the red zone on offense this season, while Washington has been a perfect 12 for 12. The Sun Devils have had too many turnovers, failed fourth down attempts, and short field goal attempts so far in 2010. Dennis Erickson said this week that he is considering slowing down the fast paced offense inside the 20 yard line to cut down on mistakes. One of the many problems for the Sun Devils this year has been leaving too many points on the field, while Washington has been super efficient. It may be too much to ask, but ASU needs to miraculously turn the tide and start putting up touchdowns.
For a defense that had aspirations of being the best squad in the nation, ASU has sure had a lousy pass rush. They are last in the conference in sacks, and that lack of pressure has put the secondary in impossible situations. If the opposing quarterback is allowed to sit in the pocket and look for open receivers, the defensive backs don’t have much of a chance. Freshman Junior Onyeali will start on Saturday in an attempt to change the luck of the defensive line. If the defensive front is unable to fluster Locker, the linebackers may have to help by blitzing. The Sun Devil offensive line began to show their inexperience last week. Oregon State came into the game with the lowest sack total in the conference, but they were able to take down Threet six times. Poor pass protection may cause Threet to force even more bad throws into coverage.
Washington has the worst kick coverage in the Pac-10, and ASU has one of the best kick return squads. Omar Bolden and Kyle Middlebrooks are capable of taking any kick return to the house. Nothing would quiet the home crowd faster than an early Kick 6.
The Sun Devil middle linebacker seems like the prototypical Jake Locker stopper. He has enough speed to chase Locker around, and is also adequate in pass coverage. However, his undisciplined play has taken him out of the starting lineup. Headbutting Oregon State QB Ryan Katz has sent Burfict to the bench. He will probably play on Saturday, but it’s unknown how much time he will see. Another personal foul would assuredly send him back to the bench for the rest of the game, so he will need to play under control at all times. The Huskies will definitely try to bait him into committing fouls because they know he has a tendency to be a hot head, and he will need to have his play do the talking to stay on the field.
Unless the weather is absolutely awful, these offenses should have an easy time moving the ball. Washington’s pass defense has been terrible, and ASU’s haven’t been much better. Two quality quarterbacks shouldn’t have much trouble finding receivers. Washington has a quality running game with Chris Polk and Locker, but they won’t have much room. I think that will be the difference. Lewis is too explosive for the Huskies to contain, and he will lead ASU to their first conference win.
October 6, 2010
Oregon State Recap
By: David Siorek
Oregon State 31-28
Another game, another tough loss for the Sun Devils. It was the same old story: too many turnovers, poor execution in the red zone, poor execution in the fourth quarter, undisciplined penalties. That formula didn’t work during a down season for the Pac-10 in 2009, and it certainly won’t work in the resurgent Pac-10 in 2010. For those of you counting, that’s six losses by a total of seventeen points dating back to 2009. Unless a light turns on and drastic changes occur, this will be another team with a losing record in 2010. Despite being without James Rodgers, the Beavers passing game was able to move the ball at will. Jacquizz Rodgers was bottled up except for a 74 yard fourth quarter touchdown run, but Ryan Katz had his best game ever against ASU. This was the second game in a row that the Devils slowed down a star running back, but allowed unproven passers to pick them apart. If there is no pass rush, the opposing quarterbacks will continue to have all day to pick from open receivers. Let’s look at the keys to the game and give an advantage to either ASU or OSU.
Punish the Beavers on Third Downs on Offense and Defense
Arizona State converted about 44% of their third down chances and the Beavers only converted 38% of theirs. However, the difference needed to be much higher. OSU came in converting on 26% of the time and allowing 59% on defense. They played well above average.
Despite the fact that ASU converted at a higher percentage, the advantage goes to OSU.
Stay Afloat in the Turnover Battle
Oregon State won the battle 3-0, including a couple more late Steven Threet interceptions. I defended the late picks against Oregon, but Threet has to start being more secure with the ball. The Beavers still haven’t committed a turnover, and are now +8 on the season. On the other hand, ASU is now -7.
Huge Advantage to OSU.
Keep the Rodgers’ From Reaching 200 Yards of Offense
Technically, the Rodgers’ only reached 156 yards, but James didn’t play. The receivers and tight ends filling in for James successfully picked up the slack. Quizz’ 74 yard run in the fourth was essentially the nail in the coffin.
Again, despite what the numbers say, advantage to OSU.
Thomas Hankins vs. James Rodgers
Like I mentioned early, Rodgers was inactive for this one. However, the other punt returners filled in admirably. The returned three kicks for 61 yards. Hankins still averaged nearly 50 yards per punt, but his net average was on 34.
Despite James Rodgers not playing, OSU gets the edge here.
Can Anyone Pressure the Quarterback?
The answer to this question was yes because Oregon State tallied six sacks and pressured Threet all day. The forced him into quick decisions and caused three interceptions. On the other side, ASU didn’t sack Katz at all and that led to a career day. He came into the game completing less than 50% of his passes and wasn’t racking up the yards. However, on Saturday, he completed 19/29 for 260 yards and two big second quarter touchdowns.
Huge advantage for OSU.
Who Scores in the Fourth Quarter?
Both teams scored in the fourth quarter, and ASU actually had an 11-7 edge. However, that number is misleading. ASU’s first three points came on a 25 yard field goal on the first play of the quarter after they couldn’t punch the ball in from the one yard line. Threet got pushed back on second down on a sneak attempt, then mishandled the third down snap. On the ensuing drive, Quizz ran for a clinching touchdown. ASU was able to cash in a blocked punt for a Cameron Marshall touchdown run and two point conversion, but it was too late at that point.
Even though ASU scored more, OSU’s points were more meaningful, so they get the edge again.
Converting Points When Settling for 3
Both kickers were flawless. Justin Kahut converted a short field goal and all four extra points. Thomas Weber made field goals of 45 and 25 and made both of his extra points.
So that was a total of seven keys to the game. Oregon State had the advantage on six of them, and one was a wash. That’s how you lose winnable ball games on the road. It’s time to take advantage of winnable road games against Washington and California, and improve to 5-3 with a home win over Washington State. A 4-4 record would mean game over because ASU still has road games against USC and Arizona and home tilts against UCLA and Stanford. Winning three of those last four games would be too tall of a task.
September 30, 2010
Oregon State Preview
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-10) at Oregon State (1-2)
Opening Line: Oregon State -4.5
Both teams enter this showdown at Reser Stadium in Corvallis very battle tested. Oregon State flanked a home victory over Louisville with a neutral site loss to #5 TCU and a road defeat at #3 Boise State. Arizona State followed two home wins against FCS schools with losses at #9 Wisconsin and at home to #4 Oregon. Both teams held their own against the heavily favored opposition. The Beavers trailed by only seven at the end of the third quarter in both of their games, but couldn’t generate any resemblance of a fourth quarter offense. The problems in both of Arizona State’s losses have been mainly self inflicted. A poor red zone offense and a blocked extra point was the culprit against Wisconsin, and seven turnovers were to blame against the Ducks.
I don’t want to say that this is a must win for both teams this early in the season, but it’s close. Oregon State’s recent past has included many slow starts due to their hellacious non conference schedules. This marks the seventh consecutive season that the Beavers have will have two losses before their fifth game of the season, yet they have finished the regular season with only four losses in each of the last four years. The Pac-10 conference is the strongest it has been in years, and Oregon State can’t afford to lose a home game to a beatable opponent to start out conference play.
Arizona State looks like they are on the cusp of contention, but they weren’t able to put together a complete game in both of their losses. A loss here would basically take them out of running for any Pac-10 title dreams and make them scramble to reach a bowl game because they have to win seven games. This is the start of a month long road trip, and all three games are basically toss ups. ASU desperately needs to come back from this road trip with at least a 4-3 record to keep hope alive, especially with USC, Stanford, and Arizona remaining on the schedule.
Reser Stadium has not been a fun place for the Sun Devils to play in the recent past. Dating back to 2003, ASU has lost three of four, with two of those being blow out losses. However, the Beavers were bitten by the injury bug during the Boise State game. Their best linebacker, Dwight Roberson will probably be unavailable, and while he will probably play, James Rodgers may be slowed due to a concussion he suffered last week. Both teams have major advantages in certain important areas, and I’ll discuss those during my keys to the game.
Punish the Beavers on Third Downs on Offense and Defense
This might be the biggest mismatch that ASU has in their favor. On offense, the Sun Devils have converted a respectable 43% of the time, while Oregon’s State defense has allowed first downs 59% of the time. If those trends continue, ASU could once again led the game in time of possession and keep the defense fresh. Against Oregon, the ASU defense only allowed two conversions in thirteen attempts. Add that to the fact that the Beavers are only converting 26% of their downs, and you get an enormous advantage for ASU.
Stay Afloat in the Turnover Battle
Turnovers were obviously ASU’s bugaboo against Oregon; they were -5 and are -4 for the season. This is Oregon State’s biggest advantage because they are +5 for the year and have yet to commit a turnover. Beavers QB Ryan Katz is not throwing the ball accurately nor is he putting up big yardage numbers, but he is playing turnover free football. His game management skills have allowed James and Jacquizz Rodgers to do most of the heavy lifting, and that is what kept OSU close against Boise State and TCU. Three of Steven Threet’s four picks last week came in the fourth quarter while the Devils were trying to claw their way back into the game, and I think if the game is within a touchdown late, the mistakes from Threet will disappear.
Keep the Rodgers’ From Reaching 200 Yards of Offense
This is obviously easier said than done. In the last two games against ASU (both Beaver wins), Quizz has averaged 135 rushing/receiving yards and James has averaged 104. Mix in James’ returning prowess and these brothers can win the game for the Beavers by themselves (and they might need to). It would be a huge boost for ASU is James is limited because Oregon State does not have any other dangerous threats in the passing game. ASU has six players that have more receiving yards than OSU’s next best (Jordan Bishop with 87 yards). The running game behind Quizz is also nonexistent. The Beavers love running their fly sweeps with Rodgers and the other WR’s, but there is no competent backup to speak of. It’s quite obvious, but if the Sun Devils limit the Rodgers’ productivity, this will not be a close game.
Thomas Hankins vs. James Rodgers
Hopefully ASU’s offense is so efficient that it doesn’t need to punt very often, but this could be the marquee matchup of the afternoon. If Rodgers is near full strength, he anchors a punt return unit that averages 22 yards per return and had a 54 yard Kick 6 on a punt return last week. Thomas Hankins has emerged as one of the best punters in the nation. He averages over 51 yards per punt (best in the nation), and is ranked fifth in the nation with a 43 yard net. This is a classic strength vs. strength matchup, and I’m interested to see if Hankins will have faith in his coverage team to stop Rodgers or if he will try to kick it towards the sideline and away from returner. I think Rodgers may have one return of 20+ yards, but Hankins will effectively equalize him.
Can Anyone Pressure the Quarterback?
Oregon State has two quarterback sacks this season. Obviously Boise State and TCU have much better offensive lines than ASU, but if Threet is able to sit in the pocket and have his choice of four or five targets, ASU will put up yards and first downs in bunches. The Sun Devil defense has been strong as a whole, but they haven’t been able to put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If they are able to on Saturday, the secondary can exploit Katz’ recent inaccuracy and cause the Beavers’ first turnovers of the season.
Who Scores in the Fourth Quarter?
Oregon State hasn’t scored in the fourth quarter in any of their three games so far, and ASU has only scored six in the last two games against their first two real opponents of the season. Since this game will most likely be decided in the final stanza, the winner will be the team who is able to move the ball and punch it into the end zone with the game on the line. Neither team has shown the ability to do that. ASU has been able to move the ball, but has mostly come up empty late in games, and OSU has been mostly punchless in the fourth.
Converting Points When Settling for 3
Two experienced Pac-10 kickers have struggled putting the ball through the uprights this season. Former Lou Groza award winner Thomas Weber has already missed three field goals, which is two more misses than he had in his award winning freshman season, and had an extra point blocked. Beavers kicker Justin Kahut is only one for three on the season. To rehash what I said above, this has the makings of a close game and whichever kicker is able to convert more opportunities can lead his team to victory.
ASU will be able to move the ball at will, but will they be able to score? The Sun Devils have averaged 495 yards per game, thanks to Noel Mazzone’s offense and the influx of talented skill position players, while Oregon State has allowed 458. I’m going to call for about 500 yards for ASU and another 300 yard passing game for Threet. The OSU secondary has been atrocious and the absence of their best linebacker will be evident when the backup is chasing Deantre Lewis all over the field. On the contrary, OSU has not been able to move the ball at all and is averaging under 300 yards per game. ASU held the best rushing offense in the Pac-10 to under 150 yards last week, and if you subtract his 40 yard TD run, Heisman candidate LaMichael James only gained 74 yards on 27 carries. It should be tougher than ever for Jacquizz to find open spaces, especially with a struggling passing game. If ASU is able to eliminate the sillier turnovers and missed oppotunities, I actually don’t see this one being that close. In my opinion, the talent disparity is that high. However, Mike Riley coached teams seem to always find a way, and playing at home can be a huge advantage for them.
Arizona State 34-20
September 28, 2010
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Oregon 42-31
The Sun Devils suffered another tough loss on Saturday against Oregon. ASU was able to slow down Oregon’s offense, but they were not able to overcome seven turnovers (six in the second half). The Devils enter their longest road trip of the season at 2-2, needing to win five of their last eight games to reach a bowl game. This is exactly where many thought ASU would be at this point in the season, but they have played better than expected. A bowl trip is attainable, but two wins on the three game road trip is imperative. Let’s grade my keys to the game.
Keys for the Sun Devil Offense
Punch Oregon in the mouth early - ASU did a great job of stopping Oregon for the first 28 minutes of the first half. LaMichael James raced for a 40 yard touchdown, but the Ducks were mainly shut down other than that. However, John Boyett did return Steven Threet’s first interception for a touchdown right after James’ touchdown. A Kerry Taylor touchdown reception gave ASU a 24-14 lead with three minutes left in the half, but the Sun Devils’ defense faltered towards the end of the half again giving up two touchdowns in the final 2:21. Nobody knows if a halftime lead would’ve allowed ASU to win the game, but those two touchdowns took away all the momentum.
Grade: B+ (Would’ve been an A if not for the late scores)
Match speed with speed - No one would’ve guessed that with James and Kenjon Barner on the field that the best running back in the game would’ve been Sun Devil Freshman Deantre Lewis. He had his second 100 yard rushing game in a row with 127 yards on 11 carries and added 65 yards on five catches. In the last two games, Lewis has 249 yards on only 20 carries. Dennis Erickson said after the game that he might give Lewis the opportunity to start next week at Oregon State. The only negative about his night was a fumble late in the third quarter on a swing pass from Threet. The turnover didn’t lead to any points, but ASU was driving deep into Oregon territory at the time. Cameron Marshall ran effectively, but he had two devastating fumbles. After ASU recovered a fumble on the second half kickoff, Marshall lost the ball on first and goal at the Oregon 2. A touchdown there would’ve given the Devils a 31-28 lead, but Oregon was able to turn the field position around and later scored on a long touchdown pass that made the game 35-24. Marshall’s second fumble was essentially the nail in the coffin. He dropped a lateral pass from Threet which was picked up by Oregon and returned for a 31 yard touchdown. ASU was able to get a touchdown after that, but coming back from 18 points down was too much to ask.
Grade: A- (The turnovers were a problem, but ASU’s RB’s outgained Oregon’s 274-132)
Continue the strong kick return performances - The kick return troika of LeQuan Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks, and Omar Bolden didn’t duplicate the performance of last week’s game at Wisconsin, but they weren’t terrible either. They averaged 23.7 yards on six kick returns. Jamal Miles was only able to muster three yards on three punt returns.
Prediction for the offense - ASU had much more yards than I expected, but turnovers in the red zone kept them from putting more points on the scoreboard and upsetting Oregon.
Keys for the Sun Devil Defense
Limit Oregon to one TD over 50 yards, and three over 30 - The Sun Devil defense did an admirable job of keeping the Ducks from making too many big plays. LaMichael James ran for a 40 yard score and Darron Thomas threw a backbreaking 54 yard TD pass to Josh Huff. That was it for the offense. Their TD drives did not last long by any means, but the lack of huge plays kept ASU within striking distance. However, Oregon’s defense did score on a couple of turnovers from over 30 yards out.
Grade: B+ (for the defense)
Win the turnover battle by at least two - For the second straight week, ASU botched one of my keys to the game. Last week, it was leaving too many points on the board. This week it was most definitely turnovers. The Sun Devils turned it over seven times, compared to two for Oregon. Six of those turnovers were in the second half and two of them were taken back for touchdowns. Those two turnovers were devastating, but Cameron Marshall’s fumble on Oregon’s two with ASU trailing 28-24 was equally as demoralizing. The only excuse for Threet’s three fourth quarter interceptions was the fact that he was forcing balls to try to get ASU back in the game. Obviously that plan backfired. The lateral swing passes to the running backs are equally as perplexing. One of them was dropped and returned for a touchdown, and plenty of other ones were nearly ruled fumbles as well. The running backs need to catch those balls 100% of the time because they can easily be returned for scores. Otherwise, that play cannot be called.
Prediction for the defense - In all reality, the ASU defense only surrendered 28 points against the high powered Ducks. They held them to only 405 yards, forcing 7 three-and-outs and 11 punts. This was an all-around terrific effort by the defense, despite the lack of sacks by the defensive line. The D played much better than I would’ve ever imagined.
Prediction - My predicted score was pretty close for the second straight week. Again, ASU has to rebound quickly because they have to travel to Corvallis to face the reeling Oregon State Beavers.
September 24, 2010
By: David Siorek
#5 Oregon (3-0) at Arizona State (2-1)
Opening Line: Oregon by 10.5
The Sun Devils will look to regroup after their devastating loss at Wisconsin when Badgers safety Jay Valai blocked Thomas Weber’s potential game tying extra point and ASU fell 20-19. The Sun Devils moved the ball very well and kept Wisconsin’s defense off balance, but they couldn’t translate drives into touchdowns. The kick return game nearly won the game for ASU, and the running game, especially Deantre Lewis, was able to pick up huge chunks of yards. Unfortunately, ASU doesn’t get any time at all to lick their wounds because the fifth ranked Oregon Ducks invade Sun Devil Stadium in what is the Pac-10 opener for both teams.
The Ducks have embarrassed their first three opponents, beating New Mexico at home 72-0, winning at Tennessee 48-13, and crushing Portland State 69-0. They come into this matchup with the top ranked scoring offense and defense in the nation, and the second ranked rushing offense. Despite not playing their starters in the second half against Portland State, Oregon broke the school record for rushing yards with 528. The only time they have been challenged was in the first half against Tennessee. The Vols led 13-3 early in the second quarter, but the Ducks scored 45 unanswered points to make it a lopsided victory. The Ducks certainly have a chance to run the table this season and challenge for a National Championship, and they appear to be leaps and bounds ahead of its nearest Pac-10 challengers, Arizona and Stanford.
On the surface, it looks like a 10-12 point spread in this one is far too low. Oregon has looked nearly perfect early on, and despite outplaying Wisconsin, ASU appears too mistake prone to pull the upset. While looking over the matchups, I struggle to find one area where ASU has an advantage over the Ducks. While Arizona State is by far the best defense Oregon has faced so far this year, it will be very difficult to even slow down a team that is averaging over 10 yards and 1 point per minute. They have 1,835 yards and 189 points so far in just three games; those numbers are simply insane.
On the bright side, a lesser Tennessee squad “held” Oregon to only 447 yards and 48 points. I see two other possible advantages for ASU. Steven Threet has been on fire this year, averaging over 280 yards passing per game. Although Oregon’s pass defense numbers have been impressive, they have faced three consecutive anemic passing offenses. For ASU to have a chance, Threet will probably have to throw for nearly 400 yards. Another possible advantage for the Sun Devils is the weather in Tempe and the tempo of their offense. The temperature at Sun Devil Stadium at game time should be nearly 100 degrees, and Oregon isn’t used to that type of heat. If the no-huddle offense is successful and able to tire out the defense, ASU might be able to keep this one closer than anticipated.
Keys for the Sun Devil Offense
Punch Oregon in the mouth early - ASU did play strong early on last week, but they left too many points on the board. They could’ve easily had 28 points at halftime, but ended up trailing 13-10. This will be the biggest crowd of the early season for the Sun Devils due to their success against Wisconsin, but the crowd will be ready to turn on ASU early if they get off to a bad start. Two consecutive losing seasons have turned fans off to this program, so they need to get off to an even stronger start than last week to keep the fans interested (this means they can’t settle for field goals). A more important reason for a fast beginning: Oregon’s offense is far too lethal to come back against. They will get stronger as the game goes on, and their rushing offense will end up wearing down the defense. A lead at halftime is imperative.
Match speed with speed - Let’s be honest, Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall are not in the same atmosphere as LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. However, those two ASU backs, along with Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks have plenty of speed. Already this year, Lewis and Marshall each have 100 yard games. Lewis rushed for 122 on just 9 carries against Wisconsin and Marshall had 104 on 4 rushes against Portland State. Oregon will have many big plays on the ground; ASU doesn’t need to match them, they just have to keep the defense off balance to give Steven Threet more throwing lanes.
Continue the strong kick return performances - Last week, Omar Bolden returned a kick for a 97 yard touchdown, Kyle Middlebrooks returned another kick 95 yards to the one yard line, and Jamal Miles returned a punt 80 yards for a score before that play was called back due to a penalty. I’m not saying they need a repeat performance, but another good showing can turn into sorely needed short fields.
Prediction for the offense - I think ASU does a little better job putting the ball in the end zone this week, only settling for one field goal. I think they’ll eclipse 400 yards and 30 points in an attempt to keep up with Oregon’s offense.
