ASU wrapped up a perfect three-game non-conference slate with a 21-3 road win at Colorado only to lose the next three games by a combined score of 125-55. The Sun Devils sat at a 3-3 overall record and winless in Pac-10 play. With three of the conference's top teams in the rear view mirror, ASU set out to finish the second half of the season in hopes of making a statement that they were not about to quit. Behind emerging junior college transfer Ryan Torain at running back, Arizona State went on to win the next two contests, one of which was the team's first trip to Husky Stadium since 1999. That would mark the last winning or losing streak of any kind for ASU as an ensuing 2-2 record was capped off by a 28-14 win over rival Arizona in Tucson. A day after the Arizona win, Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love announced the firing of head coach Dirk Koetter. The outgoing coach and his staff prepared the team for a holiday trip to the islands for the program's third consecutive bowl game under his tenure. After leading 10-3 at the half, the Sun Devils surrendered 38 second-half points and fell to the home town Hawai'i Warriors, 41-24. The Maroon and Gold finished the tumultuous season at 7-6 overall with a 4-5 conference record. As usual in college football, a position of strength can quickly turn into one of a perceived weakness and generate much skepticism in the process. The following is a breakdown of what happened at each position group along with grades and a brief glance toward spring practice and the 2007 season.
Perhaps the mid-August departure of senior Sam Keller was the best
indicator that big things just weren't in the cards for the maroon and gold this
season. Sophomore Rudy Carpenter entered the season firmly entrenched
as the starter and encountered a rather rocky year in comparison to his
fine performance the previous season in which he finished as the
nation's leader in passing efficiency. After a slow start carpenter couldn't shake off the
early criticism he was receiving and began blaming himself for ASU's
offensive woes once October rolled around. The sophomore's low point of
the year came at home against the Oregon Ducks, in which he completed
just 6 of 19 passes for 33 yards. The lack of consistent play makers at
wide receiver ailed the signal caller and the offense throughout the
2006 campaign. Carpenter's competitiveness never wavered, however, and he
still appears to have better days ahead of him. The sophomore finished
the year with 2,523 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Looking Ahead: Carpenter's biggest hurdle appears to be steadiness
issues. A few skeptics continue to point to his inconsistency when
going up against some of the better defenses in the league. With a
healthy dose of experience and a solid running game behind him now, the level
of expectation from Carpenter may even rise a notch. With that said, there
is only so much the incumbent junior can do without a skilled receiving corps
who are unable to make plays. The thin depth behind Carpenter may prompt
Erickson to look at the junior college ranks for another signal caller
but that is speculation at this point. Danny Sullivan will be a
sophomore and the only other quarterback with any kind of game
experience under his belt. As you would naturally expect from a true
freshman, Sullivan appeared unsure of himself in what little action he
saw this past season. As long as his verbal commitment holds up until
February's signing day, Texas high schooler Nick Foles will arrive in
the fall and brings lofty accolades with him.
WIDE RECEIVER / TIGHT END: D
The group with the most to prove this past season on the offensive
side of the ball will most likely carry the same distinction into the
2007 campaign. An up-and-down year for Carpenter at quarterback and the
lack of playmakers in the passing game were a sure recipe for a struggling
offense. It seemed all too often that Carpenter's receivers
either couldn't get open or were dropping balls. Two seniors that were
expected to play larger roles within the offense and provide leadership
were missing in action for most of the year. Terry Richardson's injury,
shaky understanding of the offense, and his academics kept him on the sidelines for
much of the season. Converted tight end Jamaal Lewis also saw limited
action after two suspensions had him miss five games. Between the
two players, only Richardson cracked the starting lineup twice.
Junior tight end Zach Miller, a Mackey Award finalist, led the team in
receptions with 50 catches and four touchdowns despite the periodic
unusual lack of involvement in the offense. Miller had two games with
just one catch this season. A player with his abilities shouldn't be lost
in the offense for extended periods of time, even if he's a vital part of the team's running game. Mike Jones emerged as a solid target in spring drills but was unable to gain much consistency
with a lingering foot injury. Jones led all wide receivers with 318
yards and 3 touchdowns. Chris McGaha steadily moved his way up the
depth chart into a starting role and caught 16 balls for three scores as a
redshirt freshman. Nate Kimbrough chipped in with 15 catches and one touchdown
before missing the final three games with a knee injury, which will sideline him until Camp T. One of
redshirt freshman Brandon Smith's two touchdowns this season was from a
beautiful catch he had in the Hawai'i Bowl. Tight end Brent Miller doesn't get
the recognition of younger brother Zach but his contributions were just
as important. The elder Miller is utilized more as a blocker but has
shown he can come up with a big catch or two himself. His end zone catch
against the Huskies sealed an overtime win for the Sun Devils in October.
