Sun Devils Must Now Answer the Scratch

I'm sure most all ASU football fans have heard about the team motto "Answer the Scratch" by now, and if you haven't visit the team website Well, after Saturday's embarrassing defeat at the hands of California, it's time for this team to live up to that adage and pick itself up off the mat.

So how could ASU lose by 28 points last Saturday in Strawberry Canyon to the Golden Bears? There are too many things to discuss in a short column like this so here are just a few reasons…

Turnovers. It's pretty simple, you turn the ball over five times and you will almost definitely lose the game no matter what. And if somehow you are the exception and win with five turnovers you for sure must a.) Have superior talent on the field and b.) Your defense better be forcing some turnovers as well to help even out the turnover ratio. So, despite a dominant rushing attack (237 yards total, 5.2 per rush) that allowed us to dominate time of possession (Cal had the ball only 23 minutes), we still lost by four touchdowns. And it's safe to say these turnovers we're mostly a result of…

Quarterback Play. Rudy Carpenter threw four interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns, and lost a fumble. He made poor decisions with the football, he held onto the ball too long at times, forced some throws into coverage, made some bad throws, and perhaps most startlingly looked "lost" and seemed to lack fire throughout most of the game. It's important to remember that games like this will happen to every signal, and the important thing is how they respond after a poor performance. It's imperative that Carpenter regains his confidence this week and starts playing more like the quarterback who led the nation in pass efficiency last season. Otherwise, this will be a long, disappointing season.

Pass Defense. The ASU run defense played about as well as one could expect given they were facing two great running backs and a team that loves to run the football down its opponents throats. But what was surprising was how little pressure they put on Cal QB Nate Longshore in front of a patchwork offensive line. He looked far too comfortable in the pocket and had enough time to throw deep passes that the Sun Devil DB's simply could not cover on the outside. After watching the ASU cornerbacks through the first four games, it's obvious that the defense either needs to blitz enough to force opposing QB's to take three step drops and throw short underneath routes or they need to give the corners more help on deep outside routes.

Sometimes it's hard to pick out the bright spots after a game like Saturday. Anytime you lose by four touchdowns, there are sure to be a lot more negatives than positives coming from the game. But perhaps the most encouraging thing that came from this game was the rushing attack. With Keegan Herring sitting out with an injury, Junior TB Ryan Torain showed everyone he can be a dependable 15 to 20 carries a game tailback. He found the holes along the line of scrimmage, hit them, and ran downhill. It's exciting to see a Sun Devil running back run down field and get 4 to 5 tough yards. Torain should continue to be a great complement to the quicker Herring as the season goes on.

The thing I am most concerned about is how this team will react after this game. This team's character will be determined by how they play this Saturday at home against a very good Oregon team, and not by how bad they lost last week. A successful season is not judged solely by one game and it's important to put one bad defeat behind them and continue to fight and win football games. If you want to look for an example of this, look no further than the team that just beat ASU. California played terrible just four weeks ago at Tennessee and received a butt-kicking by the Vols at the tune of 35-18. But now Cal is churning on all cylinders and looking to dethrone USC and win the Pac-10 title.

So, how can ASU beat Oregon this Saturday you might ask? Well basically the Sun Devils offense must continue to run the ball effectively and definitely protect the ball much better than they did the past few weeks. Carpenter obviously must play much better this Saturday but also he needs the line to protect him a little better and for his receivers to get more separation to throw deep and stretch the field more often like in years past. It would also be wise to incorporate TE Zach Miller more into the offense. Miller's two receptions against Cal were just not enough of a contribution for the passing game. ASU also must get back to playing aggressive defense and put more pressure on the opposing QB to help out our defensive backs.

Finally, and most importantly, the Sun Devils almost certainly must win or tie in the turnover margin in order to come away victorious. So, while the Cal game was embarrassing and really hurt some of their goals they set for themselves this year, the 2006 Sun Devils must more than ever before "Answer the Scratch" and come out strong this Saturday against Oregon and prove that the CAL loss won't affect the course of the season .

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