Keys for the Sun Devil Defense
Limit Oregon to one TD over 50 yards, and 3 touchdowns over 30 - Out of Oregon’s 24 touchdowns in the first three games, seven have been scored from more than 50 yards out, and ten have been scored from outside the 30. It’s a nearly impossible task, but ASU has to find a way to limit those. Oregon will score on a few big plays, but ASU can’t allow that to happen on every drive. Oliver Aaron will start at linebacker and he provides a little more speed than Brandon Magee. I also expect Saia Falahola and Jamarr Robinson to see more time on the defensive line instead of the bulkier tandem of Bo Moos and Jamaar Jarrett. Vontaze Burfict could be the key solution to this equation. If he plays as well against Oregon as he did against Wisconsin, he should be able to give ASU a chance.
Win the turnover battle by at least two - Both ASU and Wisconsin played a very clean game last week as neither team committed a turnover. Perhaps the only way to keep Oregon off the scoreboard is to take the ball away from them. Darron Thomas has played a serviceable quarterback for the Ducks, but he is still inexperienced and ASU needs to take advantage of that and pick him off a few times. Burfict has been very close to forcing multiple turnovers this year and he needs to convert some of those chances this week.
Play strong on third down - If the Sun Devils allow Oregon to get in third and manageable situations, the game will be over soon. They need to regularly force Oregon into third and five or more to exploit the passing game. Similar to the turnover battle, the key to beating Oregon is keeping them off the field as much as possible.
Prediction for the defense - ASU has a top tier defense, but Oregon will be too strong. The Sun Devils have had problems creating turnovers so far this year, and that will lead to Oregon kicking a lot of extra points. The Ducks might not reach fifty this week, but they should get close and gain around 500 yards of offense.
Prediction - ASU looks to be a much better team than in 2009 and appears to be able to escape the bottom few teams of the Pac-10, but Oregon is simply playing too well.
September 21, 2010
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Wisconsin 20-19
This was an absolutely devastating game for the Sun Devils. They outplayed Wisconsin in almost every facet of the game, but a blocked extra point, some questionable calls by the Big Ten referees, and ASU’s inability to get the ball in the end zone were the difference in this one. Let’s look at my keys to the game for ASU and rate how they did in each one.
Keys for the Sun Devil Offense
Show up for the start of the game - Both teams moved the ball well in the 1st quarter. Wisconsin had two drives, which led to one field goal in two attempts. ASU only had one drive, which led to a missed 25 yard field goal by Thomas Weber. He really hasn’t been the same since getting his field goal blocked against UNLV in 2008. Weber still has a big leg, but he has been mostly unreliable since his freshman season. ASU ran for over 50 yards on the first drive and really did a good job establishing the running game early on. Omar Bolden had his second career kick return for a touchdown on the ensuing kick off after Philip Welch’s first field goal. All in all, it was a successful first quarter for ASU, who had a 7-3 lead going into the second period. However, they should’ve been up by at least 7.
Feed the ball to Kerry Taylor and Mike Willie - Taylor led the receivers with 6 grabs for 71 yards and Willie added 3 for 29. I expected better numbers from those two, but ASU’s other receivers played much better than they did in the first two games. George Bell saw his first meaningful action, and Aaron Pflugrad was solid as well. Seven players had at least two catches per game. Taylor and Willie combined for almost half of the ASU receiving yards and Steven Threet did a good job of spreading the ball around. The only problem I had with the pass selection was the redzone distribution. George Bell and TJ Simpson got a lot of looks in the end zone, and I think Willie and Taylor would’ve had a better chance of converting those opportunities.
Get the Running Backs involved - Deantre Lewis was the star here. He had 122 yards on only 9 carries, and would’ve had about 65 more if he didn’t trip on his own foot in Wisconsin territory when he had a clear path to the end zone. Cameron Marshall’s yards per carry average wasn’t overly impressive (2.9), but he did score the potential game tying touchdown in the 4th quarter and ran hard all day. He and Jamal Miles also got involved in the passing game, catching a total of four passes for 31 yards. Against this Badger defense, I couldn’t ask for much more than 169 yards on 28 carries.
Don’t leave any points on the board - This turned out to be the key to the game, and the Sun Devils failed miserably. On the first drive, ASU’s drive stalled at the Wisconsin 7 yard line, and Weber missed that short 25 yard field goal. They stalled at the 8 yard line on the next drive and converted a field goal. The culprit on that drive was George Bell, who dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone on second down and was ruled out of bounds on a potential touchdown catch on third down. It looked like he got one foot down with possession of the ball, but the referees didn’t overturn the call. Kyle Middlebrooks returned the last kickoff of the first half to the 1 yard line before being tackled as time expired. Also in the second quarter, Jamal Miles returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back for holding. In the second half, ASU would’ve had a 1st and Goal at the Wisconsin two yard line if the referees would’ve called pass interference after one of Wisconsin’s defensive backs tackled TJ Simpson before the ball arrived. Also, Deantre Lewis tripped on himself on what would’ve been a 98 yard touchdown run. That drive led to an ASU punt. And finally, a missed block by James Morrison caused the game tying extra point to be blocked. By my count, that is about 32-36 points that should’ve been on the board for ASU caused by a combination of mental errors and egregious errors by the Big Ten referees.
Prediction for the offense - I called for three field goal attempts, around 20 points, and between 300-400 yards of offense. Those were all spot on. The only thing I missed on was Willie finding the end zone again.
Keys for the Sun Devil Defense
Shut down the Wisconsin passing offense - With the exception of Lance Kendricks, ASU did a respectable job against Scott Tolzien and Wisconsin’s aerial attack. However, Kendricks absolutely killed ASU. He had 7 catches for a career high 131 yards and a touchdown. He was obviously the beneficiary of ASU’s focus on the run.
Eliminate Personal Fouls - ASU did their best job of the season regarding penalties and played smart football. Vontaze Burfict was the best player on the field, accumulating 10 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and two pass breakups. He also avoided stupid fouls and played amazing football. This is the player that Dennis Erickson hoped for when he recruited him last season. The only personal foul was a killer. ASU had Wisconsin set up for a 3rd and 5 with about three minutes left and all three timeouts left. Then James Brooks was called for a personal foul for shoving an offensive lineman, when in all reality Brooks barely touched him. That ended the game for all intents and purposes. Wisconsin ran the ball four more times, completed a pass for a first down, then ran out the clock to end the game.
Grade: B (would’ve been an A if it weren’t for the questionable call on the last drive)
Take advantage of Wisconsin’s struggles in the red zone - Wisconsin scored touchdowns on two of their three trips inside the red zone, and the only time they didn’t score was when they took a knee to end the game. The fact that ASU only let the Badgers in the red zone on two meaningful possessions was a huge success, but Wisconsin scored touchdowns when they got there, and ASU had to try field goals.
Prediction for the defense - I called for 400 yards and points in the upper 20s. They ended up with 440 yards and 20 points. Again, pretty close.
Prediction - Just like I said, this game was closer than anticipated, and came down to late in the 4th quarter. Wisconsin’s big bodies up front, experience, and home field advantage did turn out to be too much for ASU. My prediction for the score was 27-20 Wisconsin, and that might’ve ended up being the final if the game went into overtime.
Final Thoughts - This was a very well played game at times, and you can tell that this team has enough talent to escape the bottom of the Pac-10 and reach a bowl game. However, it is also evident that this team is still learning how to win games. They lost four games by a total of 13 points last season and already have a one point loss this year. The key will be how they respond after this one. The 2009 Sun Devils were never able to recover from the three point loss at heavily favored Georgia last year, but this team looks to have much more talent. The next stretch of four games will decide the season. They’ll be double digit underdogs again at home against #5 Oregon, and then go on the road against Oregon State, Washington, and California. All three of those games are winnable, and all three of those teams have had struggles early on in the year. ASU has proven that they can play tough on the road, but haven’t proven that they can win yet. They definitely need to win at least two of those road games if they can’t take down Oregon next week. We’ll see how Burfict and the defense performs against Oregon. The Ducks offense looks unstoppable, so it might be a long night in Tempe.
September 17, 2010
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (2-0) at #11 Wisconsin (2-0)
Opening Line: Wisconsin by 15.5
This week has been billed as “Measuring Stick Saturday” by ESPN.com’s Pac-10 Blogger Ted Miller. Four Pac-10 teams play ranked opponents (#23 Houston at UCLA, #8 Nebraska at Washington, #9 Iowa at #24 Arizona), but Arizona State is the only one to face a test on the road. ASU has struggled mightily against ranked opponents since 2003, compiling a 2-19 record (home wins over #16 Iowa in 2004 and #18 Cal in 2007). That mark has not improved under Dennis Erickson either; he is 1-8. This is by no means a “must-win” game for the Sun Devils, but they do need to put up a good showing to build confidence for Pac-10 play. An unlikely upset could springboard a successful season culminated by a bowl appearance, but if ASU doesn’t show up and is blown out, they’re on their way to another 4 win campaign.
For some reason, Steven Threet’s win over Wisconsin in 2008 as Michigan’s starting QB has been getting a lot of press. He didn’t necessarily throw the ball well (12-31, 96 yards, 1TD, 2INT), made one unlikely play with his legs, and his Michigan team ended up being terrible that year. The only newsworthy item from all of that is the fact that Threet has experience playing in front of these fans. I think this big venue experience was one of the factors in Erickson’s QB decision. He knew that Threet had won big games on the road before and Brock Osweiler was hugely ineffective at Oregon last year.
The weather could be an important factor in this one. The forecast calls for a fifty percent chance of rain Saturday in Madison. The Sun Devils haven’t had to deal with a wet ball in camp or in any of their first two games, and a downpour could wreck havoc on their passing offense. If this becomes a battle of the running games, Wisconsin has an obvious huge advantage with John Clay. If weather forces ASU to run more often, the Badgers defense will cause ASU’s running stats to look more like the Northern Arizona game (1.9 YPC) than the Portland State game (6.9 YPC)
Keys for the Sun Devil Offense
Show up for the start of the game – ASU’s opening drive in their first two games has resulted in -31 yards, three penalties, no completions, and no positive yardage plays. This team is not good enough to start playing at the 7:00 minute mark of the first quarter and still expect to compete with the Badgers. They don’t need a touchdown or even a field goal on the first drive, but they need to be somewhat productive to gain a field position edge.
Feed the ball to Mike Willie and Kerry Taylor - These are ASU’s best and most reliable receivers. Aaron Pflugrad’s supposed “Velcro” hands have malfunctioned so far, but Willie and Taylor have stepped up, especially against NAU. If Threet is able to find these two studs early in the game, it will open up the rest of the offense. The running backs, Pflugrad, and TJ Simpson will have much more room to work if the Badgers have to concern themselves with ASU’s two superb wide outs.
Get the Running Backs involved - I don’t think ASU is going to have any luck running between the tackles against Wisconsin, but they don’t need to do that to be successful. Cameron Marshall, Jamal Miles, and Deantre Lewis need to make some plays on the edges against this stout defense. This can come from either running plays or swing/screen types passes, but this troika needs to be more productive than they were last week.
Don’t leave any points on the board - Steven Weber is one of the better kickers in the nation, but I hope ASU doesn’t try to rely on his leg to put points on the board. One of the keys to any upset is putting the ball in the end zone for 6 instead of settling for the field goal.
Prediction for the offense - The offense will get off to another slow start, and Weber will have to try 2-3 field goals because of Wisconsin’s excellent defense. They should still manage around 20 points and 300-400 yards of offense against this defense. Look for Willie to get another score.
Keys for the Sun Devil Defense
Shut down the Wisconsin passing offense - John Clay is pretty much guaranteed to get 100 yards in any games he suits up for. If ASU tries too hard to stop Clay and forgets about Scott Tolzien and the aerial attack, it will be a long day for the Sun Devil defense. Clay will still get his yards, and Tolzien will shred apart the secondary. ASU is in good position to eliminate the passing game though. Deveron Carr and Omar Bolden are two of the better cover corners in the Pac-10 and Clint Floyd, Eddie Elder, and Keelan Johnson have played well at the safety position so far. If the defensive backs are able to limit Tolzien by themselves, that gives the front seven a better opportunity to contain Clay. ASU will be assisted by the absence of WR David Gilreath, who was hurt last week. Leading WR Nick Toon has also been hurt this year, and is questionable for Saturday’s game. Obviously, if Toon is unable to suit up, this helps the defense even more.
Eliminate personal foul penalties (obviously) - The Sun Devil defenders (Vontaze Burfict especially) has a target on their backs. The referees know that ASU can get overaggressive at times and they will be looking to throw the flag at any opportunity. To have any chance of pulling off the upset, ASU will need to avoid assisting drives with dumb penalties. They haven’t been able to do that for the last few years, so it would be shocking if they played mistake free against the Badgers.
Take advantage of Wisconsin’s struggles in the Red Zone - The Badgers have already turned the ball over three times in the red zone this season after only failing to score three times inside the 20 all of last year. If Clay is able to churn out yards and move the ball for Wisconsin, ASU will need to create turnovers to survive. This will not just keep Wisconsin off the scoreboard(obviously), but it will help take the crowd out of the game. Nothing shuts a crowd up quicker than multiple turnovers.
Prediction for the Defense - Wisconsin will be able to gain first downs on the ground and make a couple big plays through the air. The defense will have a few more drive extending penalties and that will prove to be the dagger for ASU. Wisconsin scores in the high 20s and gains about 400 yards of offense.
Prediction - This game will be closer than anticipated and will come down to the fourth quarter. I’ll take Wisconsin’s big bodies up front, experience, and home field advantage over the upset minded Sun Devils.
September 15, 2010
Northern Arizona Recap
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Arizona State 41-20
Player of the Game: WR Mike Willie
Willie caught his first touchdown pass as a Sun Devil early in the fourth quarter to put the game away for good. He eclipsed 100 yards in his just his second game in the FBS, catching 8 balls (all for first downs) for 114 yards. Willie looks to be the most sure-handed Sun Devil wide receiver by far, especially with the amount of dropped balls Aaron Pflugrad has had in the first two games. The fact that Willie is such a big target will definitely help out the passing game when the level of competition increases.
Steven Threet – The Junior QB’s final numbers look a lot better than his actual performance against the Lumberjacks, but Sun Devil fans will definitely take his performance over the Danny Sullivan debacle from last season. The 391 yards passing was superb and the 67% completion percentage was adequate, but the two interceptions are worrisome. He now has three in his first two games against FCS competition, and he will need to fix those mistakes once the difficult portion of the schedule arrives. Dropped passes were again detrimental for Threet’s completion percentage, but he was able to overcome those, especially in the second half.
Kerry Taylor – He caught his first touchdown since 2008 in the second quarter and finished with six catches for 72 yards. Along with Willie, he looks like one of the more sure-handed wide receivers. If he can continue to avoid the dropped passes, his senior season has a chance to be his most successful one.
Dropped Passes and Stupid Penalties – This is an opportunity area every week and every ASU fan is starting to get sick of it. Nothing more needs to be said about the issue. If these problems are not corrected, it will be another 4-5 win season. You can’t give good teams extra downs or free yardage and expect to win games. That being said, the pass interference call on Omar Bolden, the “taunting” penalty on Vontaze Burfict, and the subsequent roughing the passer also on Burfict were borderline at best. The fouls on Burfict were, in my opinion, called only because of his reputation. The “Velcro hands” of Pflugrad have proven to be anything but. Although he put up decent numbers against NAU (8-77), he has dropped at least 4-5 passes this season already. Threet has to direct his passes elsewhere if this continues.
Slow Starts – Here’s the combined stats for ASU’s first drive in the first two games: Threet, zero completions in five attempts, one sack for -11 yards (ruled intentional grounding), one holding penalty for -10 yards, and two false starts for a combined -10 yards. That adds up to -31 yards on just six plays. If they do that again versus Wisconsin, John Clay will be in the endzone by the 13 minute mark of the first quarter. The Badgers are not going to wait around for ASU to join the game midway through the first quarter. The Sun Devils will be heavy underdogs this week and need to get off to a fast start to have a chance. That being said, it seems that Dennis Erickson has been allergic to fast starts since he arrived in Tempe.
Running Game – Last week’s bright spot turned into this week’s disaster. The Sun Devils’ ground game followed up its 242 yards on 35 carries performance against Portland State with 1.9 YPC on 29 runs against NAU. The Lumberjacks’ athletes are a little better than Portland State, but they’re still an FCS team. The stable of fast, explosive backs need to do much, much better than 1.9 per rush. Wisconsin is not going to make it that easy either.
A performance similar to this one will lead to a double digit loss in Madison. The Sun Devils have much to work on this week in practice, but winning the game on Saturday is not out of the realm of possibility. Wisconsin looked vulnerable against lowly San Jose State and gave up over 250 yards through the air. That is where ASU will need to strike. John Clay is going to get his yards, and ASU is going to have to come up big on third downs and avoid big penalty numbers. Again, Wisky is the obvious favorite, but ASU has the talent to pull off the shocker next week.
September 9, 2010
Northern Arizona Preview
By: David Siorek
Northern Arizona (1-0) at Arizona State (1-0)
Opening Line: NL
Both teams opened the season last week with lopsided wins against overmatched opponents. Arizona State throttled Portland State 48-0 and Northern Arizona shutout Division II Western New Mexico 48-0. Although NAU is in the same conference as Portland State(Big Sky), they should be able to give the Sun Devils a better game. The Lumberjacks are ranked in the FCS Top 25 and have hopes to make the FCS playoffs in 2010.
Arizona State Offense vs. Northern Arizona Defense
Steven Threet and Deantre Lewis had hugely successful Sun Devil debuts and Cameron Marshall scored on three of his four carries last week. Arizona State will try to successfully establish the running game again early on in this matchup. Lewis, Marshall, Jamal Miles, and Kyle Middlebrooks are all weapons both on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield. NAU’s defense provides more speed and better athletes than Portland State, but they will not be able to keep up with these running backs. I expect a couple more long touchdowns in this matchup after ASU scored four TD’s of 28 yards or more last week. Threet had a strong debut, passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns. He overcame some dropped passes (some of which would’ve resulted in touchdowns), but was still very efficient and accurate. Look for more of the same here. NAU’s defensive backfield is better, but still no match for the size and speed of ASU’s wide receivers. Brock Osweiler may also see some action as a backup QB depending on the game situations and Threet’s play. I don’t think he will overtake Threet as a starter, so expect the former Michigan Wolverine to get the start in Camp Randall Stadium on September 18th. I think the Sun Devils will tally 30-40 points and compile about 450 total yards of offense this week against the Lumberjacks.
Arizona State Defense vs. Northern Arizona Offense
Lumberjacks QB Michael Herrick is one of the better signal callers in the FCS, but he had a mediocre debut against Western New Mexico. He completed 60% of his passes and two touchdowns, but only had 178 yards passing and two interceptions. The Sun Devils pass defense was extremely effective, especially since Portland State found themselves in passing situations for most of the game. They allowed 209 yards through the air, but picked off three Viking passes. Herrick will probably eclipse 200 yards passing, but expect him to toss a few more picks. RB Zach Bauman had superb opener for the Lumberjacks, while churning out 167 yards and four touchdowns. He’s going to find running room much more difficult to come by this week when he meets a real defense. ASU has a chance to be the best defense in the Pac-10, and they want to make sure they are in top form before the Wisconsin game. Depth at the defensive tackle position is a concern, but it appears that star DT Lawrence Guy is healthy enough to suit up. The defensive starters didn’t play much in last week’s laugher, but I think they will be on the field most of the game in preparation for the Badgers. NAU’s offense is good enough to reach the end zone and will scored around 10 points and move the ball for around 300 yards.
Arizona State 38-13
September 7, 2010
Portland State Recap
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Arizona State 54-9
Players of the Game: Arizona State Running Backs
The combination of Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, and Jamal Miles accounted for all seven of ASU’s touchdowns against the Vikings. Marshall had TD runs of 50, 38, and 5 yards in the first half on his way to 104 yards rushing on only 4 carries. Lewis did most of his damage as a receiver, scoring on 28 and 62 yard touchdown catches from Steven Threet. Lewis ended up with 100 yards receiving and also added a rushing TD. Jamal Miles also accumulated 75 total yards on just nine touches including a rushing TD.
Steven Threet - The new starting QB had the best debut for any first time starting signal caller in ASU history. He completed 14 of his 21 passes for 239 yards, while overcoming some dropped passes from the wide receivers. Brock Osweiler also played well after taking over for Threet halfway through the third quarter, but it seems that Threet has held on to the starting job for at least another week. Both quarterbacks also showed their mobility, combining for 44 yards rushing on only nine carries.
Eddie Elder - The JUCO transfer safety had an extremely impressive debut for the Sun Devils. Elder picked off a pass and earned a safety when he forced the Vikings quarterback into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone late in the first quarter.
Shelly Lyons - Although Vontaze Burfict is the most talked about Sun Devil linebacker, Lyons had the most impressive opener. He had five total tackles and one of the two ASU sacks.
Max Tabach - The reserve safety may not be able to crack the starting lineup with Elder and Clint Floyd manning the position, but he was very productive against Portland State. Tabach tied for third on the team with four tackles and returned one of the three ASU interceptions for 27 yards.
Silly Penalties - The same things that plagued ASU last year have not disappeared at this point. They still accumulated 93 penalty yards on 11 infractions. Those penalties included three personal fouls, something ASU will need to eliminate to have a chance of being competitive this season.
Dropped Passes - Again, another issue from the 2009 season has resurfaced. Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie, and TJ Simpson all dropped passes on Saturday night The overall skill on the offense looks much improved, but these mistakes must be eliminated.
Not much needs to be said after this one. Arizona State started last year with a 50-3 win over similar competition in Idaho State. I personally think that this team looks more talented that the 2009 version, but there’s no sense jumping to conclusions after playing this patsy. The Sun Devils should beat Northern Arizona next week by about three touchdowns, but the real challenge comes on September 18th at Wisconsin.
September 2, 2010
Portland State Preview
By: David Siorek
Portland State at Arizona State
Opening Line: NL
Arizona State Offense vs. Portland State Defense
Steven Threet was named the starting quarterback for the home opener against the Vikings, winning the battle over Brock Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy. Osweiler had the lead going into fall camp, but Threet’s accuracy and consistency elevated him to the first team. Dennis Erickson also announced that Osweiler will see some action and both quarterbacks will get equal reps in practice. This essentially means that the quarterback battle is extended another few weeks and might not be decided for good until the Wisconsin game. Threet should hold onto the job after a couple strong performances against two consecutive FCS teams.
Two running backs will receive the bulk of the carries in the opening week. Sophomore Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher, but true Freshman Deantre Lewis has been pushing him during camp and has forced Erickson to find some playing time for him. Lewis has electric speed and I wouldn’t be surprised if he broke a long TD run against the weak Vikings defense.
The wide receiver position is a little less settled. Any number of WRs have the capability to lead the team in receiving yards or catches in this game and this season. Senior Kerry Taylor is the elder statesman of the group and he will definitely get the start. Aaron Pflugrad, TJ Simpson, Gerell Robinson (probably back from injury), Mike Willie, and George Bell should get opportunities as well. Jamal Miles and true Freshman Kyle Middlebrooks will split time between WR and RB and provide game breaking quickness. Although the position is less proven this season, there is an abundance of promising depth.
Portland State’s defense was less than stellar in 2009. They gave up an average of 34 PPG and over 400 YPG, and only forced 14 turnovers (5 Interceptions, 9 Fumble Recoveries). The defense has looked improved in fall scrimmages, but they have a long way to go to reach respectability.
I expect Arizona State to find a groove on offense and put up big numbers in the first game of the year. Expect them to eclipse 30 points for the first time since Week 2 of last season (38 against UL Monroe). I will call for ASU to score over 40 and gain around 450 yards of total offense.
Arizona State Defense vs. Portland State Offense
The Vikings offense wasn’t completely inept last season, scoring 21 PPG and gaining over 350 YPG. Turnovers were the big reason for the lower point totals. The quarterbacks tossed 23 interceptions and PSU lost 11 fumbles. ASU’s defense should feast upon this turnover prone squad. Lawrence Guy, Saia Falahola, James Brooks and the rest of the defensive front will be able to pressure the quarterback and will not allow very much room for the running backs to work. Former high school teammates and starting linebackers Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons, and Brandon Magee will patrol the middle of the field and Omar Bolden will lead the secondary.
The Sun Devils have a chance to shut out this below average offense, and will force multiple turnovers. In the end, PSU might eek out a field goal or touchdown and rack up between 200-300 yards, but will not be able to move the ball consistency. The key for a successful evening for Arizona State will be to limit penalties; they were the defense’s Achilles Heel last season.
Arizona State 48-6
August 26, 2010
2010 Pac-10 Preview
By: David Siorek
Phil Steele’s 2010 College Football Preview
T5. Oregon State
9. Arizona State
10. Washington St
Pac-10 Preseason Media Poll (1st place votes, total points in parentheses)
1. Oregon (15, 314)
2. USC (12, 311)
3. Oregon State (3, 262)
4. Stanford (1, 233)
5. Arizona (2, 222)
6. Washington (1, 209)
7. California (0, 175)
8. UCLA (1, 134)
9. Arizona State (0, 81)
10. Washington State (0, 39)
My Predictions (Overall and Pac-10 records in parentheses)
T1. Oregon (10-2, 7-2)
T1. USC (11-2, 7-2)
T3. Arizona (8-4, 6-3)
T3. Oregon State (7-5, 6-3)
T5. Arizona State (7-5, 5-4)
T5. California (8-4, 5-4)
7. Washington (6-6, 4-5)
8. Stanford (6-6, 3-6)
9. UCLA (3-9, 2-7)
10. Washington State (1-11, 0-9)
Rose Bowl - Oregon vs. TCU
Alamo Bowl - Arizona vs. Texas A&M
Holiday Bowl - Oregon State vs. Texas Tech
Sun Bowl - Arizona State vs. North Carolina
Las Vegas Bowl - California vs. Utah
Fight Hunger Bowl - Washington vs. Fresno State
Armed Forces Bowl - Stanford vs. Southern Miss
The road to the Rose Bowl is more wide open this year than it has been in recent memory in the last year of the ten team conference. Seven teams have legitimate chances for the title, and two others can be dark horses if they avoid injuries and catch some lucky breaks. Washington State is still at the bottom, but they shouldn’t be the welcome mat that they have been the last two years and will be more competitive in 2010. Oregon is the favorite, but the dismissal of Jeremiah Masoli was a huge hit. With their star QB, the Ducks would’ve been mentioned as National Title contenders, but without him they lack a proven quarterback. LaMichael James and the high powered offense should still have enough firepower to bring home a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance. Despite a coaching change and NCAA sanctions, I predict USC to be near the top. They can’t go to a bowl game this year, but they definitely have the talent to finish the Pac-10 undefeated. Whether Lane Kiffin can actually be successful as a head coach remains to be seen. The next two contenders for the Rose Bowl are Arizona and Oregon State. The Beavers have been extremely close to reaching Pasadena the last two seasons, and they should be right in the mix again in 2010. Jacquizz and James Rodgers will again carry the load on offense, but bringing in a new starting QB in Ryan Katz will prove to be detrimental to their Rose Bowl hopes. Arizona will be attempting to reach their first Rose Bowl, and they will rely heavily on their offense. The offense will be a powerhouse in 2010, but an underwhelming defense including three new starting linebackers will cost the Wildcats a chance for the Roses. The next batch of contenders include California, Washington, and Stanford. All three boast solid quarterback play with Kevin Riley, Jake Locker, and Andrew Luck, but each team has too much deficiencies around the quarterback to win the conference. Arizona State and UCLA might still be a year away from contending, but they have the talent to compete with all the top teams in the conference. I see the winner having two losses and Oregon ultimately representing the Pac-10 in the BCS.
August 15, 2010
Notes from the August 14th Scrimmage
By: David Siorek
ASU’s first scrimmage of fall camp was held bright and early Saturday morning on the outdoor practice fields. The first team defense was the most impressive unit as usual, but the offense wasn’t dominated as much as they normally are during these scrimmages. The offensive line seems to be a problem again, but I think the Sun Devils have found their starting quarterback. The defense looks like it’s poised to be one of the best in the nation again and have avoided injuries during camp for the most part. The entire team, especially the wide receivers and cornerbacks, have a swagger that I have not seen during the past two preseasons. Despite the media’s early season predictions, this year’s Devils do not look or feel like a 9th place Pac-10 team. The next scrimmage is Saturday, August 21st at 8:00 AM, and the mock game is Friday, August 27th at 7:00 PM. Those are scheduled to be held at Sun Devil Stadium and open to the public, but a decision has not been made yet and those might be moved indoors into the practice bubble.
-Possible starting WR Gerell Robinson was held out of practice again with a hamstring injury. Measuring in at 6’4” and 222 lbs, he’s the biggest of the starting candidates at WR, but may have missed too much practice time already to start the season with the first team.
-Brock Osweiler played quarterback with the first team. The defense pressured him into quick throws and his accuracy needs to improve if he plans on breaking camp as the starter. The unimpressive showing might have been due to the fact that he played against the first team defense. Either way, he couldn’t lead the offense on any sustained drives.
-Samson Szakacsy looks destined to be the third string quarterback this season. He may see some field time in short yardage and goal line situations, but his arm strength and accuracy haven’t improved enough for him to be a full time starter in the Pac-10. Some of his throws were underthrown, some were overthrown, and others were just off target. He is still the quickest and most mobile of all the quarterbacks, but accuracy will be the most important factor in Dennis Erickson’s quarterback decision.
-In my opinion, Steven Threet has propelled himself to the top of the depth chart after today’s scrimmage. I wouldn’t be shocked if Erickson names Threet the starter some time this week. The coach has said that he wants to decide on his number one quarterback sooner rather than later, and Threet impressed with his arm, legs, and decision making. He was the only one out of the top three quarterbacks to lead the team to touchdowns during the first few hours of practice. He scrambled for a touchdown for the first score from about ten yards out. I thought Threet would be the least mobile of all the contenders, but he actually looked more comfortable running the ball than Osweiler. The other touchdown was a fifteen yard scoring strike to TE Trevor Kohl, who broke some tackles on his way to the end zone. Threet also had some nice throws on deep outs and crosses to Kerry Taylor and Mike Willie. He wasn’t playing against the first team defense, which may have contributed to his success, but he was impressive nonetheless.
-The starting wide receivers when the season begins will probably be senior Taylor, and JUCOs Willie and George Bell. None of the receivers will put up Derek Hagan type numbers, but the depth at the position is the best it’s been in years. Jamal Miles will line up out wide and in the backfield and may be the most explosive player on offense. Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad, JJ Holliday, and TJ Simpson also provide options for the new starting QB. The depth at WR will allow the offense to shuffle players in and out depending on the situation and keep all the wide receivers fresh.
-The running backs weren’t able to do anything up the middle against the defense, but they started to make plays when they took the ball off tackle. Cameron Marshall ran with the first team, and he will break camp as the starter. Pushing him for playing time will be James Morrison and true freshman Deantre Lewis. Morrison has slimmed down and looks a lot quicker this season. He and Marshall will probably handle the ball carrying duties on first downs and short yardage situations. Marshall didn’t look great catching the ball out of the backfield, so Lewis and Miles will get some looks on third downs and passing situations.
-The red zone offense may struggle to punch the ball into the end zone this season. Although the running backs have more speed than in past seasons, they really don’t have a bruiser that can go inside for tough yardage. Marshall is the biggest back and is only 5’11” and 217 lbs. Most of the scoring will have to come from misdirection plays, throws across the middle to the tight ends, and fade routes to Bell, Willie, and Robinson. The ability of the quarterbacks to break the pocket may provide opportunities near the goal line, but I think ASU might have to settle for short field goals too many times.
-The offensive line has been ravaged with injuries already and that showed on the field today. Possible starters Zach Schlink and Matt Hustad have seen their ASU careers end due to knee injuries during camp. Two year starter Jon Hargis is also injured and is a question mark to play at all this season. The projected starters are Evan Finkenberg and former TE Dan Knapp at tackle, JUCO Brice Schwab and Adam Tello at guard, and Garth Gerhart at center. If that lineup stands, the Sun Devils will enter the season with a total of 14 career starts on the line (10 by Gerhart and 4 by Tello). The inexperience showed during Saturday’s practice; the defense either reached the quarterback, forced him to make quick decisions, or made him scramble out of the pocket. If the offensive line continues to suffer from injuries and fails to form a cohesive unit, the offense will have to be more productive in short pass routes in order to be successful. Threet’s accuracy puts them in the best position to do that.
-Erickson has said that he will not play as many true freshman as he has in the last two seasons. Running back Lewis will get the most opportunities, but Kyle Middlebrooks will also have a chance with the ball in his hands. At 5’8” and 172 pounds, Middlebrooks is built from the Jacquizz Rodgers mold and he has plenty of speed and athleticism. He saw some time in the scrimmage on both offense and special teams. Just like Miles, he can either line up in the backfield or at wide receiver and has also been practicing returning punts. Rodgers has proved that small, quick backs can cause a problem with Pac-10 defenses and ASU hopes Middlebrooks can do the same. Cornerback Alden Darby will also see some field time during his freshman season and has a chance to make the second team at his position. At 5’10” and 176 lbs, he probably doesn’t have the size to line up against some of the more physical receivers, but he has enough speed to play with the nickel and dime defenses.
-Miles and Pflugrad also practiced returning punts along with Middlebrooks. I think Erickson will eventually choose one of those two over the true freshman. Miles would be the best choice, but if he is given an extensive role on offense it may not be smart to use up his energy on punt and kick returns. Middlebrooks would be a more electric option, but Pflugrad is a veteran and more sure handed. I think Erickson will go with experience for the punt returns, however I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle gets a chance to return kickoffs.
-Thomas Weber missed a short field goal attempt and he seems to have regressed from his freshman season when he won the Lou Groza Award. His field goal percentage has decreased every season (last year due to injuries), and he doesn’t seem to have as big a leg as in years past. Punter Thomas Hankins will try to follow up his 2009 season, in which he led the Pac-10 in yards per punt average, with another strong campaign. An effective punting game will be imperative to ASU’s success because winning the field position battle will be a big factor for the defense.
-Vontaze Burfict has returned to the first team defense after an ankle injury, and he looks like he is back near full strength. Obviously the hitting and game speed isn’t the same during a scrimmage as a regular season game, but the extracurricular activities after plays were nonexistent for Vontaze and the rest of the defense. Second teamer Gerald Munns intercepted an errant pass during the scrimmage; what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in positioning and football IQ. I expect to see a lot of 3-4 defense this year, especially against some of the better quarterbacked teams like Arizona, Stanford, and Washington. The 3-4 will give the defense more speed to deal with some of the more mobile quarterbacks and better coverage when the opposing offense decides to throw it.
- I don’t expect CB Omar Bolden to get very many interceptions this season for one reason. The opposition won’t throw in his direction. He is the epitome of a shutdown corner and is back at full strength from last year’s injury. A great cornerback like Bolden helps the defense is so many different ways. He allows the safeties to take more chances because they won’t have to help out on his guy. The team can also focus more on stopping the run if they know his receiver won’t have much room to operate.
August 12, 2010
Arizona State Sun Devils 2010 Preview - Schedule
By: David Siorek
September 4th - vs. Portland State (2-9, 1-7 Big Sky)
The Vikings are strikingly similar to the Sun Devils’ first opponent from the 2009 season, Idaho State because both teams are bottom feeders from the FCS Big Sky Conference. This game will give ASU an opportunity to break in a new starting quarterback, figure out who will be a factor in the running game, and find some playmaking wide receivers. The defense should have a field day and force multiple turnovers. The margin of victory should be similar to last year’s 47 point laugher against Idaho State. I expect ASU to score at least 40 and give up less than 10.
September 11th - vs. Northern Arizona (5-6, 4-4 Big Sky)
NAU has played the Sun Devils reasonably tough in their last two meetings in 2006 and 2008, losing 35-14 and 30-13 respectively. The Lumberjacks have a solid QB in Michael Herrick, who had 3,356 yards passing and 22 touchdowns a year ago, but not much of a supporting cast. This game will be a barometer of where ASU’s secondary is at and a decent tune up for the Wisconsin game. The Sun Devils will give up their first touchdown of the season, but will come out on top by 20 or so points.
September 18th - at Wisconsin (10-3, 5-3 Big Ten, Preseason #12)
The first real test for the 2010 Sun Devils comes in the form of the Badgers. Wisconsin will come into the game ranked in the top 15 after defeating UNLV and San Jose St in the season’s first two weeks. This marks the third year in a row in which ASU plays a non-conference foe ranked in the top 25 (Georgia in 2008 and 2009). QB Scott Tolzien is one of the Big Ten’s better signal callers and John Clay is arguably the best running back in the conference. The only impact players departing are TE Garrett Graham and DE O’Brien Schofield. The defense faces a big test, but I think they are up for the challenge. Clay will have a tough time finding running room, and Arizona State will make Tolzien beat them. The offense will have a very difficult time gaining any yards on the ground, so the aerial attack will have to be the key. In the end, Camp Randall Stadium will prove to be too difficult for the Sun Devils in a very low scoring affair. I do believe that this game will be much closer than anticipated and be decided by less than a touchdown. ASU doesn’t have to play a perfect game to take down the favored Badgers, but they will need to win the turnover battle and perhaps even score on defense to finish the upset. Another possible benefit for Arizona State is the fact that the game starts at 12:30PM Arizona time instead of 9AM; west coast teams typically have a difficult time traveling across time zones to play early morning games.
September 25th - vs. Oregon (10-3, 8-1 Pac-10, Preseason #11)
The Sun Devils certainly don’t get a rest after the tough road game and will have to face last year’s Pac-10 conference champions. Unless Oregon slips up at Tennessee, they will enter the game undefeated. The Ducks return 17 starters and have dominated ASU in their last five matchups, winning all five by an average score of 42-19. Although troubled players QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrette Blount depart, Oregon does not lack talent. Nate Costa has plenty of experience running the offense, and LaMichael James had 1,546 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns as a freshman. ASU has had a very difficult time figuring out Oregon’s spread offense in the past, and the Ducks will put up points in this game; ASU will have to find a way to do the same for a chance to win. In my opinion, the crowd will have to play a big role if ASU has a chance to derail the Ducks. If the Devils fail to take down Wisconsin the week before, the fans will not show up and will be expecting another loss. If ASU happens to upset Wisconsin, the crowd will be excited about a possible matchup of two ranked teams and will be more supportive. Either way, this game doesn’t look very promising and Oregon should prevail by 10-20 points.
October 2nd - at Oregon State (8-5, 6-3 Pac-10, Preseason #22)
The early season gauntlet continues with a difficult road trip to Reser Stadium to face Oregon State. The Beavers enter the season as Pac-10 title contenders, but may enter this game with two losses after playing vs. TCU at Cowboys Stadium and on the road against Boise State. They have to break in a new quarterback in Ryan Katz after Sean Canfield’s departure, but the Rodgers brothers (James and Jacquizz) return to anchor the offensive attack. OSU is a notoriously slow starting team, so ASU is getting them at the best possible time. Obviously, the defense will need to limit the Rodgers’, which proves nearly impossible at times. This game will depend on the progression of the passing game. If Threet, Osweiler, or Szakacsy have taken the reins and moved the ball well in the first four games, the offense may be able to hold the ball long enough to keep the Beavers’ offense off the field. This game is the turning point for ASU’s entire season. A win would put them at 3-2 at the very worst and in great position to reach their first bowl since 2007. A loss could possibly set off another downward spiral in a Pac-10 conference packed with parody.
October 9th - at Washington (5-7, 4-5 Pac-10)
ASU has had Washington’s number in the recent past, including a thrilling 24-17 victory last season on a Chris McGaha TD catch with five seconds remaining. However, this is the strongest Husky team in recent memory because Heisman hopeful Jake Locker decided to return for his senior season. The offense also returns 1,000 yard rusher Chris Polk and all starting receivers and tight ends. I think this is a good matchup for ASU for many reasons. They have done a terrific job of slowing down Locker in their two meetings against him (32-66, 421 yards, 2-3 TD-INT, 20-72, 1TD rushing), the defense will be able to limit the running attack, and UW has to visit BYU and USC and play Nebraska at home before meeting the Sun Devils. I give the edge to ASU in this game for the reasons above, but in the end it will be a toss-up decided in the 4th quarter.
October 23rd - at California (8-5, 5-4 Pac-10)
The bye week is a huge advantage for ASU in this occasion. California has to travel to USC the week prior, while the Devils have the week off. Although Cal has defeated ASU in six of the last seven meetings, I think ASU matches up well with the Golden Bears. QB Kevin Riley returns after shredding the Sun Devil secondary for 351 yards and 2 TDs last year, but the wide receivers have been less than stellar since the departure of DeSean Jackson a few years back. Shane Vereen will take over as the full time starting running back replacing Heisman candidate Jahvid Best; Vereen actually led the team in rushing last year, so that unit should continue to produce. The reason I like this matchup for the Sun Devils is Cal’s secondary. They were atrocious last year finishing 9th in the conference in passing yards allowed per game and lose two time 1st team All American CB Syd’Quan Thompson. If ASU’s new passing offense has found its form by game seven, I think ASU will pull off the victory on the road. I expect the scoring in this game to be in the twenties and the Devils will escape with a victory by a touchdown or less.
October 30th - vs. Washington State (1-11, 0-9 Pac-10)
This homecoming game against the Cougs is the only sure victory on the ledger other than the first two games against FCS opponents. WSU will improve on their losing margin in 2010 (-26.5 per game last season), but they remain the bottom feeders for another season in the Pac-10. Sophomore QB Jeff Tuel is a promising prospect, but there is not enough talent on either side of the ball for this one to be a close contest. Look for the defense to create plenty of turnovers and the offense to pile up yards against the league’s worst defense. This one will be decided by three touchdowns.
November 6th - at USC (9-4, 5-4 Pac-10, Not ranked due to NCAA sanctions)
The balance of power in the Pac-10 may be shifting away from USC’s decade of dominance in the 2000‘s, but they are still the most talented team in the league with the most highly regarded recruits. Pete Carroll left a trail of dust on his way to the NFL before the sanctions came down, and he is replaced by the unproven Lane Kiffin, who continues to get high profile head coaching jobs despite a lack of success. All coaching and NCAA issues aside, USC is stacked at almost every position. Matt Barkley showed a lot of poise during his true freshman campaign and will improve upon his modest numbers from the 2009 season. Despite losing their top rusher and receivers (RB Joe McKnight, WR Damian Williams, and TE Anthony McCoy), the depth at the skill positions is still littered with very highly touted recruits. The defense loses Taylor Mays and Everson Griffin, but USC is always able to restock the cabinets every season despite personnel losses to the NFL. Although the loss of scholarships may hurt the Trojans’ depth in the coming years, they will still overmatch the Sun Devils this time around. ASU almost pulled out a surprise victory at home last year falling 14-9, and this season’s contest may produce a similar result. The Sun Devils’ defense may be able to slow down the Trojans, but the offense will be handcuffed. I will call for USC’s winning streak over ASU to increase to eleven in a game decided by one or two touchdowns.
November 13th - vs. Stanford (8-5, 6-3 Pac-10)
This tilt against the Cardinal begins a stretch of three winnable games to conclude ASU’s 2010 season. Sophomore QB Andrew Luck has entered the conversation of possible Heisman candidates and he returns a stellar cast of wide receivers led by the steady Ryan Whalen and the always electric Chris Owusu. Toby Gerhart left after his junior season for the NFL, and Stanford hopes that the combination of Stepfan Taylor, Jeremy Stewart, and Tyler Gaffney can pick up the slack. I don’t see them coming anywhere near Gerhart‘s production, but the trio should be able to produce some decent numbers with defenses now focusing on Luck and the passing game. Jim Harbaugh’s teams play very disciplined football, so I don’t think the Sun Devils can rely on turnovers or penalties from Stanford to gain the edge. The defense, although much improved, is still a little suspect, so ASU will need to exploit that matchup in order to come out on top. I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but the passing offense will need to put up big numbers to come out on top against one of the Pac-10’s poorer defensive backfields. This is another toss-up game (pretty much a weekly occurrence in this wide open conference), but I think ASU pulls it out by a field goal.
November 26th - vs. UCLA (7-6, 3-6 Pac-10)
This is the second game of the season where the schedule is favorable for the Sun Devils. UCLA has to play Washington on the road the previous Thursday while ASU gets their second bye week of the season to prepare for the stretch run. The Bruins’ offense was nearly as inept as ASU’s last year, and the talent, although more experienced, hasn’t improved all that much. Turnovers have decided the last two meetings between the schools with UCLA winning the turnover battle 6-0 and scoring two defensive touchdowns last year and ASU returning all four of their takeaways for touchdowns while tying a major college football record in 2008. The turnover margin will once again decide this year’s game. Both teams seem to have stout defenses and suspect offenses and with possible bowl berths on the line, I give ASU the slight advantage to come out on top at home.
December 2nd - at Arizona (8-5, 6-3 Pac-10)
Arizona comes into the season as the more highly regarded team between these bitter rivals, but as last year’s game proved, records are thrown out the window in rivalry games. In the 2009 finale, Arizona had much more to play for, more momentum, and a more talented team, but needed a muffed punt assisted field goal as time expired to escape the Valley with a three point victory. QB Nick Foles had a breakout year in 2009, and the offense remains mostly intact except for the banishment of WR Delashaun Dean. The defense only returns four starters, so this game may turn into a rarely seen Territorial Cup shootout. I give the edge to Arizona at home in the finale, but whichever team has the momentum coming in will come out on top. I predict the score to be in the thirties, and it may be most offensive minded game of the year for ASU except for the fourth game against Oregon.
Worst Case Scenario
The Devils finish at 3-9 with their only wins coming over the two FCS opponents and Washington State. Noel Mazzone’s highly anticipated spread offense ends up derailed due to inconsistency at the quarterback spot and an underwhelming offensive line. The running game cannot find any room in the open field which will cause repeated 2nd and 3rd and long situations. The offensive line continues to rack up the holding penalties because they are not able to stay in front of the defense. The defense is unable to generate a consistent pass rush due to the loss of Dexter Davis and runs out of steam towards the end of the season. The defense gets frustrated again and commits overaggressive penalties leading to poor field position. ASU decides that Dennis Erickson has had enough time to turn things around and lets him go. It’s déjà vu all over again.
Best Case Scenario
ASU is able to pull off an upset over Wisconsin, Oregon, or Oregon State resulting in a 3-2 record over the first five games. They parlay that win into a strong finish as the schedule gets easier and the only slip up is a close loss to USC. They bring the Territorial Cup back to Tempe for the first time since 2007 and finish the year at 9-3 with a much deserved trip to the Holiday Bowl. The offense discovers consistent quarterback play for the first time since Rudy Carpenter’s freshman season, and Gerell Robinson and George Bell emerge as legitimate deep threats. Cameron Marshall surprises everyone with the best rushing season for the Sun Devils since Ryan Torain’s 2006 campaign due to the focus on the passing game. Brice Schwab anchors the offensive line, which looks competent for the first time in many years. Vontaze Burfict demolishes opponents on his way to Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and 1st Team All American honors. Omar Bolden returns to form after his injury to lead ASU to their second consecutive season as the Pac-10’s top rated defense.
The offense takes a little time to gel leading to a disappointing 2-3 start making Sun Devil fans wonder if they are in for another disappointing season. Two consecutive road wins and a thrashing of Washington State puts ASU on track for a bowl bid. They fall at USC, but are able to recover with home wins against Stanford and UCLA. Arizona wins the rivalry game for the third consecutive year, but the 7-5 Devils are headed for a bowl game. A lower tier bowl game is considered an overwhelming success for this team who was picked 9th in the preseason poll. The offense is inconsistent at times, but shows signs of life for seasons to come. A possibility of nineteen starters returning for 2011 gives the Sun Devils hope for a Rose Bowl in the twelve team league next season.
August 8, 2010
Arizona State Sun Devils 2010 Preview - Defense
By: David Siorek
The disappointing 4-8 finish for the 2009 Sun Devils had nothing to do with the production on the defensive side of the ball. ASU gave up an average of 21.1 PPG (2nd in the Pac-10) and 298 YPG (best in the league). Despite losing seven of the top nine tacklers from a year ago as well as defensive end Dexter Davis, this unit is still poised to be dominant in 2010. The key player on the defense will be Sophomore LB Vontaze Burfict, who was 2nd on the team in tackles as a true frosh on his way to winning Pac-10 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. Phil Steele projects him as a 1st Team All Pac-10 linebacker and 4th Team All America, and Sporting News has tabbed him as a Preseason first team AA selection. The big key for Burfict in 2010 will be his maturity; he racked up the 15 yard personal foul penalties last season due to his aggressive play. I don’t expect those infractions to completely disappear, but the frequency will definitely drop after an entire offseason of tutelage. The defense lost some steam towards the end of last season because they were on the field for far too many plays; more discipline with penalties and an improved offense should keep the defense fresh during league play. I can’t really expect too much more out of the defense as far as per game numbers, but they should be able to maintain those, continue to force turnovers, and improve the pass rush in 2010.
Dexter Davis’ sack numbers decreased from 11 in 2008 all the way down to 3.5 in 2009, but that was mainly because opposing offensive lines focused on stopping him. The team actually had the same number of sacks in both seasons (23), and the totals were much more spread out last year with DT Lawrence Guy leading the team with 4.5. Defending the run was the strongest part of the defense last year (only 109 YPG), and the key pieces to that equation are back in Guy and Senior DT Saia Falahola. Junior DE James Brooks is the fastest of the defensive linemen and should be able to pile up sacks if he stays on the field. A three game suspension last season halted his development and he missed spring practice while attending a family issue. He was not practicing with the first team during the early days of fall camp, but he will have an opportunity to win his job back. The other defensive end spot looks like the only possible weakness on the defensive side entering fall camp. Greg Smith, Jamaar Jarrett, Jamarr Robinson, and Dean DeLeone are among the contenders to win the starting job. Smith is the most athletic of the four and if he wins the job, the Sun Devils will have fast, athletic book-end pass rushers. William Sutton, Bo Moos, and Corey Adams provide depth at defensive tackle; Sutton is the backup most capable of being an impact player and should be starting at DT next season. The key to any successful defense is an imposing front four, and ASU appears to have one of the best in the conference.
Despite losing leading the steady Mike Nixon at linebacker, who led the team in tackles and interceptions in both 2008 and 2009, the Sun Devils come into the season with possibly the most athletic linebacking corps in the Pac-10. Third leading tackler Travis Goethel also departs after being drafted in the 6th round by the Oakland Raiders, but Burfict’s high school teammates out of Centennial HS in Corona, CA are more than ready to fill the void. What juniors Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons lack in the steady play of Nixon and Goethel, they make up for with raw athleticism. Opponents will find it nearly impossible to break any long runs with these three beasts patrolling the field. The key of success on the outside for Magee and Lyons will be to study film of the mostly mistake-free Nixon. He always seemed to be in the right place and rarely missed tackles. Burfict provided a view into the future during the 2009 opener against Idaho State when he sprinted past the offensive line and decleated QB Russel Hill. I expect many more of these types of plays from him this year as he continues his rise into an All-American and future early round NFL Draft pick. The key, as mentioned earlier, is to limit mistakes and learn to stop playing when the whistle is blown. Senior Gerald Munns provides depth and leadership in case some of the younger guys start to play undisciplined football. The losses at this position indicate that the productivity may slightly decline, but the overall talent and athleticism offer the possibility of huge improvement and more playmaking.
The biggest question mark on the defense in 2010 is the secondary. They led the conference in passing yards per game while giving up 189, but they lose a total of 38 starts in the defensive backfield due to the departure of CBs Terell Carr and Pierre Singfield, and safeties Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy. Junior Omar Bolden is back after missing most of the 2009 season with an injury, and the two year starter should be the leader of the defense this season. Deveron Carr, LeQuan Lewis (who played WR most of last year), and Josh Jordan provide depth at the CB slot. Also competing for playing time is redshirt freshman Osahon Irabor who was in position to get playing time last year before a broken hand in fall camp forced him to miss the season. Safeties Keelan Johnson and Clint Floyd will be the new starters at safety, and they have plenty of game experience. The safety position should be strong despite the losses of two senior starters. Eddie Elder, Matt Tucker, Max Tabach, and Shane McCullen are the backup safeties and will see playing time even if it is in special teams. Since the secondary is less experienced I don’t envision them leading the Pac-10 in passing yards per game again, but they should be able to hold their own and make some big plays.
The most steady area of the 2010 Sun Devils may turn out to be the special teams. Thomas Weber had a poor season in 2009 while battling injuries and was ineffective. The former Lou Groza award winner didn’t make a field goal longer than 29 yards and was only 8 for 13 for the season. Walk-on Bobby Wenzig filled in admirably and made 3 of his 4 field goals. Punter Trevor Hankins continues to develop and had a 44.2 yards per punt average last season. He may not be the best in the conference, but he is a very reliable punter. Kerry Taylor, Kyle Middlebrooks, and Aaron Pflugrad have been returning punts in practice. Jamal Miles is the most likely choice as a kick returner as he returned 31 last season. If Weber returns to form, the special teams can be a valuable asset for ASU this season.
August 3, 2010
Arizona State Sun Devils 2010 Preview - Offense
By: David Siorek
If Arizona State dreams of finishing in the top half of the Pac-10 or even reaching their first bowl game since 2007, the offense will have to make huge strides in 2010. The Sun Devils started four seniors at the skill positions last year (QB Danny Sullivan, RB Dimitri Nance, and WRs Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams), but they still finished 8th in the league at 22.3 points per game. In fact, they didn’t score more than 27 points in a single game after the first two contests against Idaho State and Louisiana Monroe. The 2010 Sun Devils bring less experience, but more overall talent. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will institute a spread offense that stresses quick releases and accuracy from whichever quarterback wins the job during fall camp. This new philosophy should, in theory, allow ASU to overcome their deficiencies in the backfield and on the offensive line. It should not be difficult to improve upon the per game numbers 22.3 points and 334 yards of total offense, and I think the Sun Devils are in great position to do so. I also expect a return to the pass-happy offense of the past that put fans in the seats instead of putting them to sleep.
Junior Samson Szakacsy has the most experience of the three quarterback candidates due to starting the last two games of the 2009 season, but he had some more shoulder problems in the spring and will probably not be given the opportunity to win the job in the fall. He was reasonably effective at times last year and is the best runner of the three, but he won’t be the team’s QB until he shows the ability to stay healthy. In my opinion, the favorite to win the job is Michigan transfer Steven Threet. He sat out last year due to transfer rules, but is a better fit for Mazzone’s offense than he was with Rich Rodriguez’ offense at UM that required a faster QB a la Pat White or Denard Robinson. Threet had 201 rushing yards with Michigan in 2008, so, despite the absence of blazing speed, he should prove to be more mobile than his statuesque predecessors at ASU (Sullivan, Rudy Carpenter, Sam Keller, Andrew Walter). If he is given the opportunity to start, he will surely improve on the 51% completion percentage from his freshman year due to Mazzone’s wide open offense based on quick, short passes. He doesn’t have the biggest arm of the trio, but his year of experience as a starter may be the difference in the quarterback battle. Sophomore Brock Osweiler was the fan favorite last year, but didn’t impress during his limited opportunities while only completing 43.6% of his passes. He has the strongest arm of the bunch, but his deep throws rarely connected last year. Just like the other two QBs he has decent mobility, but accuracy will decide who wins the competition. Although Threet and Osweiler were unimpressive during the spring scrimmage, both have reportedly made strides during the summer. I look forward to a heated position battle during fall camp and think Threet’s accuracy and experience will eventually win out. Look for this one to be decided in the last few days of camp or even days before the opener against Portland State. I expect both quarterbacks to receive playing time in the opener and against Northern Arizona, and a final decision for the season will be made by the September 18th tilt against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Although it won’t be hard, the numbers (215 yards per game and a 16-12 TD/INT ratio in ‘09) and overall play of the quarterback position will be much improved regardless of who wins the job.
The Sun Devils haven’t had a consistent ground attack since Ryan Torain gained 1,229 yards in 2006, and this year looks like another down year for the running game. Dimitri Nance was a solid, yet uninspiring option out of the backfield and leaves after leading the team in rushing with 795 yards during his senior season. Sophomore Cameron Marshall returns and is the only returning running back who carried the ball last year; he had 280 yards including a 75 yard touchdown scamper against Washington. He seems physical enough to handle the load of the starting running back and, as evidenced by his long TD run, does have decent breakaway speed. Marshall should get most of the looks on 1st and 2nd down, but his lack of production as a receiver out of the backfield should keep him off the field on 3rd and long situations. Jamal Miles is the best athlete out of the backfield and is the best homerun threat of all of the tailbacks. He is probably most effective as a receiver due to his small stature (5’10”, 180), but he might see more of the field as an RB due to the lack of depth at the position. I see him getting the most of the looks out of the backfield during passing downs. His size limits his effectiveness in short yardage and goal line situations, but he brings sorely needed big play ability to the running back position. James Morrison saw some playing time as a freshman last season, but didn’t get any carries. He is a bigger back and could get some looks in place of Marshall in short yardage situations. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks are both true freshman out of California who offer game breaking ability, but unless Miles moves to WR full time, they might not see the opportunities. I would like to see Dennis Erickson try to develop one of the freshman into a feature back; he has shown an unwillingness to give true freshman skill position players a chance to produce throughout his tenure at ASU. The combination of a lack of experience, lack of top notch talent, and Noel Mazzone’s reported pass happy offense will probably keep the running totals towards the bottom of the Pac-10. They will have an opportunity to pad their stats during the one-sided matchups against Portland State and NAU, but productivity will certainly decline beginning with the Wisconsin game and continue on through conference play. All that being said, the numbers can improve from last year if defenses are keying on the passing game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Although Arizona State loses their top two wide receivers from the 2009 season, they have a chance to exceed their overall numbers. Although I doubt that the top two receivers will exceed the totals of 113 catches, 1,488 yards, and 12 touchdowns, the overall depth has improved. Mazzone’s spread offense will also give the pass catchers more opportunities in the open field. Junior Gerell Robinson and JUCO transfer George Bell are the most physical receivers and will look to spread the field. Although Robinson had 26 catches last year, he only averaged 10 yards per catch. I expect that average to increase to around 15 YPC this year. Bell was the number three rated JUCO receiver by Rivals and he impressed in the spring. With the offense going with four wide receivers more often, Robinson and Bell’s deep play abilities should open up the field for the other receivers across the middle. Aaron Pflugrad and Kerry Taylor will be counted on to replace Chris McGaha’s effectiveness as a position receiver. Although those two do not have the physicality of Bell and Robinson, they will have ample opportunities in the open field, especially on third downs. Other receivers that may contribute will be TJ Simpson (who is the only returning WR who caught a TD last year) and redshirt freshman JJ Holliday. Simpson had three plays of 30 yards or more last year and is a speedster that has big play ability. As noted earlier, RB Jamal Miles may also move outside to help the quarterbacks. The tight end position lacks a playmaker like former Sun Devil TEs Todd Heap and Zach Miller. However, Erickson would like to use the tight end more and the offense should provide many opportunities over the middle in short yardage situations. Christopher Coyle is the better receiver of the group, and Trever Kohl is the better blocker. Whoever ends up getting the starting nod will probably not be a huge factor in the offense in 2010. Dropped passes plagued the receivers and tight ends last year, but a more accurate and talented quarterback situation will hopefully alleviate that problem to an extent. Although the departing senior starters will not be easy to replace, the wide open offense and a more consistent QB should lead to more overall production this season.
The Sun Devil O-Line begins this year similarly to the last few years; injuries, inexperience, and a lack of Pac-10 quality talent makes this unit the team’s Achilles Heel. Third round draft choice Shaun Lauvao departs, along with guards Jon Hargis and Zach Schlink (out for the season with injuries). Center Garth Gerhart (Toby’s brother) is the only returning starter from a unit that surprisingly gave up its fewest number of sacks since 2003 (27). Although ASU failed to bring in any highly touted (or even decent) freshman O-Line prospects, they did try to produce a stopgap solution by bringing in three JUCO lineman that are ready to contribute. The best of the bunch is tackle Bryce Schwab, who is expected to protect the blind side of the starting QB and backed out of his commitment to USC to come to the Sun Devils. The remaining linemen competing for starting jobs are guards Adam Tello, Matt Hustad, Chris DeArmas (JUCO), Kody Koebensky, and Mike Marcisz and tackles Evan Finkenberg, Kyle Johnson, former TE Dan Knapp, and Aderious Simmons (JUCO). Regardless of the eventual starters, this unit will end up being the weakest on the Sun Devils once again. However, due to the promised quick strike passing offense and mobility of the quarterbacks, the usually overmatched ASU offensive line may end up looking quite competent after all.
November 24, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: UCLA 23-13
Player of the Game: Dimitri Nance
In my preview, I said that the running game and turnovers would be the key to this game. I turned out to be correct, and Dimitri Nance definitely did his part to lead the Sun Devils to victory. Nance did most of his work in the first quarter and ended up with 110 yards on 21 carries. This was the best game of his Arizona State career. He found holes, broke tackles, and ran hard. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough and turnovers were the death of the Sun Devils. However, Nance has been a great Sun Devil, battled through numerous injuries and always put forth his best effort.
Kyle Williams - The senior WR also had his best game as a Sun Devil in his second to last game. He caught six of Samson Szakacsy’s 15 passes for 128 yards and the only two ASU touchdowns. His 35 yard touchdown in the 1st quarter tied the game at 7, and his 75 yard touchdown in the 4th quarter gave the Sun Devils hope. KW has always hoped to return a punt for a touchdown for ASU, but this game showed his big play ability.
The entire ASU defense - This was an unbelievable effort by the defense, even if the final score didn’t show it. Despite 6 turnovers by the offense, the Sun Devil defense only gave up nine points. UCLA was occasionally able to move the football, but the defense played a perfect bend-but-not-break defense. Kai Forbath’s three field goals were all the defense gave up. Pierre Singfield played a fantastic game for the depleted secondary, and Vontaze Burfict was his usual self.
Turnovers - This is an obvious one. Arizona State might’ve dominated this game if they didn’t turn the ball over six times. They were moving the ball on the ground and making big plays through the air. Five fumbles and an interception (two returned for touchdowns) were the death of ASU’s bowl hopes. Along with the year long penalty issues, ASU needs to work on holding onto the football if it hopes to have a bounce back season in 2010.
Play Calling - Despite the success on the ground, I wasn’t a fan of the running plays that ASU called. Whenever they ran the zone read play out of the shotgun, a handoff went to Nance. The only time the used Samson’s mobility was on designed QB runs. The whole point of running the zone read is the duel threat: both the QB and RB are a threat to run. ASU also ran this play extensively when Danny Sullivan was at QB, and he is no threat to run. It’s no surprise that ASU has had limited success on the ground this year because of the predictable play calls.
Although ASU still has one more game, this feels like a season ending blog. 2008 and 2009 have possibly been the most disappointing back to back years this program has had in a long time. A win over Arizona would help heal the sting of two straight losing seasons, but it will definitely not cure it. UA will go to a bowl for the second consecutive year, and ASU will be sitting at home. All is not lost though. The Sun Devils will retain a top tier defense in 2010, and will have a promising, young starting quarterback. The offense will improve, whether behind Szakacsy, Brock Osweiler, or Michigan transfer Steven Threet. Since USC is no longer considered invincible, the conference is there for the taking. The Sun Devils have a long way to go, but they should be able to compete in 2010.
November 20, 2009
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (4-6, 2-5 T7th Pac-10) at UCLA (5-5, 2-5 T7th Pac-10)
Opening Line: UCLA by 5
This week’s game is a matchup of two very similar teams who are fighting for their bowl lives. UCLA needs a win here to reach bowl eligibility, and ASU needs to beat UCLA and Arizona to reach six wins. Both teams have beaten the Washington schools and lost to every other Pac-10 opponent they have faced. Both teams have stout defenses and suspect offenses. UCLA, however, comes in with much more momentum. They have won two in a row, while Arizona State has dropped their past four games. The two keys to this game will be running the football and turnovers. Whoever can sustain drives on the ground and hold on to the football should win this low scoring affair.
When ASU has the ball:
Once again, the quarterback position is the main focus of the week. Brock Osweiler got his first start last week at Oregon, was ineffective, and left the game due to injury. Danny Sullivan has started every game before that, but was hurt last week and wasn’t able to play. Samson Szakacsy was effective with his arm and legs last week in his first extended action at Arizona State. All three are healthy enough to play this week, and Dennis Erickson has announced that either Sullivan or Szakacsy will get the start, but hasn’t decided which one yet. UCLA is strong up front with stud DT Brian Price, so I think the mobility of Szakacsy would be more beneficial to ASU’s chances. Dimitri Nance was the workhorse last week against Oregon, and he and Cameron Marshall need to establish the run early and gain chunks of yards on 1st and 2nd downs. If Szakacsy gets the start, Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams will be huge for ASU. Samson’s arm strength is still suspect due to his lingering elbow issues, so those two sure handed receivers will have to get open over the middle.
Arizona State will struggle to get over 20 points and 300 total yards of offense against this UCLA defense.
When UCLA has the ball:
Just like Arizona State, UCLA’s offensive numbers are not impressive. Kevin Prince has played better of late (mostly due to Washington and Washington State’s defenses), but has thrown for 1578 yards, with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. UCLA’s leading rusher, freshman Johnathan Franklin has 532 yards and 5 touchdowns, but he has been in Rick Neuheisel’s dog house due to fumbling issues. He has lost the ball three times in the last two games. Derrick Coleman got the bulk of the carries last week with 12 rushes for 50 yards, and he will probably see the most action again. Chane Moline will also see more action this week due to his 3 carry, 3 touchdown afternoon last weekend. Arizona State’s defense has had problems against Quizz Rodgers of Oregon State, Toby Gerhart of Stanford, and LaMichael James of Oregon, but none of UCLA’s backs are nearly as talented or effective as that extraordinary trio. Receivers Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree, and Terrence Austin are a decent pass catching trio, and they could have some success deep against the Sun Devils’ depleted secondary.
Similar to ASU, I don’t see UCLA getting past 20 points or 300 yards on Saturday afternoon.
On the surface, UCLA looks like they have a slight advantage due to the game being played at the Rose Bowl. ASU has been a poor road team this year, only defeating WSU. This is why turnovers will be such a huge factor. Last year, ASU beat UCLA 34-9 despite having only 122 yards of total offense. They were able to cruise to the win due to four returns for touchdowns (one fumble, three interceptions). While another four touchdown performance by the Sun Devil defense is highly unlikely, ASU is due for some big plays on defense. Despite the conundrum at quarterback, I think ASU will do just enough on D to defeat the Bruins.
Arizona State 17-13
November 17, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Oregon 44-21
Player of the Game: Samson Szakacsy
With Arizona State down two quarterbacks due to injury, Szakacsy stepped up in a hostile environment in his first extended action of his career. With Danny Sullivan out and Brock Osweiler injured in the 2nd quarter, Samson tried his best to lead ASU’s comeback attempt. The Devils were not able to get the offense moving behind Osweiler, who only had 14 yards passing on 10 attempts, including an interception. Szakacsy came in, led ASU to two touchdown drives, and cut Oregon’s lead to 10 late in the 3rd quarter. It is obvious that Samson’s arm strength isn’t quite as impressive as Brock’s, but he was able to scramble out of the pocket and make accurate throws to his wide receivers.
Dimitri Nance - The senior tailback returned from injury to lead the Devils in rushing with 77 yards and a touchdown. His yards per carry were not overly impressive at 3.0, but he ran hard early in the game when the passing game wasn’t working.
Pass Protection - Although this offensive line has been decimated by injuries, they have made major strides this season. With Rudy Carpenter at quarterback, the Sun Devils were always near the top in most sacks allowed. They only allowed two on Saturday and have been much improved all year. A major factor may be the mobility of Szakacsy and Osweiler or the ability of Sullivan to get rid of the ball quickly, but the lack of sacks is refreshing for Sun Devils fans. If they could only limit their penalties…
James Brooks - Brooks and the rest of the defensive line were shut down in the pass rush and were pushed around in the running game, but he made a very athletic play in the 1st quarter. He picked off a short Jeremiah Masoli pass and nearly took it back to the house. He ended up being tackled at Oregon’s 18, setting up ASU’s first touchdown. He does need to work on ball control though, I have never seen anyone carry the ball so far away from their body. Brooks managed to not fumble though and came up with the only big play for ASU’s defense.
Pass defense - Although Oregon isn’t a passing team and didn’t have much need to throw the ball, this injury plagued secondary played very well. Despite being down starters Omar Bolden and Terell Carr, Oregon was only able to complete 10 of 20 passes. Freshman Deveron Carr looks like he will have a promising career and injured freshman Osahon Irabor should return next year and give the secondary a boost.
Run Defense (Against Good Teams) - Arizona State’s run defense has feasted on weaker opponents, but have been dominated by the two elite running teams they have played this year. Toby Gerhart and Stanford pounded ASU up the middle, while Masoli and LaMichael James shredded the D for 268 yards on the ground. The good news for ASU: UCLA and Arizona are not strong running teams. More good news: ASU will return Vontaze Burfict, Lawrence Guy, and other important pieces in the front seven.
ASU never really had a chance in this one. Oregon got out to a huge early lead, which seems to happen far too much against the Sun Devils. Szakacsy tried his best to lead the comeback, but Oregon just has too many weapons. The next two games are very winnable, but also very losable. UCLA has improved as of late and has a very strong defense. Neither team will be able to do anything on offense. Unless there are a plethora of defensive and special teams touchdowns, I wouldn’t be surprised if the teams combined for under 20 points. Arizona is obviously a better football team this year, but ASU will be playing at home and anything can happen in rivalry games. I’m anxious to see what Dennis Erickson does with the quarterback position. Each QB has their own strengths and weaknesses. Sullivan has the most experience, but has been too mistake prone. Osweiler is just a true freshman, but has the best arm of the bunch. Szakacsy doesn’t have the arm strength of the other two, but he is very mobile and accurate. I would assume that Erickson will go with whoever is the healthiest, but I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Sullivan behind center.
November 12, 2009
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (4-5, 2-4 T-7th in Pac-10) at Oregon (7-2, 5-1 1st in Pac-10)
Opening Line: Oregon by 17
For the second straight week, Arizona State finds itself in a matchup between two teams coming off of a loss. Oregon’s defense was mauled by Toby Gerhart and Stanford 51-42, while ASU outplayed USC, but fell 14-9 at home. On the surface, this looks like a mismatch in favor of the Ducks. Oregon has beaten ASU by an average of 24 over their last four meetings, including a 54-20 win at Sun Devil Stadium last season. The Ducks’ offense has been pretty much unstoppable after their opening week loss at Boise State, while the Sun Devils have averaged under 20 ppg in conference play. LaGarrette Blount will return this week for Oregon, but it remains to be seen if he will actually see any action. Coach Chip Kelly said this week that Blount is 4th or 5th on the depth chart at RB and freshman LaMichael James already has over 1,000 yards rushing this season. ASU has the defense to slow down the rushing attack, but they are very thin this week at cornerback. Starter Terell Carr has been suspended indefinitely, Omar Bolden is out for the year, and backup Josh Jordan might miss the game as well. That leaves ASU with redshirt freshman Deveron Carr (who got his first start last week), backup Pierre Singfield, and converted WR LeQuan Lewis. The biggest news for the Sun Devils is true freshman Brock Osweiler getting his first career start this week.
When ASU has the ball:
Senior QB Danny Sullivan was pulled last week against USC after a bad throw led to a pick-six that put USC up for good. Osweiler came in, gave the fans some hope, and led ASU to a touchdown drive, but couldn’t pull out the victory against the favored Trojans. Sullivan was also slightly injured last week when his bicep hit against an opposing helmet. Erickson finally decided on Brock after practice on Wednesday. Sullivan had the experience advantage and may have been better suited to handle the hostile atmosphere at Autzen Stadium, but he has been ineffective as of late and has made many poor decisions. A road game against Oregon may not be the most favorable venue for Brock to get his first college start, but ASU needs a spark. This season is essentially lost, and Erickson might as well see what he has at QB for the future. Running back is also a problem area for ASU going into the week. Ryan Bass was suspended earlier this week and Dimitri Nance has been playing at less than 100%. Cameron Marshall will probably get the bulk of the carries, but he struggled against USC and had a costly fumble. Oregon is vulnerable against the run, as shown by Gerhart last week, and ASU needs to get a strong performance from Marshall (and possibly Osweiler) on the ground. The only sure things for ASU on offense are wide receivers Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams. They also need to have huge games if the Sun Devils have any dreams of an upset. Another big problem that faces the Devils this week is the penalty problems on the offensive line. False start penalties will probably be plentiful because of the noise factor at Autzen. Too many false starts and holds will halt any drives before they get started. The Ducks have proven that they are a vulnerable football team on defense, but ASU will have to play a perfect game to expose that.
When Oregon has the ball:
The best offense in the Pac-10 plays one of the best defenses in the conference. Jeremiah Masoli has been nearly Heisman good at QB, making plays with his arm and feet. He has thrown for nine touchdowns and run for nine more. Arizona State’s did play well against the only mobile quarterback they’ve played this season when they faced Washington’s Jake Locker, so going up against Masoli isn’t such a tall task. Locker was able to hurt ASU more through the air than Masoli and Oregon’s receiving corps will be able to. Ed Dickson is a very productive ball-catching tight end, but Oregon doesn’t really have any other receiving threats. This is great news for a team that is severely short staffed in the defensive backfield. Freshman RB James has probably been the second best freshman RB behind Pitt’s Dion Lewis, but his style of running also plays into ASU’s favor. The one game that ASU struggled against the run was against powerful Gerhart of Stanford. James is quicker and smaller, similar to Jahvid Best, who the Sun Devils contained. Blount is the type of back that could give the Sun Devils big problems, but he probably won’t be a factor in his first game back. He hasn’t played in over two months and is probably not in football shape. Although the matchups seem to favor ASU’s defense, this is an Oregon offense that has put 40 up in every Pac-10 game except for one. They won’t get there this week, but they will put up some points.
Arizona State has shown that they can be very competitive against top teams this year. They have had a chance against Georgia, USC, and California all the way up to the last seconds of the game. Playing at Oregon, however, provides a much different challenge. Just like last week against USC, ASU will be playing a very angry Oregon team after their loss to Stanford. Oregon will come out ready to play; they will guarantee a trip to the Rose Bowl by winning out. ASU fans are hoping for a repeat of 2002 when they upset sixth ranked Oregon in Eugene.
November 10, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: USC 14-9
Players of the Game: Arizona State’s Defense
USC was able to run the football effectively at times on Saturday, but the Sun Devils’ defense made this offense full of very highly touted recruits look very pedestrian. Top freshman QB Matt Barkley only completed 7 out of his 22 passes for 112 yards (75 of those were on one catch and run by Damian Williams in the 3rd quarter. Barkley was only sacked once, but was pressured into quick decisions and was hampered by drops from the USC receivers. ASU’s secondary was also able to knock some of those passes down. Barkley’s one pick could’ve either been three because one interception was negated by a penalty another tipped pass was dropped. Allen Bradford and Joe McKnight were able to get their yards on 1st and 2nd down, but the defense was unbelievably stout on 3rd down. Pete Carroll’s Trojans were only 2 for 13 on 3rd downs, and 0 for 1 on 4th down.
Brock Osweiler -The true freshman QB’s numbers weren’t impressive (11-27, 153 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception), but most of those incompletions were on obvious passing downs late in the 4th quarter. His arm strength was on display as he gunned completions to his receivers down the field, and he gave the Sun Devils hope by throwing a beautiful 23 yard touchdown to Chris McGaha in the 3rd quarter. Perhaps the most impressive thing that Brock did on Saturday was keeping drives alive with his feet. Right before the TD pass, he stiff-armed a USC defender and spun out of bounds for a 1st down. This is simply something that Danny Sullivan was never equipped to do. Osweiler’s insertion into the lineup also gave the fans at Sun Devil Stadium some much needed energy. The crowd has been largely unsupportive this year, especially towards Sullivan, but the place erupted whenever Brock came into the game. As long as Sullivan was managing the game and not making mistakes, I was in favor of keeping him in the lineup. However, Danny has started throwing interceptions, is flat-footed in the pocket, and just doesn’t have the arm strength to make big plays. I don’t see any reason why Brock wouldn’t be the starter for the rest of the season.
Chris McGaha - He was as sure handed as always, pulling in 9 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown catch. Chris made some nice catches in traffic and always seems to have a step or two on the defense. He’s not the quickest or biggest receiver on the field, but his hands and route running ability make him a legitimate NFL prospect.
I’ve already praised the defense above, but the secondary deserves even more praise. Other than the Williams catch for the touchdown, USC’s longest pass was 13 yards. They made Matt Barkley look like a scared freshman, and they were able to fix a problem that has been plaguing the secondary all year: the deep pass. All of Barkley’s passes down the field were well defended and none of them were even close to connecting. With a young QB and RB along with this dominant defense, the Sun Devils look like a team to be reckoned with in 2010.
Penalties (Again) - ASU was able to limit their personal fouls against USC, but holding calls and false starts were killers for a struggling offense. ASU was in prime position to take a 7-0 lead in the 2nd quarter, but two penalties caused them to settle for a field goal. Kyle Williams caught a ball at the USC 1 that would’ve given ASU a 1st and Goal, but a hold brought that back. A few plays later on a 1st and Goal at the 9, a false start pushed ASU back another 5 yards.
Turnovers - Without turnovers, Arizona State probably should’ve been up 10-0 at the half. Cameron Marshall halted a strong opening drive by fumbling deep in USC territory and Danny Sullivan’s pick six before the half negated a dominant 1st half and gave USC the lead. Penalties and turnovers are primarily the reason why ASU has lost their three games against ranked teams by a total of 10 points.
Arizona State had a prime opportunity to get back into the bowl picture, but they failed down the stretch again. There’s really not much else that needs to be said. If ASU dreams of a better season next year, they need to fix their mistakes and get better at finishing games. This week they visit an Oregon team that demolished USC two weeks ago, but fell to Stanford on Saturday. Oregon looks beatable, but it will take another strong effort from the defense and a full, productive game from Osweiler. I can’t see any possible reason why Sullivan would start again; he is banged up, making mistakes, and not able to move the football. Osweiler brings an added dimension in the running game, and has a far better arm that Sully. LaGarrette Blount returns from suspension for some reason after punching a Boise State player and going after the Broncos fans in the opening game. The Sun Devils run defense will have to come up big against Blount, LeMichael James, and Jeremiah Masoli for the game to be competitive.
November 6, 2009
By: David Siorek
USC (6-2, 3-2 Pac-10) at Arizona State (4-4, 2-3 Pac-10)
Opening Line: USC by 11
A very angry USC Trojans team comes to Sun Devil Stadium looking to take out their frustrations from last week’s Oregon blowout loss on the struggling Sun Devils. In their visit to Autzen on Halloween, USC suffered their worst loss under Pete Carroll and also surrendered the most points during his tenure. The loss moved USC essentially three games back of Oregon for the Pac-10 title because Oregon would have the tiebreaker. Another Pac-10 Championship and BCS bowl for the Trojans seems highly unlikely. Although ASU’s Halloween loss was by a slimmer margin, it was just as scary. Penalties haunted the Sun Devils again, and their vaunted defense allowed Cal to drive the length of the field for the game winning field goal. Another big problem for ASU this year has been getting out to very slow starts. In their four losses, the Devils have been outscored 52-6, while in their four wins; they have outscored opponents 31-7.
When ASU has the ball:
Don’t expect for USC to give up anywhere near the 47 points that Oregon put up last week unless ASU scores 5 defensive touchdowns. Cameron Marshall will probably get the start at tailback because Dimitri Nance is still banged up. The true freshman Marshall has taken advantage of the playing time and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Running room will be hard to come by against USC’s tough front seven, so ASU will probably have to rely on the pass to move the ball. Taylor Mays will make that difficult as well, so Danny Sullivan will have to be extremely accurate and efficient on screen passes and short throws across the middle to his receivers. If the Sun Devils continue to kill themselves with holding penalties, Sullivan will have to force passes down the field on 3rd and long. The two most likely results would be turnovers or a short field for the Trojans. I would also likely to see Dennis Erickson get Samson Szakacsy or Brock Osweiler involved if ASU gets near the goal line. Both backup quarterbacks have much better mobility than Sullivan, and the threat of a play action pass may open up the middle for runs. Running the ball up the middle three times against an angry USC defense at the goal line won’t get it done this week. ASU has scored at least 14 points in every game this year, but unless the defense creates points or field position, two touchdowns will be difficult to come by.
When USC has the ball:
USC has also had a subpar year by their standards on the offensive side of the ball as well, but they still have plenty of weapons at their disposal. True freshman QB Matt Barkley doesn’t have an impressive TD-Int Ratio (9-6), but he has still completed almost 60% of his passes and has thrown for almost 250 yards per game; not too bad for someone who was in high school at this time last year. He did lead the game winning drive against Ohio State, but Joe McKnight did most of the heavy lifting on that drive. USC has a plethora of productive backs that will see action on Saturday. McKnight and Allen Bradford have combined for over 1100 yards, 11 touchdowns, and over a 6.5 YPC on the ground, but ASU’s defense should be in a good position to contain them. ASU has held quick running backs Jahvid Best and Jacquizz Rodgers to under 85 yards apiece, but were devastated by Stanford’s bruising Toby Gerhart for 125 yards. USC’s backs fit the mold of Best and Rodgers, and the front seven won’t allow the running backs to beat the Sun Devils. USC’s two main weapons in the passing game are Damian Williams and TE Anthony McCoy. ASU hasn’t yet faced an imposing ball catching tight end like McCoy, but they have struggled against those types of players in the past. Fred Davis terrorized the Sun Devils in 2007 for over 100 yards and a touchdown. ASU’s secondary is a question mark because of injuries and changes. Deveron Carr and Clint Floyd maybe start in the defensive backfield over Pierre Singfield and Jarrell Holman. The secondary played poorly last weekend, allowing over 300 yards passing to Kevin Riley, and did not force any interceptions. Lawrence Guy and the defensive front were imposing early on, but the lack of pressure in the second half allowed Riley to scan through the open receivers and make good decisions. ASU will also need to eliminate big penalties on defense. If personal fouls and pass interferences continue to happen, the defense will be playing with their backs against the wall.
The twelfth man for Arizona State will also be a big factor. The fans have been less than supportive this year; either not coming out to games, or booing mercilessly when they do go. A perfect game from the offense, defense, and the crowd will be necessary in pulling off the upset. If ASU gives up an early touchdown or two, the crowd will immediately turn on them; that is what happened against Oregon State and California. This is precisely why ASU needs to score on defense early, pressure Barkley into a fumble or interception. Unfortunately for ASU, they have always gotten off to slow starts under Erickson, and I think that trend will continue this weekend. If it does, the game will get out of hand in a hurry.
November 5, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: California 23-21
Player of the Game: Lawrence Guy
Arizona State was able to stay in the game in the 1st half, despite a struggling offense, mainly because of the efforts because of Guy’s efforts. He recorded two sacks, recovered a 1st quarter fumble, and forced a fumble in the 2nd quarter that led to a touchdown. Ryan Bass fumbled on Cal’s 1 yard line, then Guy forced QB Kevin Riley to lose the ball on the next drive. Samson Szakacsy then threw a 3 yard touchdown on the next play. Guy did make a big mistake in the 1st half when he recovered a fumble. During the return, he slipped around the 25 yard line, spiked the ball, and cost ASU 15 yards on an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Cameron Marshall - The freshman tailback filled in for an injured Dimitri Nance and an ineffective Bass. He carried the ball 16 times for 71 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter. Bass has been clamoring for playing time since he has been at Arizona State, got his chance in the 1st half, but couldn’t come through.
Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha - The senior wideouts did their part in an effort to lead the Sun Devils to victory. Williams caught a deep ball from Danny Sullivan in the 2nd quarter that tied the game at 14, and McGaha was the go-to-guy in the air in the 4th quarter drive that gave ASU their first lead of the game at 21-20.
Other than Guy, no one really stood out on defense. However, the Devils did a very good job of slowing down Cal’s high powered offense after a very fast start. Jahvid Best was limited to 63 yards on the ground, and ASU forced two turnovers. Riley, Best, and Cal’s receivers were able to cut apart the secondary, but the Sun Devils played a great bend, but not break defense by limiting Cal to five field goal attempts after the two early touchdowns. Vontaze Burfict was all over the place again, getting seven tackles, eliminating silly penalties, and nearly intercepting a pass in the end zone that would’ve ended the game.
Penalties (Again) - Not much needs to be said here that hasn’t already been said. The Sun Devils lead the nation in penalty yards, and most of those are devastating. Pass interference calls and holding penalties are mostly acceptable because the players are trying to make plays, but the personal fouls are drive killers for the offense and put the defense in impossible situations. I don’t think this problem will be solved this year. There is too much of a sample size to blame these issues on the referees or inexperience. These are things that winning football teams eliminate. ASU hasn’t eliminated the dumb penalties, and therefore aren’t playing winning football right now.
Play Calling - Calling the plays on offense is one of the most difficult jobs out there, and it’s always easier to criticize the play calling after the game. Two drives stand out to me. In the 2nd quarter, Ryan Bass got the call on runs up the middle on consecutive plays. He couldn’t find any room on either play, and fumbled on the second one. On the next drive, a play action pass worked for a touchdown. Putting Szakacsy or Brock Osweiler in the game on the goal line gives defenses more things to worry about. Bass is a small, quick running back and would be better suited to run on the edges. In the 4th quarter, nursing a one point lead, ASU again ran the ball right up the middle three times. I understand the concept; get a first down and the game is pretty much sealed, but the play calling is too bland to work. A Pac-10 defense can stop the same up the middle run three times. Marshall almost converted on 3rd and short, but another play action pass might’ve converted the 3rd down and won the game.
This was the second devastating loss for ASU this year. Hypothetically, the could be 6-2 and bowl eligible right now. Now they stand at 4-4 and pretty much need a road win against UCLA and an upset of a top 20 team to avoid consecutive losing seasons. The defense is up for the challenge, but it is a tall task. USC will be a very angry team when the descend upon Sun Devil Stadium next week, Oregon looks like a top 5 team, and Arizona has been unstoppable since Nick Foles has been inserted at QB. If Dimitri Nance is again limited, Cameron Marshall looks up to the task to take over the running back duties this season and going forward. The wide receivers have been playing well as of late, and while Danny Sullivan isn’t playing well, he is keeping ASU in ball games. I would like to see a supportive, loud, and packed Sun Devil Stadium against USC, but if USC pulls out to a big early lead, the fans will turn on Sullivan, Dennis Erickson, and the rest of the team. An early touchdown will be essential against a vulnerable USC team, and ASU will need at least one defensive/special teams touchdown to upset the mighty Trojans.
October 30, 2009
By: David Siorek
California (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) at Arizona State (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10)
Opening Line: California -6.5
Arizona State will try to rebound after their worst performance on both sides of the ball this season last week at Stanford. Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck, and the rest of the Cardinal moved the ball at will, and Stanford’s defense never let ASU get going on offense. Hopefully, a Halloween Homecoming game against the Golden Bears is the right medicine to get ASU back on track for a bowl game. Jahvid Best is one of the best running backs in the country, and junior QB Kevin Riley plays mostly mistake free football. Arizona State’s offense comes into the game banged up, and they will need the defense to come up huge this week if they want to escape with a win.
When ASU has the ball:
Danny Sullivan will get his eighth consecutive start, but the honeymoon from his game-winning touchdown pass against Washington is essentially over. He was largely ineffective against Stanford before leaving the game in the 4th quarter due to injury. Brock Osweiler should again get playing time this week, but he didn’t play well last week either. Wide receivers Kyle Williams and Kerry Taylor both missed last week’s game, and that might’ve been one of the reasons that the offense lacked rhythm. They are listed as probable for this week’s game, and that should give the quarterbacks more options. Dimitri Nance is also battling injuries, and that could finally give Ryan Bass an opportunity to shine. If Nance is limited or misses the game, Cameron Marshall will also get carries. The Sun Devils need to pick up chunks of yards on first down to be competitive this week. They don’t have the explosiveness to convert 3rd and longs, but they continually find themselves in those situations. If the running backs can average 4-5 yards per carry and the receivers can get open over the middle on early downs, Sullivan and Brock may have some opportunities for big plays down the field.
When Cal has the ball:
Jahvid Best offers up a much different kind of challenge in the backfield than Toby Gerhart did last week. Gerhart punishes defenders up the middle and Best is lightning quick. The Sun Devils are probably better suited to compete with Jahvid because their front seven doesn’t possess great size. Dexter Davis and James Brooks have the speed to contain best from getting too far outside, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict has the great speed to make up for his inexperience. This game will be a great barometer for ASU’s run defense. Did they build up their great stats (#2 in the nation before last week) against weak run teams, or did they simply have an off week against a surprising Stanford team? Kevin Riley has seemingly been around forever, but he is only a junior. He has feasted on some weak defenses in Cal’s five wins, but has struggled mightily in their two losses. Riley has completed 64% of his passes, with 226 YPG and an 11-1 ratio against Maryland, Minnesota, Eastern Washington, UCLA, and Washington State, but has only completed 38%, with 161 YPG and a 0-1 ratio against Oregon and USC. Also, Best has eclipsed 100 yards in all five wins (135 YPG, 11TD), and only averaged 51 with no touchdowns in the two losses. Obviously ASU in the same area code as Oregon and USC, but their defense has been pretty stout except for last week. We will find out very early if this game will be competitive. During ASU’s two worst losses, they got down big early and never made the game interesting. If Cal can score on their first few drives, it will be another long night for Erickson’s Devils
Too many of the Sun Devils’ offensive weapons are banged up for them to win this game. They will need to put up between 21-31 points to make this game interesting, and I don’t think they have the firepower to do so. ASU’s defense, although very good, will prove that it is not quite on Oregon or USC’s level just yet. Best will get his yards, score a couple times, and this game won’t be close.
October 29, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Stanford 33-14
Stanford completely dominated all facets of the game on Saturday night. They were able to run and pass all over ASU’s highly touted defense. Arizona State came in at number 2 in the nation in rushing defense ,and Stanford compiled 249 yards on the ground. Freshman Andrew Luck threw for 236 yards. They won the turnover battle and didn’t throw an interception to an ASU team that had picked off a pass in 14 previous games. Their defense forced ASU’s quarterbacks to complete less than 50% of their passes for only 161 yards.
Stanford stormed out to a 24-0 halftime lead, which was insurmountable for the much maligned Sun Devils offense. ASU’s did average 5.2 yards per carry on the ground, but when the defense knows a team has to pass to get back in the game, running backs will be able to find some holes. Chris McGaha and T.J. Simpson caught Danny Sullivan touchdown passes in the second half, but the defense couldn’t make enough stops to allow any kind of a comeback. Sullivan’s numbers weren’t terrible (12-23, 143 yards, no interceptions), but he wasn’t very impressive. He wasn’t able to get anything going in the 1st half, and ASU didn’t even threaten to score.
Brock Osweiler came on for an injured Sullivan and didn’t impress in his chance to wrestle the starting job away from the senior. Brock showed his mobility on a 19 yard run, but he only completed 1 of 7 passes for 18 yards. Sullivan, who isn’t 100 percent, will again get the start against Cal. It looks like another long game for ASU next week, so Brock should get extended playing time once again.
The skill position players also suffered from injuries. Kyle Williams and Kerry Taylor missed the game with injuries, and Dimitri Nance was hurt as well. The wide receivers should be back for the Cal game, but if Nance can’t go, Ryan Bass may get extended playing time. Bass is probably the running game’s best deep threat, but he has to show that he can pass protect and get tough yards over the middle. If he can’t, expect Cameron Marshall to get the bulk of the playing time.
The defense played its first really poor game of the year. The pass rush didn’t get any pressure on Andrew Luck, allowing him ample time to make good decisions. A better pass rush might’ve forced the red shirt freshman to make some mistakes down the field. The front seven was also pushed around in the running game. ASU only had four tackles for loss, so Stanford was making positive plays on nearly every down. ASU was unable to slow the Cardinal down on 1st and 2nd down, thus allowing Stanford to go 8 for 16 on 3rd down conversions. The 3rd and long situations for the offense forced ASU to go 3 for 11.
Stanford dominated possession of the ball and had it for 15 more minutes than ASU. Their average drive starting position was 13 yards closer to the end zone than the Sun Devils.
The only real bright spot for the Sun Devils was their containment of big play receiver and returner Chris Owusu. He only had 2 catches for 13 yards and 1 kick return for 28 yards. If they are to have a chance against California, they need to do the same thing to Cal big play RB Jahvid Best.
This loss was a huge hit to the Sun Devils bowl hopes. Arizona State has five games left: vs. Cal, vs. USC, @Oregon, @UCLA, and vs. Arizona. Three of those games are winnable, but going to the Rose Bowl and beating UCLA, and defeating a nationally ranked Wildcat team in a rivalry game will be extremely difficult. Still, a win this week does put ASU is a good position to become bowl eligible.
October 23, 2009
By: David Siorek
Arizona State 4-2(2-1 Pac-10) at Stanford 4-3(3-2 Pac-10)
Opening Line: Stanford -7
Arizona State hits the road to play against a Stanford team that has struggled on defense the last two weeks. ASU has won two in a row against the Washington schools, while Stanford has followed up their 3-0 conference start with consecutive losses at Oregon State and Arizona. The Cardinal defense has given up an average of 40.5 points the last two weeks, but they will be going up against a Sun Devil offense that has struggled all year. Stanford has dominated at home this year, going 3-0 against San Jose State, Washington, and UCLA, while ASU has struggled on the road. They fell to Georgia in a close game and played poorly in a win over Wazzu. Stanford’s balanced offensive attack is led by freshman QB Andrew Luck and bruising RB Toby Gerhart, but they will be facing the nation’s 2nd best rushing defense. Danny Sullivan and the passing offense looks to build on their game-winning performance from last Saturday.
When ASU has the ball:
Stanford has struggled mightily on defense the last two weeks, but Arizona and Oregon State’s offenses are far superior to ASU’s. Arizona State’s rushing attack has been surprisingly effective this year and the combination of Dimitri Nance, Cameron Marshall, and Ryan Bass should be able to find some more holes in Palo Alto this weekend. UA averaged 9.9 yards last week against Stanford and Quizz Rodgers had over 180 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago. The power of Nance and the big play ability of Marshall and Bass should be a formidable opponent against the struggling Cardinal D. Danny Sullivan and the aerial attack should also be able to move the ball. Arizona QB Nick Foles was able to shread apart Stanford’s defense last week with over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Sullivan isn’t quite as lethal as Foles, but he should be beaming with confidence after last week’s game winner against Washington. Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor will be deep threats down the field and Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha will help move the chains on 3rd down.
When Stanford has the ball:
Stanford relies on Gerhart to establish the offense, and he has done his part this year. He has averaged well over 100 yards per game this year and has 12 touchdowns. No other Pac-10 running back provides the challenge that Toby does. Quizz has the speed, but Gerhart is the whole package. However, Arizona State has a stout defensive line and a very formidable line backing corps. Look for many face to face meetings between Vontaze Burfict and Gerhart. Since ASU will focus most of their defense on stopping the running game, QB Andrew Luck will have to beat the Sun Devils. He has plenty of help though. Despite the good play from the secondary, ASU’s opponents have been able to beat them on deep passing plays all year. Receivers from Georgia, Oregon State, Washington State, and Washington have been able to break big plays. Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen have that same ability. Early big plays big Whalen and Owusu in the receiving and kicking game(especially Owusu on returns) may put a nail in the Sun Devils’ coffin. ASU hasn’t scored on defense in the last three games, but look for that to change. Taz will be able to find the end zone this week.
ASU was able to get off to a very quick start last week and was able to hang on for the victory. Again, this week’s game is crucial to the bowl hopes for both teams. The winner will have 5 wins and will most likely be bowling, while the loser will have an extremely uphill battle to the postseason. The keys for Arizona State are scoring early and limiting the big plays. Although Toby Gerhart probably won’t be completely shut down, he will be facing the best rush defense on Stanford’s schedule. Stanford does have the home field advantage, but I think ASU’s defense will make one more big play than Stanford offense/special teams.
Prediction: Arizona State 27-17
October 22, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Arizona State 24-17
Player of the Game - Danny Sullivan
The much maligned senior QB threw the game winning 50 yard touchdown pass to Chris McGaha with five seconds left in the game. Sullivan’s performance in this game should keep him in the starting role for at least another week, if not the rest of the season. Danny was very efficient throughout the game on Saturday night, completing 60% of his passes for 263 yards, didn’t turn the ball over, and scored on the ground from a yard out. This performance was against the second worst defense in the conference, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Wide Receivers - Six different wide receivers contributed for Arizona State against UW. T.J. Simpson scored his first touchdown of the season on a 32 yard catch and also ran for 30 yards on one carry. Kyle Williams caught three balls and threw the touchdown to Simpson on a rare trick play for ASU. McGaha’s only catch was the biggest of the night. Gerell Robinson and Jamal Miles recorded career highs in yardage with 68 and 34 respectively, and Kerry Taylor had a season high four catches. These receivers have had their troubles this year, but they showed how talented they really are.
Dimitri Nance and Cameron Marshall - Nance was effective both rushing and receiving. He had 70 yards on 13 yards and had a Sun Devil high six receptions for 41 yards. The freshman Marshall set up ASU’s only field goal with a 75 yard run on the first play of a third quarter drive that started at ASU’s own 7 yard line. These numbers will be harder to come by when ASU starts playing some of the better Pac-10 defenses, but the big plays are both surprising and necessary for this struggling offense.
Ryan McFoy - The interceptions for the defense has seemingly come in bunches for the Sun Devil defenders this year. Mike Nixon had three in the opener, Jarrell Holman had three in a two game stretch earlier this year, and McFoy has had three in the last two games. The biggest one came as time expired, when Jake Locker’s desperation heave landed in McFoy’s arms as ASU’s 10 yard line. Arizona State has now recorded an interception in 14 consecutive games, which is the longest such streak in the nation.
Saia Falahola - The junior defensive tackle had two of the three sacks on Locker and tied for the team lead in tackles with five. It’s nice to see the defensive pressure come from somewhere other than Dexter Davis, Lawrence Guy, and James Brooks. Saia is having a breakout year and is forcing the opposing offensive lines from doubling some of the more highly touted lineman.
Vontaze Burfict’s penalties - Taz keeps impressing with his speed and is a true menace in the middle linebacker spot. His quickness allows him to make plays that most players can’t make and he will be a special player for three years here before leaving for the NFL. However, he is making far too many silly mistakes. He had three first half personal foul penalties on Saturday, and Dennis Erickson has come out publicly and said that those need to stop. He has possibly been the defensive MVP for the Sun Devils this year, but he needs to play under control for the team to continue to play winning football.
Finishing Games - It might sound silly to complain about the inability to finish games when a team has just won on a last second touchdown pass, but the game really shouldn’t have come down to the last play. In four drives after taking a 17-7 lead until the game winning pass, ASU ran 21 plays for 74 yards, punted three times and missed a field goal. This same problem plagued them against Georgia and almost cost them a game here as well. The defense can bail the offense out of a lot of situations, but good teams know how to move the ball and close teams out late.
Arizona State was able to win the game mostly because of their ability to slow down Jake Locker. The star QB got his numbers (303 total yards, one touchdown), but ASU’s defense never allowed him to get going on the ground and forced him to throw two interceptions. Unless Jeremiah Masoli plays for Oregon, ASU doesn’t really play any more mobile quarterbacks, but they proved that they can play effective defense against all types of attacks. Toby Gerhart and Stanford will bring a heavy rushing attack next week, but this defensive front should be up for the challenge.
Arizona State fans and teammates have to be elated for Danny Sullivan. He sat behind Rudy Carpenter for three years, and by the time he got his chance, no one wanted him in the game. The fans chanted “We Want Brock” during the Oregon State game, and the game winning touchdown is a moment he will one day tell his grandchildren about. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Danny will always have this moment.
October 16, 2009
By: David Siorek
Washington (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10) at Arizona State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-10)
Opening Line: Arizona State -3.5
The most difficult stretch of ASU’s schedule has arrived. There are no more automatic wins, and it’s anyone’s guess whether the Sun Devils will fail to win another game or finish in the top half of the Pac-10. A win this week will give ASU the inside track to at least a 5th place conference finish and a bowl game appearance. Washington pulled out a 36-33 comeback win against Arizona last week, aided by a controversial interception call late in the game, while ASU turned the ball over six times, but survived at Washington State 27-14. Danny Sullivan will get the start again at quarterback for the Devils, despite his three interceptions against the worst defense in the Pac-10. Hopefully he can bounce back against the 2nd worst defensive squad. ASU’s overpowering defense gets a huge challenge against UW and Jake Locker, who upset USC earlier this season.
When ASU has the ball:
Sullivan got most of the snaps last week, but Brock Osweiler also got some playing time. This strategy confuses me because if a team rotates two quarterbacks it usually has no reliable quarterbacks. Sully has been very unreliable in the last three games, and Brock is simply not ready to play against Pac-10 defenses. If Sullivan has another uninspiring performance and Arizona State gets blown out, I don’t see why Osweiler wouldn’t start the rest of the year. Washington’s rush defense has been hit or miss so far this year. They have played well against in four of their games, but were absolutely pushed around against USC and Stanford. The Sun Devils don’t have nearly as effective a rushing attack as those two teams, so they will need to use the short passing game to set up the run. Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams have been deadly on short passes across the middle, and they should be able to move the chains in this matchup. Dimitri Nance and Ryan Bass should be able to find some holes if Sullivan, Osweiler, and the offensive line can get the aerial attack going early
When UW has the ball:
Jake Locker is the most deadly duel-threat quarterback in the nation, and he provides a big challenge to ASU’s highly touted defense. Washington might have too many weapons for this defense. If ASU uses a spy on Locker, running back Chris Polk should be able to break off huge chunks of yardage. If ASU tries to load the box to stop the run, Locker will be able to make plays with his arm and feet. The Devils’ pass rush is again a huge factor in this game. If they can stop the run and get pressure on Locker, the linebackers and secondary should be able to contain the passing game. Last week’s twelve sack performance proves they have the ability, but will they be able to be effective against a capable offense? Just like the Oregon State game where ASU needed to slow down the Rodgers brothers, if the Devils can contain Locker they will win this game. However, that task is much more easily said that done.
Getting off to a quick start is vital for ASU this week. If Sullivan turns the ball over and UW is able to get off to an early lead, the Sun Devils simply do not have the quick strike offense to get back into the game. If the defense doesn’t shut down Locker early or give the offense a short field, Washington will probably cruise to an easy win. The Sun Devils fans haven’t been very supportive this year, and another sub par Pac-10 performance will cause Sun Devil Stadium to rain down boos.
October 14, 2009
Washington State Recap
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Arizona State 27-14
Player of the Game - Kyle Williams
For the second consecutive game, an Arizona State senior wide receiver had a career game. Williams hauled in 13 of the 22 completions from ASU’s quarterbacks on Saturday afternoon for a career high 126 yards and a touchdown. Kyle also added 32 yards on 4 punt returns and a 53 yard run on a reverse. It’s nice to see KW step up after struggling in earlier games with dropped passes.
The running game - Dimitri Nance recorded a career high with 113 yards and a touchdown, freshman Cameron Marshall added 27 yards and a 4th quarter touchdown, and Ryan Bass had 30 yards on 4 carries. The 53 yard run by Williams adds up to 220 yards rushing on only 37 carries, good for a 5.9 average. The Cougars do have the worst defense in the Pac-10, but results like this are encouraging. Washington also has a below average defense, so hopefully the running backs gained some momentum for next week.
The offensive line - Again, Washington State has a terrible defense. However, the offensive line only allowed one sack and two hits on the quarterbacks. They also opened up holes for the runners. Although the strength of schedule has been near the bottom in the FBS, the banged up line has done a much better time protecting the passers this year.
The pass rush and run defense - The highly touted ASU pass rush came into this one only having four sacks in four games. The lack of pressure was a major conversation point all week in the media. Washington State quarterbacks were sacked 12 times, and nine different Devils recorded a sack. Linemen Lawrence Guy and James Brooks led the team with 2.5 takedowns apiece. Dexter Davis also got untracked and recorded 1.5 sacks. In addition to the sacks, ASU tallied 11 more tackles for loss. Those big plays resulted in -54 yards rushing for the Cougs, who leading rushing was it’s punter Reid Forrest, who had 15 yards. It’s official; the pass rush is back.
Ryan McFoy - The senior safety has been battling injuries all year, but finally made some big plays in this game. McFoy accounted for two of the four ASU takeaways. He recovered a fumble and returned an interception 24 yards.
Danny Sullivan - The senior QB was tolerable through the first four games because he limited his mistakes. He threw three interceptions to the worst defense in the conference. His completion percentage was decent and he hit Kyle Williams with ease. However, without the interceptions, this might have been a five touchdown victory for ASU. Danny has stopped being a “Game Manager” and has started to be a liability. The Sun Devils start their seven game gauntlet, and if Sullivan continues to start and play like this, all of those games are losable. He will get the start again this week (Brock Osweiler will again see action), but another game or two like this one and he will be out.
(Again) Penalties and Mistakes - The most highly penalized team in the Pac-10 was penalized ten times for 85 yards and actually lowered the per game penalty yardage, the six turnovers by the offense kept WSU in the game, and kicker Bobby Wenzig missed two extra points. ASU will start looking at other walk-on kickers this week to see if any of them can fare better than Wenzig. Thomas Weber will be out for at least another week, and he can’t get back soon enough. More error filled games will make the chance at a bowl eligible season nearly impossible.
Arizona State has to consider themselves extremely lucky that they played such a poor team. The offense has been inconsistent and both sides of the ball have been undisciplined for most of the season. Lost in the shuffle of all the mistakes was another dominating effort by the defense. Washington State compiled 99 of their 181 total offensive yards on one 4th quarter touchdown pass. Next week, Washington brings another bad defense to Tempe, but a much more explosive offense than the Cougars. Jake Locker is probably the best quarterback in the conference, and he is a threat both running and throwing. ASU’s best chance at containing him is making a speedy linebacker (Vontaze Burfict perhaps) a spy all game. Although UW is a massive step up in competition, the home game against the Huskies is probably the most winnable game left on the schedule.
October 7, 2009
Washington State Preview
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-10) at Washington State (1-4, 0-3 Pac-10)
Opening Line: ASU -20
Arizona State will try to get back on track Saturday against the lowly Cougars. Last week, Oregon State used turnovers, penalties, and mistakes to down the Devils 28-17, while Oregon manhandled the Cougs 52-6. This is just the kind of game ASU needs to rebound from a two game losing streak. Other than a 3 point home win over SMU in Week 3, Wazzu has lost each game by at least 18 points. Last year, Kyle Williams caught two touchdown passes, Kerry Taylor caught one, and Lawrence Guy returned a fumble in a dominating 31-0 performance at Sun Devil Stadium. This game should be very similar, as WSU is still rebuilding and has yet to show much improvement on either side of the ball. Dennis Erickson will be hoping that this game gets out of hand early so he can get some backups in the game and give his team some much needed confidence.
When ASU has the ball:
Despite pressure from all directions for a quarterback change, Erickson will once again start Danny Sullivan over Brock Osweiler. The Pac-10 race isn’t as wide open as it was a couple weeks ago, as Oregon, USC, and Stanford are pulling away, but look for the senior to keep getting the nod unless the season becomes a disaster. Sullivan had a career day passing last week with 338 yards, but most of those came when the game was already out of hand. Finding open receivers should not be an issue on Saturday because Washington State comes into the game ranking last in the FBS in passing defense, allowing 310 yards per game. Running the football has also been pretty easy against Wazzu this year, as opponents have compiled 195 yards per game. Those stats tell me that the defensive front has struggled to move the offensive line, which is great news for ASU. Despite cutting down on sacks this year, the line is still banged up and allowed Oregon State to force quick throws by Sully last week. The WSU defense has been impressive in one stat: forcing turnovers. They have recovered eight fumbles and intercepted four passes so far in five games. The only chance for WSU will be takeaways, but ASU has only turned the ball over three times this year. Despite outgaining Oregon State by over 100 yards and gaining 12 more first downs last week, ASU struggled again on 3rd down, going 4-18.
The offense will rebound from the last two efforts and dominate in this one. Backups Osweiler, Ryan Bass, Gerell Robinson, and T.J. Simpson should get extended looks in the 2nd half in this contest to prepare them for 2010. The offense will once again gain over 400 yards and reach 30 points for the first time since their second game.
When Washington State has the ball:
Washington State isn’t yet sure who will start at quarterback, but it will not matter. True freshman Jeff Tuel got his first start last week, but was injured early and gave way to Marshall Lobbestael. Tuel will get the nod if healthy, but none of the quarterbacks have played well for the Cougs. They have thrown for three touchdowns against eight interceptions. The linebackers and secondary will be chomping at the bit and should be able to make big plays. Washington State has turned the ball over 16 times, which is 3rd worst in the FBS, while ASU is 2nd nationally in turnover margin. That is a terrible sign for Wazzu, especially since ASU has a tendency to find the end zone on defense. Running the ball shouldn’t be much easier for Washington State, as they are 108th nationally and last in the Pac-10 in yards per game. Dwight Tardy and James Montgomery have split carries, but neither are averaging over 40 yards per game. The receiving corps doesn’t have any playmakers like A.J. Green or James Rodgers, so the secondary should be able to put the clamps down on the deep passing game this week. Despite ranking 3rd nationally in total defense, ASU’s pass rush hasn’t been able to get to the quarterback with any regularity this year. Dexter Davis has faced double teams all year and hasn’t recorded a sack yet. With James Brooks getting another start on the other end, Dexter may be able to get to whomever the Cougs start at QB.
This side of the ball has all the makings of a colossal mismatch. The 3rd ranked defense against the 112th ranked offense and a defense forcing three turnovers per game against an offense that turns it over more than three times per game. This one will get out of hand early, and the defense will give ASU the great field position it didn’t have last weekend. WSU faces their 3rd straight strong defense, and they have only scored 6 points against USC and Oregon. They will struggle to move the ball yet again and will fail to reach double digits for the third straight week.
Arizona State 37-3
October 6, 2009
Oregon State Recap
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Oregon State 28-17
Player of the Game - Chris McGaha
McGaha was essentially Arizona State’s entire offense on Saturday against the Beavers. He recorded career highs in receptions and yards with 15 and 165 respectively. He was Danny Sullivan’s safety valve and kept many drives alive on 3rd down. Unlike some of ASU’s other receivers this year, Chris hasn’t had too many problems with drops. In a game where not too many things went right, McGaha was the lone bright spot for the Sun Devils
Prolonged drives and time of possession - There really wasn’t much that went right for ASU, but they were able to keep the ball away from Oregon State for most of the night. The Devils had four drives that lasted ten or more plays, including a 22 play drive in the 4th quarter that resulted in a touchdown. ASU also held the ball for about ten more minutes that the Beavers. Although these stats didn’t really help ASU tonight because they were down the entire game, it is a bright spot going forward.
Jarrell Holman - The starting safety recorded his 3rd interception and 4th takeaway in the last two games. He tipped a Sean Canfield pass to himself and brought ASU back in the game for the moment. The Devils had just scored a touchdown to cut it to 21-10, and after the interception they had a chance to cut the lead even further. The drive ended up not resulting in points, but it was still a nice interception at a pivotal moment.
Mistakes and penalties - This section seems like a broken record every week. ASU actually lowered their average penalty yards per game on Saturday, but were still penalized 10 times for 80 yards. Many of those penalties were devastating, including holding calls that put the struggling offense in more of a hole. Also, a James Brooks roughing the passer penalty kept a 1st quarter drive alive that resulted in a touchdown for a 21-3 Oregon State lead. The biggest mistake on the night occurred on ASU’s first possession. Punter Thomas Hankins dropped a punt and set up OSU inside the redzone. They would not look back from there. ASU also lost their first fumble of the year and lost the turnover battle for the first time this season.
The running game - Dimitri Nance wasn’t expected to duplicate his outstanding effort from last week against this stout OSU run defense, and he struggled. Ryan Bass also got an opportunity, but didn’t do too much. It’s tough to establish the running game because the plays are so predictable. Nearly every running play is a zone read out of the shotgun, but everyone knows that Danny Sullivan isn’t a threat to run. The result is a short run up the middle because the defensive front was easily able to penetrate ASU’s beleaguered offensive line.
Kick and punt returns - With the exception of Omar Bolden’s kick return for a touchdown against UL Monroe, ASU hasn’t been able to do anything on returns. Kyle Williams has struggled to get going on punt returns and LeQuan Lewis failed to set up ASU with good field position on kick returns. The result was average starting field position at their own 21 compared to the 32 for the Beavers. If Arizona State isn’t going to be able to set up anything on punt returns, they should at least try to pressure the punter.
Pass rush - Saia Falahola sacked Canfield on the first drive, and that was it for the day. Canfield had time to find the Rodgers brothers for short passes and Damola Adeniji deeper down the field. Dexter Davis, Lawrence Guy, and Brooks have the ability to make a lot of things happen, but they have struggled so far this year. Without pressure, opposing quarterbacks have plenty of opportunities to find open receivers down the field.
This was definitely a disappointing effort by the Sun Devils from the start. Mistakes put ASU in a big hole that the offense simply will not be able to climb out of. In 2007, when ASU tied for the Pac 10 title, Rudy Carpenter was able to lead the Devils back from many early deficits, but this year’s team does not have that ability. Fans and journalists are now calling even more for Dennis Erickson to replace Danny Sullivan with freshman Brock Osweiler, but Sully will get the start again next weekend at Washington State. I think that is the right move for now, but if the season becomes lost I think Erickson will get Osweiler a lot more playing time. The good news for Arizona State is that they play the bottom feeders in the Pac 10 on Saturday. The bad news is that all of the momentum gained from that nail biting loss at Georgia is now gone.
October 1, 2009
Oregon State Preview
By: David Siorek
Oregon State (2-2) at Arizona State (2-1)
Opening Line: ASU -5
Fresh off a narrow defeat at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs, the Sun Devils return home to open up Pac-10 play against Oregon State. The Beavers enter Sun Devil Stadium with a two game losing streak (home losses to Cincinnati and Arizona). Oregon State defeated ASU last year 27-25 in Corvallis; Rudy Carpenter’s two point pass attempt to tie the game fell incomplete. However, Arizona State hasn’t lost to the Beavers at home in 40 years. ASU comes into this game with loads of momentum on the defensive side of the ball, but they still need to find offensive consistency. Injuries on the offensive line may play a big role for the Devils. Five offensive lineman with experience may miss this game. Backup Mike Marcisz is out for the year, potential starter Matt Hustad is out at least three weeks, and Zach Schlink, Thomas Altieri, and Andrew Sampson are all question marks for this game. Despite the injuries, the offensive line held their own against SEC powerhouse Georgia, opening up big holes for Dimitri Nance and only allowing one sack. Starting defensive end James Brooks should return to action this week after a three game suspension, which will help because the defense needs another great performance to shut down the Rodgers brothers.
When ASU has the ball:
Arizona State’s offense fell back to earth last week after two strong performances against Idaho State and UL Monroe. Due to poor conditions, below average quarterback play, dropped passes, and a game Bulldog secondary, the passing game struggled mightily last week. Nance did everything he could to pull out a win, but it wasn’t quite enough. The aerial attack will be able to get back on track this week because the Beavers pass defense has been their weakness. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 272 yards per game, while throwing eight touchdowns against only two interceptions. Arizona’s Nick Foles, in his first career start, shredded the defense for 254 yards passing and three touchdowns last week. The Beavers run defense has picked up the slack, allowing less than 100 yards per game and under four yards per carry. This makes me believe that Nance won’t have as much success this week, but Danny Sullivan will carry the team. Kyle Williams, Chris McGaha, and the receivers were able to bounce back in Week 2 after numerous drops against Idaho State, and I expect the same thing to happen this week. The dry, sunny conditions in Tempe will be much easier to deal with than last week’s rain soaked affair at Sanford Stadium.
Turnovers should be another big advantage for ASU on Saturday. Despite completing less than 50% of his passes this year, Sullivan has only thrown one interception. Oregon State isn’t the best at pressuring the quarterback, so despite the injuries up front, Sully should have time to make good decisions. In addition to the two Beaver interceptions, they have only forced two fumbles.
ASU’s offense should accumulate around 200-225 yards through the air and about 80 on the ground. Oregon State will probably force a turnover and get to Sullivan a couple times due to the battered O-Line. The kicking game also remains a question with Bobby Wenzig filling in for Thomas Weber. I’m calling for Arizona State to get between 17-24 points on offense.
When Oregon State has the ball:
The Oregon State Beavers offense can be summed up in one word: Rodgers. Brothers James and Jacquizz have accounted for almost 70% of the Beavers offensive yards and 75% of their offensive touchdowns through four games. Obviously the key to shutting OSU down is containing the Rodgers’. That is much more easier said than done. Both the wide receiver James and the running back ‘Quizz are multi-dimensional; WR James actually leads the team with a 6.7 yards per carry average, while RB Jazquizz leads them in receptions. The fact that they are so dangerous both catching and receiving makes them even more difficult to stop. Last year against ASU, Quizz had 188 total yards, while James had 102 receiving. Apart from these two offensive machines, Oregon State has a bad offense. They really don’t have any other deadly running or receiving options, and their quarterbacks have largely been disappointments during their careers. Lyle Moevao led the Beavers to a good season last year, but he was never a consistent threat. He has been injured this year and has only thrown one pass. Sean Canfield has been even more of an unknown. Coming into his senior year, he has thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns and isn’t the type of quarterback that will single handedly beat a team. The moral of the story is that if ASU slows down the Rodgers brothers and limits them to about 175-200 total yards, they will absolutely shut down Oregon State.
The big play Sun Devils defense will look to put some more points on the board Saturday night. Going back to last year, ASU has scored ten defensive and special teams touchdowns in their last eight games (including three in as many games this year). This is how a team compensates for a struggling offense and nothing pumps up the crowd more than a Pick-6 or a fumble return for a touchdown. If the Sun Devils get an early score from the defense, this game is over. The defense wants to build on last week’s momentum and an early turnover would only put more fuel on the fire. Arizona State has the linebackers to slow down the Rodgers’ brothers on runs and short routes. Although A.J. Green did school the secondary last week, he is 6’4”, not 5’7” like James and Quizz. The deep ball won’t work as well with the ball hawking safeties patrolling the secondary.
The Rodgers brothers will do their damage, probably reach the end zone, and accumulate some yards, but this Oregon State offense will be no match for Dennis Erickson’s top 10 defense. I would expect 10-17 points for the Beavers on Saturday.
Arizona State 24-13
September 30, 2009
By: David Siorek
Final Score: Georgia 20-17
Player of the Game - Jarrell Holman
For the 3rd straight week, the player of the game is a defensive player who found the end zone. The Senior safety Holman was the lynchpin of a spirited effort from the Arizona State defense. He was responsible for all three takeaways and almost single handedly won the game for the Sun Devils. His fumble recovery early in the 3rd quarter set up a touchdown pass, he returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown to give ASU a 17-14 lead, and his second interception put the Sun Devils in position for the go ahead field goal with 5:30 left in the game.
Dimitri Nance - The Senior tailback matched his career high with 92 yards rushing just one year after gaining only 12 yards against the Bulldogs. Nance also led ASU with 4 receptions for 47 yards, including a 6 yards touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter. I wrote last week that Dennis Erickson had found his running back, and Nance didn’t let him down.
Vontaze Burfict - The highest ranked recruit in ASU history had a breakout game on a national stage Saturday night. Taz was the game leader in tackles with 11 and also accounted for 1.5 tackles for loss. He combined with Pierre Singfield to stop the Dawgs on a 4th and 1 at ASU’s 28 yard line early in the final period. It’s going to be difficult for Erickson to keep Burfict off the field for the rest of the season.
The passing game - Danny Sullivan turned it on late in the game, but had an atrocious 1st half. Some of the struggles in the passing game were due to the dreadfully wet conditions at Sanford Stadium, but some of the blame has to fall on Sully. The receiving corps also shoulders some of the blame. For the 2nd time in three games, drops hampered ASU’s offense. Also, despite only allowed one sack, the battered offensive line often allowed Georgia’s defense to force quick throws.
The pass rush - ASU failed to sack Joe Cox on Saturday night, and that played a major role in A.J. Green’s second straight monster game against the Devils. The secondary played their hearts out, but some pressure on the QB would have been helpful in slowing down Green.
The Sun Devils had a chance all the way until the clock showed 0:00. Despite the final outcome, this game has to be a major confidence booster for a team that now finds itself in a wide open Pac-10 race. USC has already lost, Cal was embarrassed at Oregon, and Oregon State went down at home against Arizona. The offense couldn’t have played much worse (especially in the 1st half), but the defense kept ASU in the game. Georgia had scored 93 points in their last two games (including 41 against South Carolina, who has allowed 13 total points to NC State and Mississippi), but could hardly do a thing against this stout defense. In a league full of inconsistent offense, the D should give ASU a chance to win every game.
September 25, 2009
By: David Siorek
Arizona State (2-0) at Georgia (2-1)
Opening Line: Georgia -12.5
The Sun Devils travel to Athens, Georgia for their first non-conference road game since 2006. The last two non Pac-10 road games have been successful for ASU(wins at Northwestern and Colorado), but this trip should be much more of a challenge. Arizona State comes into this game untested after beating Idaho State and UL Monroe at Sun Devil Stadium. However, those two cupcakes were a necessity; it has allowed QB Danny Sullivan to gain some confidence, and coach Dennis Erickson seems to have settled on a running back rotation. Georgia lost their opener at Oklahoma State, but rebounded to win SEC shootouts against South Carolina and Arkansas. The Bulldog offense has not missed a beat despite losing NFL first round draft choices QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno. Both teams also have significant injuries to deal with; Georgia will be without starting LT Trinton Sturdivant for the season with a knee injury, and ASU will be missing K Thomas Weber for about four to six weeks with a leg injury. Georgia dominated the Devils 27-10 last year in the first leg of this home and home series. ASU will be trying to garner some national recognition and UGA tries to show that they can compete in the loaded SEC.
When ASU has the ball:
The much maligned Sun Devil offense has definitely not been spectacular this season, but they have done a great job protecting the football. Playing mistake-free football is definitely the key for the offense to keep this game close. Sullivan has not thrown an interception, and ASU has not lost a fumble in the first two games. The key to moving the football will be the passing game. Sullivan seems to have good chemistry so far with Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha, and the Georgia defense has allowed over 280 yards per game through the air. The Dawgs have also allowed 120 yards per game on the ground, but their first three opponents have stronger rushing attacks. Another key will be penalties. Many of ASU’s 12 penalties last week set the offense back. Too many holding and chop block infractions will leave the offense with very few chances to score. If this game becomes a battle of kickers, ASU now seems to be at a disadvantage. With Weber out, place kicking duties fall to walk-on Bobby Wenzig. Although Wenzig didn’t miss a kick last week, ASU had to try for fourth down conversions more than once last Saturday because of their shaky kicking situation.
The best news for ASU coming into this game has to be the play of Georgia’s defense. South Carolina and Arkansas have tallied 78 points in the last two games against UGA. The defense also only has four sacks on the young season. If Georgia is unable to get pressure on the QB, ASU should be able to move the ball. However, if the D can shut down the run and pressure the pass, Arizona State will be in for a long evening. The Georgia D has shown the tendency for allowing the big passing play, which is good news for them because ASU will feature a more underneath passing game with a lot of short routes. If UGA can tackle the receivers well, they should be able keep points off the board
Arizona State won’t keep up with their 44 PPG pace, but they should be able to move the ball. It sounds obvious, but holding on to the ball, protecting the passer, and limiting penalties will be the key.
When Georgia has the ball:
Cox has shown to be quite the capable replacement for Stafford at QB, especially in the last two games. The senior quarterback has led the Dawgs to 93 points in the last two wins. WR AJ Green is the player to watch on the offense. He is a likely 1st Team All-SEC WR and is averaging over 90 yards per game so far. Replacing Moreno has been slightly more difficult; Richard Samuel does have 256 yards after 3 games, but 80 of those came on one touchdown run. If it weren’t for Samuel’s long TD and a 61 yard TD scamper by Branden Smith, the Dawgs would only be averaging 2.3 yards per carry. This leads me to believe that Georgia will probably be stopped for most of the night, but will probably break the game open with big plays.
It is very hard to find problems with the Sun Devils’ defense in the first two games, but there is always room for improvement. The defense has been unable to create too much pressure on the QB, and Joe Cox will have a field day if he can just sit in the pocket and look for open receivers. However, the +8 turnover margin for ASU gives them some hope, especially since Georgia is in the bottom 10 in the FBS in that same statistic. The Devil defense might just be the best that UGA have seen so far this year. A weaker Oklahoma State defense shut down the Dawgs in the opener (Ok State has since given up 45 points in a loss to Houston and 24 points to lowly Rice). This is the ultimate test to see just how fast this defense is. ASU needs to force turnovers, draw penalties, and sack the QB, or else this may be a blowout.
September 22, 2009
UL Monroe Game Recap
By: David Siorek
Final Score - Arizona State 38-14
Player of the Game - Omar Bolden
Bolden set the tone early by returning the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score. He was assisted by great blocks from Keelan Johnson and James Morrison, broke a tackle, then outraced the rest of the Warhawks to the end zone. Omar also picked of ULM QB Trey Revell’s 1st quarter pass at ASU’s 1 yard line. ULM was poised to cut the Arizona State’s lead in half before Bolden picked off the low throw.
Dimitri Nance - It looks like Dennis Erickson has found his horse at RB for the Georgia game and beyond. Nance took the bulk of the carries in the first 3 quarters. He finished the game with 82 yards on 17 carries, 2 touchdowns, and also a first down reception on a screen pass. The touchdowns weren’t particularly impressive; both were 1 yard runs through giant holes. Dimitri’s running style was the eye catcher. He ran hard up the middle, churned his legs for extra yardage, and held onto the football.
Kyle Williams - He rebounded from a sub par effort against Idaho State with the best game of career. He burned ULM over the middle en route to 8 catches and 129 yards, with many of those yards coming after the catch. Williams proved that the drops last week were an anomaly, not a problem. Kyle’s senior season is shaping up to be his best.
Chris McGaha - His statistics weren’t overly impressive (6 catches for 48 yards), but his diving, juggling one handed touchdown reception vindicated the Pac-10 preseason poll that said he has the best hands in the conference.
Defensive and Special Teams Stars
Travis Goethel - The other 2 Sun Devil takeaways were created by Goethel. Right before the half, he stepped in front of a Revell pass and would’ve taken it to the house if he had not run into DE Dexter Davis. Still, the interception allowed ASU to tack on a field goal before the half and make it a 3 score game. Travis also recovered a muffed punt by ULM in the 3rd quarter that led to Nance’s second touchdown and made the score 31-7.
Bobby Wenzig - The backup kicker stepped in for injured Preseason All-American Thomas Weber and was perfect. He made all 5 extra point attempts and a 24 yard field goal, and all of them were dead solid perfect. The game would still not have been close even if ASU didn’t have a kicker, but it’s nice to know that the backup is capable of stepping in and producing.
Penalties - ASU was penalized 12 times for 122 yards. Chop blocks were drive killers and holding penalties didn’t help the starting field position. When a team with an average offense continues to make mental errors, that offense becomes sub par.
Pass Protection - Danny Sullivan was sacked 3 times and was hurried even more. Idaho State’s defense in the opening game made the pass protection look good, but the step up in competition showed how far the offensive line has to go.
The first two games have gone according to plan, and ASU wasn’t caught looking ahead to the Georgia game this year. The offense has had its moments, and the defense has been superb. The best news for the Sun Devils has been the performance of some of the teams on their schedule. Georgia’s defense has been very porous so far, which means they should be able to move the ball next week. USC and Oregon have started out the year very poorly as well. A conference title is probably still out of the question for this year, but the Pac-10 is very wide open this year.
September 16, 2009
UL Monroe Preview
By: David Siorek
UL Monroe (1-1) at Arizona State (1-0)
Opening Line: ASU -18
Arizona State returns from their only bye week of the season this Saturday to take on the Warhawks of Louisiana Monroe. ASU comes in at 1-0 after a 50-3 victory over Idaho State, and UL Monroe evened their record to 1-1 last week with a 58-0 victory over FCS Texas Southern. The Sun Devils head down to Athens next week to play the Georgia Bulldogs, but can’t be caught looking ahead. They were guilty of that last year when 24 point underdog UNLV came to Tempe and shocked the Devils in OT, 23-20. The Warhawks have had their moments against BCS conference opponents over the years, including a 21-14 victory over Alabama in 2007. All of this information has been front and center for ASU this week, which is why I think they will be ready to play this week.
When ASU has the ball:
Senior QB Danny Sullivan will once again get the call for Arizona State. His first start was more impressive on the field than it was on the stat sheet. True freshman Brock Osweiler may also see some action, depending on the status of the game. The receivers will get a boost this week when projected starter Kerry Taylor returns from suspension. He will probably get the start, but I expect to see Gerell Robinson on the field a lot. I think Dennis Erickson will try to establish the running game early again this week. Suspended RB James Morrison returns this week and joins Dimitri Nance, Cameron Marshall, Shaun DeWitty, Ryan Bass, and Jerrell Woods. The rotation will most likely be trimmed down this week as Erickson tries to find his best 2-3 backs. The offensive line may be without possible starters Garth Gerhart and Zach Schlink once again.
The Warhawks allowed 59 points in their opener to Texas, but rebounded last week and pitched a shutout against Texas Southern. ULM has done a good job forcing turnovers in the first two weeks. They recovered 2 fumbles and picked off a pass against Texas and recovered 4 fumbles last week. They have a good chance of slowing the Sun Devil offense if they can create turnovers. ASU’s offense cruised in their opener and didn’t turn the ball over. With 4 sacks in the first 2 games, ULM should be able to get to Danny Sullivan more often than Idaho State did. Obviously, the Sun Devil offense isn’t as talented as Texas, but far superior to Texas Southern.
A game with 3 or 4 sacks by ULM, a couple of ASU turnovers, about 400 yards of total offense, and about 30 points would be a reasonable expectation for Arizona State’s offense.
When ULM has the ball:
The Louisiana Monroe offensive has been extremely balanced so far this year. Through two games, ULM is averaging 222 yards passing and 223 yards rushing per game. First year starting QB Trey Revell has spread the ball around nicely while completing 63.3% of his passes and has a 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Sophomore WR Luther Ambrose has been the big play guy for the Warhawks this year; he caught a 75 yard TD pass against the Longhorns and scored the opening TD last week on a 16 yard run. Junior RB Frank Goodin has been a horse for ULM, scoring 4 TD’s and rushing for 82.5 yards per game. The biggest surprise of the Texas Southern game was true Freshman RB Isaiah Newsome. He compiled 158 yards on 22 carries.
The Sun Devils defense will attempt to dominate again, this time against better competition. Idaho State only managed 37 total yards last week, and the Sun Devils’ defense forced five turnovers. The linebackers were the stars last week, with Mike Nixon shining the brightest. Nixon and Travis Goethel will get the start again on the outside, and Gerald Munns will open the game at MLB. However, backups Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons, and Vontaze Burfict (all from Centennial HS in Corona, CA) will all see action. Magee and Burfict will try to build on last week’s strong effort, while Lyons is returning this week from a one game suspension. Dexter Davis anchors the defensive line, and Coach Erickson should get DT Lawrence Guy back from injury this week. Guy’s return will definitely help ASU defend against Goodin. If ASU is able to shut the run down early, look for Nixon and the rest of the defense to drop back in coverage and try to force some interceptions by Revell. The secondary played well against ISU, but UL Monroe might be able to break a big play against the corners. They haven’t been tested yet, and the Warhawks do have some deep threats.
It might be difficult for the defensive line to create a lot of pressure, as ULM has only allowed 16 sacks per year since 2004, but the front seven should be able to shut down the running attack early. This will force the Warhawks to become pass happy and allow the Devils’ defense to focus on forcing turnovers. ASU definitely won’t hold ULM to 37 yards like they did in the opener, but the defense should get a few sacks, a couple of interceptions, allow about 250 yards, and hold ULM to about 10 points. This defense also has a propensity for the big play, so don’t be surprised if they score again this week.
Special Teams and Intangibles:
Thomas Weber made five of six field goals in the opener, but that was only because ASU stalled 6 times in the red zone. The punting duties will most likely go to Thomas Hankins this week because Erickson does not want Weber handling both duties, and Hankins punted reasonably well last week. Kyle Williams is still looking for his first kick return for a touchdown, and he desperately wants one before this season is over. He couldn’t find much room on punt returns last week, but is always a threat. If Arizona State can improve on their dreadful 29% conversions on 3rd down, they might be able to turn some of those field goals into touchdowns.
September 6, 2009
Idaho State Game Recap
By: David Siorek
Final Score - Arizona State 50-3
Player of the Game - Mike Nixon
Nixon led a balanced defensive attack for the Devils Saturday night. The Pac-10 co-leader in interceptions in 2008 returned a pick 34 yards for a touchdown and ended the game with 3 interceptions. All 3 picks put ASU in the red zone. In addition, Nixon blocked a punt that gave the Sun Devils a 1st and Goal at the 3 yard line. He also recorded 3 unassisted tackles and assisted on 1. Mike is well on his way towards another 1st Team All Pac-10 season at linebacker.
The Running Backs - Dennis Erickson was true to his word and gave 5 running backs an opportunity. Dimitri Nance started the game and played the 1st quarter. He ran hard for 31 yards on 8 carries and a touchdown. Dimitri also caught 2 passes for 21 yards. True freshman Cameron Marshall played the 2nd quarter, and totaled 35 yards on 7 touches. Shaun DeWitty led the team with 52 yards on 8 carries while playing the 3rd quarter. Ryan Bass and Jarrell Woods recorded rushing TD’s in the 4th quarter. Bass raced to the end zone for an explosive 38 yard touchdown and had 45 yards on only 2 attempts. ASU did play against a poor rush defense, but the results were impressive nonetheless.
The Quarterbacks - Danny Sullivan didn’t put up huge numbers in his first start since high school, but he was hampered by drops. Kyle Williams, Gerell Robinson, and Dan Knapp dropped perfect passes in the end zone from Sullivan. Without those drops, Sully would’ve had had well over 200 yards passing and at least 3 touchdowns. He showed some mobility and awareness while scrambling out of the pocket and was only sacked once. True freshman Brock Osweiler came in halfway through the 3rd quarter and showed Sun Devil fans that his hype is justified. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 43 yards, including a beautifully placed 16 yard touchdown pass to Brian Matsumoto, which was the 1st career TD for both players.
The Offensive Line - Despite missing projected starters Zach Schlink and Garth Gerhart, ASU pushed around the overmatched Bengals defense. Idaho State recorded only 1 sack, and ASU was able to rush for 199 yards. Sullivan was hit a few times, but had ample time to throw for the most part. This is a far cry from the last few years when Sun Devil quarterbacks were sacked 89 times. It remains to be seen whether the line can keep this up all season, but the early results look promising.
Brandon Magee - The sophomore backup linebacker made some big plays on Saturday night. His interception in the 1st quarter set up the only offensive touchdown in the first half. He also recorded a sack and led the team with 4 unassisted tackles.
Vontaze Burfict - The highest rated recruit to ever suit up for ASU didn’t disappoint. The true freshman Burfict was finally cleared to play by the NCAA late Friday night and wowed the crowd with his play in the 2nd half. His sack on Idaho State QB Russel Hill was one of the highlights on the evening. ‘Taz’ stormed through the line on a blitz, decleated Hill and drove him back about 4 yards. Burfict’s debut also included a fumble recovery.
Everyone Else - No one played poorly on defense, so I would feel bad if I left the rest of the Sun Devil D out. Dean DeLeone has some nice QB pressures, Dexter Davis forced a fumble, and the defensive tackles played stout run defense. The linebackers were the unquestioned stars of the game. The secondary was solid and effective. All the prognosticators and fans say that ASU’s defense will be the strength of the team, and the Idaho State game legitimized those predictions.
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends - As I mentioned earlier, Kyle Williams, Gerell Robinson, and Dan Knapp all dropped passes that would’ve resulted in touchdowns. A few other catchable balls also fell off of the receivers’ hands. The pass catchers were able to find holes in the defense, but they can’t drop balls if ASU expects to compete with Georgia and in the Pac-10. Dennis Erickson didn’t seem too concerned with this in the postgame news conference, and I’m not either. These are veteran receivers, and I expect them to shake off the cobwebs as the season progresses.
Red Zone Scoring - Arizona State reached the red zone 9 times and converted 8 times. However, 5 of those scores were field goals. All of Thomas Weber’s 5 field goals were inside 30 yards. Again, this needs to improve if ASU expects to have a successful season. These numbers were hampered the most by the dropped passes and 3rd down efficiency. The Devils converted only 4 of 14 on 3rd down. Scoring a touchdown 33% of the time in the red zone will not get it done against better competition.
While many Sun Devil fans may be calling for Bass and Osweiler to start after their impressive performances, I think Dennis Erickson should(and will) stick with Sullivan and Nance until they give him a reason not to. Let’s not forget that Bass’ and Osweiler’s success came against the backups from an FCS team that went 1-11 last year. Sullivan’s numbers should’ve been much better, and he did not make any bad decisions or ill advised throws. Nance’s power running style fits Arizona State’s offense the best, especially on 1st and 2nd down. The offensive line will have a much more difficult time opening up huge holes against better defenses, and Nance is more capable of gaining positive yardage between the tackles. Dimitri also seems to have cured his fumbilitis now that he is playing healthy. Right now, Bass is best suited as a 3rd down and change of pace back. He is the most explosive option at RB for Arizona State, and he will get opportunities to show that.
Vontaze Burfict should be starting in the very near future. Starter ILB Gerald Munns played very well, but ASU’s defense needs Vontaze’s big play ability on the field as much as possible. However, I do agree with Erickson’s strategy of easing Burfict into action. Once he gets used to the speed of big time college football, it will be tough to take him out of the lineup.
The most underrated part of the game yesterday, in my opinion, was the play of the secondary. Idaho State came in with a pretty decent aerial attack, but the secondary shut that down completely. The Bengals completed 45% of their passes for only 42 yards. Only one pass was completed for more than 10 yards. The linebackers also played a big role in the pass defense with 4 interceptions, but safeties Ryan McFoy and Keelan Johnson made nice deflections in the first half.
It’s very difficult to gauge the performance of a team when they play an overmatched opponent. Was this game a sign that ASU is on their way to a good season, or did they just play a bad team? This remains to be seen, and we might not find that out until the Georgia game in Athens on September 26th. Louisiana Monroe is a step up in competition, but they just got blown out by Texas 59-20. If Sullivan is going to be the quarterback all year, I would like Erickson to play him all 4 quarters against UL Monroe. I am also anxious to see how the RB situation is handled in the next game. Will Dennis try to trim the rotation and use 2 or 3 backs, or will he just try to keep fresh legs in the game at all times? Arizona State has 2 weeks to figure all of this out because the Devils have their only bye week of the season this week.
September 2, 2009
Camp Recap and Idaho State Preview
By: David Siorek
Preseason camp ended for Arizona State with many questions still left unanswered. The running back situation remains unsettled, the offensive line is still the biggest question mark, and Vontaze Burfict still hasn’t heard the final verdict from the NCAA Clearinghouse regarding his eligibility. However, Dennis Erickson decided on a starting quarterback, and the receivers have made major progress. Also, injuries did not completely ravage the Devils during camp, but they will be without some key players for the opener.
None of the six running backs in the mix for the starting job have separated themselves from the pack. It appears that Dimitri Nance will get the start against Idaho State, but expect to see a running back by committee handle that position for Week 1 and beyond. Coach Erickson expects as many as four running backs to see playing time on Saturday. Ryan Bass, Cameron Marshall, and Shaun DeWitty should also get some carries. LT Shawn Lauvao will be the anchor on the offensive line this year. LG Jon Hargis and C Garth Gerhart (Toby’s brother) will also return the starting lineup this season. The two other starters are slated to be RG Mike Marcisz and RT Matt Hustad. It seems unlikely that the unsolved running back situation and the unproven offensive line will be able to produce much on this ground this year, especially against Pac 10 competition.
Vontaze Burfict was the unquestioned star of fall camp. Everyday seemingly produced a bone crushing hit, nice interception, or multiple tackles. He still might be a little raw and out of control to come in and start right away, but he can definitely be an impact player in his freshman campaign. The depth at linebacker allows ‘Taz’ to ease his way into the lineup. The big question mark with Burfict remains his eligibility. The NCAA cleared him to start classes on August 24th with the rest of the student body, but the Clearinghouse still hasn’t given him the OK to play in the opener on Saturday. Everyone remains confident, but a negative ruling would obviously be a huge hit to the Sun Devils and their fans.
Danny Sullivan won the starting quarterback job as expected, but not without a fight from freshman QB Brock Osweiler. While backup Samson Szakacsy missed time with an elbow injury, Osweiler took his opportunity and ran. He showed the mobility that a quarterback at ASU hasn’t possessed since Jake the Snake patrolled Frank Kush Field. The arm strength is definitely there as well. If Sullivan struggles early, especially against Georgia and the Pac 10, the Devil faithful will be begging for Brock to see some game action.
Despite the loss of Michael Jones, the receiving corps looks poised for a quality season. Chris McGaha, Kyle Williams, and Kerry Taylor are the projected starters, but Gerell Robinson will definitely see a lot of action. He is a big target and was able to stretch the field and make some great catches in the scrimmage games. McGaha will be the safety valve for Sullivan, especially on third downs. Williams is another speedy deep threat in both the passing and return games; he returned a punt for six in the scrimmage, something the Sun Devils sorely need in 2009.
Only four contributors have been ruled out for the Idaho State game. True freshman Osahon Irabor will miss the season and will be redshirted. Also, projected starting OL Zach Schlink and backup LB Shelly Lyons will miss the game with knee injuries. The most disappointing loss for the first three games is projected starting DE James Brooks . He violated team rules and will be suspended. JC transfer Dean DeLeone will start in his place until the Oregon St game on October 3rd. Gerhart, backup OL Tom Njunge, starting DT Lawrence Guy, and Szakacsy are all questionable for the season opener with various injuries.
Luckily for Erickson’s Devils, they start the season with a bonafide red velvet cupcake. The Bengals began last season with eleven consecutive losses, but finished up with a win over Sacramento State. The 2008 slate included games against two FBS opponents, Boise State and Idaho. Idaho State lost 49-7 on the blue turf and fell 42-27 to the 2-10 Vandals. They do have to break in a new starting QB, despite returning two year starter Russel Hill. Kyle Blum will take the snaps in the opener, and the Bengals will most likely rely on their passing game. They only averaged 2.9 yards per carry and passed the ball almost 60% of the time in 2008.
This is the perfect opening opponent for ASU in a season that includes so many question marks. Sullivan should be able to get into a rhythm, and hopefully the running backs and offensive line will be able to find a groove and gain some confidence. The receivers will try to stretch the field against an inferior opponent, and the defense will dominate. This will be an easy win, but ASU has seemingly let up against FCS opponents in the recent past. They have only outscored Northern Arizona 65-27 in their last two meetings. Expect a reasonably low scoring affair and for the Devils to pull ahead early and coast to the finish.
Prediction: ASU 34-10
August 7, 2009
Breaking Down the Pac-10 Predictions on the Eve of Preseason Camp
By: David Siorek
The Pac 10 media poll reads as follows (with Phil Steele’s predictions in parenthesis):
1. USC (1)
2. Cal (2)
3. Oregon (T5)
4. Oregon St (T5)
5. Arizona St (T8)
6. Stanford (T5)
7. UCLA (T3)
8. Arizona (T3)
9. Washington (9)
10. Washington St (10)
Many pundits believe that 1-3 and 9-10 are the spots written in stone and 4-8 are up for grabs. In my opinion, the only guarantees are USC at Number 1 and Washington St at Number 10. Until USC stops getting the best recruits and Pete Carroll is still patrolling the sidelines in Los Angeles, USC will continue to be on top. Washington St is rebuilding and despite beating UW last year, they are a pretty good bet to fall to the bottom.
Cal has Jahvid Best and Kevin Riley returning this year, but they have been a very poor road team in the recent past and has 5 Pac 10 road games this year. All of those games are versus the Number 3-9 teams in the media poll. Especially with their recent past of late season struggles, I don’t view Cal as the number 2 team in this conference.
I think Oregon is the most solid bet for number 2. Jeremiah Masoli and LaGarrette Blount are studs and with 5 conference home games, including against Cal, they should take number 2.
Oregon St is number 4 in the media poll, but I think they are due for a little bit of a decline this year. They do have the brothers ‘Quizz and James Rodgers returning, as well as Lyle Moevao/Sean Canfield at QB, but they are dealing with higher expectations this year. I have never been a big fan of those 2 QB’s and I think they will disappoint this year.
I know that I may have an ASU bias, but that is why I am sticking with the facts. Dennis Erickson has never had 2 consecutive losing seasons as a Head Coach. The 5 home games are huge, and Oregon is the only daunting road game on the ledger. The coaches are anticipating a major improvement on the offensive line, which can only improve last year’s dreadful rushing performance and also help break in a new QB. Also, since 2002, ASU has finished outside of the Postseason Top 25 every year in which they have been in the Preseason Top 25 and finished in the Postseason Top 25 every year they have failed to crack the Preseason polls. The Devils find themselves outside of the poll this year. A decent performance at a retooling Georgia program could be the momentum the Sun Devils need.
Stanford and Toby Gerhart have improved greatly in the last few years, but I think they are still a year or so away. Jim Harbaugh has done a great job, but he doesn’t have the talent to break the top half of the Pac 10 just yet.
Phil Steele and I both agree on UCLA this year; we are both high on their possibilities for 2009. Rick Neuheisel is a great coach and is determined to get his team to the top of the Pac 10. Despite a lot of returnees, they don’t have the players to reach their peak this year. They should crack the top half though, especially if redshirt freshman Kevin Prince proves to be better than Kevin Craft.
The Arizona Wildcats do return Nic Grigsby, Delashaun Dean, and Rob Gronkowski on the offense, but they lose Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas. Unless they can find a QB and overcome the 5 Pac 10 road games, I think it will be difficult to crack the top 5 of the conference. They should reach a bowl game unless they get upset by Central Michigan in the opening game
Washington is at number 9 in the poll, but they do return star QB Jake Locker. If he stays healthy, Locker will be on the All 1st Team in the Pac 10 at QB. They did beat Boise St 2 years ago and were an atrocious unsportsmanlike penalty away from taking BYU to OT last year. Locker, if healthy, will be able to lead UW to a much better season than last year.
With all that said, here are my predictions for the 2009 Pac 10:
3. Arizona St
5. Oregon St
Phil Steele is the most accurate predictor of the last 10 years, but him and I don’t quite see eye to eye on the 2009 Pac 10. However, this is the way I see it, biased or not.
August 3, 2009
Dennis Tries to Get the Devils Back on Track
By: David Siorek
The Sun Devils look to bounce back from a disappointing 5-7 season, which included an embarrassing loss at home to UNLV and a throttling at the hands of the rival Arizona Wildcats to keep ASU out of a bowl. The defense looks ready to build on last year’s success, while the offense hopes to surprise some folks after a lackluster 2008 campaign and the loss of senior QB Rudy Carpenter.
The annual spring game was dominated by the defense, as expected. Sophomore RB Ryan Bass led the Maroon team to a 7-0 with a 35 yard run, and the quarterbacks battling to take over for Carpenter failed to distance themselves from the pack. Senior Danny Sullivan was 8-16 for 42 yards, Sophomore Samson Szakacsy threw for 50 yards on 9-14 passing, and Freshman Brock Osweiler led the QB’s with 66 yards while connecting on 7 of his 14 passes. The Maroon and Gold defenses combined for 8 sacks and 3 interceptions.
In addition to the loss of Carpenter, the offense loses the always promising RB Keegan Herring, leading receiver Michael Jones, and OG Paul Fanaika, a 7th round draft pick. Sullivan seems to be the favorite to win the starting job entering preseason camp. Although he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in limited duty (46% completion, 3-3 TD-INT ratio in 3 years), he is the only QB on the roster with any game experience. However, Szakacsy is the more mobile option behind center, which may be vital due to the struggles of the offensive line. This battle is the most publicized and should come down to the wire. ASU’s running game struggled all year with inconsistency and fumblitis, but should improve in 2009 despite the loss of Herring. The leading returnees include Senior Dimitri Nance, Senior Shaun DeWitty, and Bass. DeWitty sat out the spring with academic issues, but is expected to be back in uniform by the fall. If that is the case, I would expect Head Coach Dennis Erickson to split carries between the three backs. The WR corps could be in position for a decline in 2009 due to the departures of Jones and Carpenter. Senior Chris McGaha returns as the leading possession and 3rd down option, while Senior Kyle Williams and Junior Kerry Taylor look to stretch the field. Despite having to break in a new QB, the offensive line remains the biggest question mark on the team. They do return 4 starters, so hopefully the line is able to cut down on the opposing pass rush and open up the holes for the RBs. If the offensive line struggles as much as it has the past few years, it will be another long year for Arizona State’s offense.
If the Devils hope to reach a bowl this year, they will need to lean on the defense. Senior sackmaster Dexter Davis looks to improve on his 11 sacks in 2008 and Senior LB Mike Nixon returns after leading the team in tackles and recording 5 interceptions. Travis Goethel and Lawrence Guy also return to the front 7 after strong 2008 seasons. Terell Carr, Omar Bolden, and Ryan McFoy are all solid in the secondary. Bolden led the team with 7 picks last year, and McFoy moves from LB to safety. McFoy’s move opens up a possible spot for highly touted Freshman LB Vontaze Burfict, a former USC commit. The main obstacle to a spot in the middle of the defense for Burfict remains academics. He has not yet qualified, but the Sun Devils are optimistic that he will be able to play this year. The final verdict for Burfict may not come until the beginning of Preseason camp.
Preseason camp begins on August 6th in Tempe, the first time in 20 years that ASU hasn’t visited Camp Tontozona before the start of the season. The state-of-the-art bubble in Tempe should keep the players cool and out of the rain. The scrimmages will occur on August 15th and 22nd, and camp concludes on August 28th with a mock game.
The 2009 schedule looks manageable, but does include some extremely difficult stretches. The season begins with a home game with FCS Idaho St on September 5th. A bye week precedes another cupcake in UL Monroe on September 19th. That game begins a stretch of 11 straight games without a bye week for the Sun Devils. The September 26th tilt between the hedges in Athens, Georgia would be a huge upset if the Devils were to come out with a victory, then ASU has to travel back to Tempe for a game against last year’s surprise Pac-10 team, Oregon St. A winnable 3 games follows the matchup with the Beavers; at Washington St, home against UW, and at Stanford. The final 5 games of the year will be the turning point for this year’s Sun Devils; a Halloween Homecoming matchup against Cal, home versus USC, trips to Autzen Stadium to face Oregon and the Rose Bowl versus UCLA, and the Big Game against rival Arizona at Sun Devil Stadium. If ASU can win 2 of those last 5 games, they should be able to manage at least 6 wins and get back to a bowl game. Unless the offense can catch lightning in a bottle and match the defense’s efforts, it looks like another middle of the PAC year for the Sun Devils in 2009.