Looking Ahead : The good news is that the core of this group will be
back and will now have some experience under their belts. Mike Jones
has the potential to be a future playmaker and favorite target of
Carpenter if he sticks with football and doesn't go exclusively to the baseball route.
There will still be plenty of snaps to go around for Kimbrough, McGaha,
and Smith in Dennis Erickson's wide open offense. Kyle Williams may
benefit from more time with the offense in spring drills after getting
a late start when his redshirt was pulled off in late October. With
nobody that can genuinely stretch the field, Williams' speed may make
him a candidate to see the field more in 2007. We should know more
after spring drills as to where Erickson may be inclined to use Rudy Burgess, whether it be at receiver or in the defensive backfield. The
bad news is that ASU may be without All-American tight end Zach Miller.
The junior's clutch hands on third downs will be missed if he decides
to pursue the NFL in the next couple of weeks. Brent Miller, Brady Conrad, Dane Guthrie,
, Andrew Pettes, Jovon Williams, and Lance Evbuomwan are
Erickson's other options at tight end. Save the first two players, this position is low on experience. This can be an issue as the Sun Devils are still expected to show two tight end sets despite the coaching change.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-
Besieged again by injuries, this group fought through adversity to
help spur a running game that would be a saving grace at times for an
inconsistent offense. The run blocking was more than formidable as ASU
had its first 1,000 yard rusher since 2001. Seniors Stephen Berg and
Andrew Carnahan both went down in the middle of the season, which meant
more time for sophomore Paul Fanaika at guard and junior tackle Julius Orieukwu. Although the pass protection had problems at times (allowing
37 sacks this year, up one from the previous season) the starting five
that finished the year was a very workable group despite being short on
experience. Brandon Rodd and Julius Orieukwu were at the two tackle
spots, Robert Gustavis and Paul Fanaika played guard, and Mike Pollack at
center were the starters at season's end.
Looking Ahead: If the aforementioned group holds up heading into next
season, four seniors will be starting for ASU. Fanaika will be the only
junior of the group. A fifth senior may also be in the mix if Zach Krula is granted a sixth year of eligibility after injuries have kept
him out of action for nearly all of 2005 and 2006. Three sophomores,
Richard Tuitu'u, Thomas Altieri, and Shawn Lauvao, will likely get some
snaps on the two-deep. Tuitu'u has a start at left tackle under his
belt. With low numbers here in terms of depth, offensive line will
likely be a big priority in recruiting for the new staff. Saia Falahola
is the only lineman that will be coming off a redshirt season.
RUNNING BACK: B+
ASU found a workhorse at running back in junior college transfer Ryan
Torain. The junior provided arguably the only dependable identity for the
offense by netting 1,229 rushing yards, seven touchdowns on the ground and
another three scores through the air. Torain excelled with his north-south
style of running, something the Sun Devils have lacked over the last
few seasons in their struggles to convert on third and short
situations. Sophomore Keegan Herring spelled Torain off the bench and
gave ASU the other half of a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Herring
added another 549 yards and six touchdowns.
True freshman Dimitri Nance showed enough potential in camp to prompt the coaches to add him into
the rotation as the third option at the position. Nance collected three scores in his debut season in Tempe. Maligned for a popular perception that he didn't care much for a running game, outgoing coach
Dirk Koetter had his most successful ground game in his six year tenure at Arizona State.
Looking Ahead: This group will enter as the offense's biggest
position of strength heading into next year as everyone in this unit will be
returning. Torain and Herring figure to take a lot of snaps while
Nance, Shaun DeWitty, and Preston Jones will continue to battle for precious playing time. Nance is arguably the best runner of the three while DeWitty is probably the best pass blocker of the group. Rodney Glass is coming off a redshirt year and will get his first crack at throwing his name into the mix. Glass is a true speedster and has also been projected at receiver and defensive back but has expressed interest in playing running back instead.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
A glaring weakness the previous season, new defensive line coach Grady
Stretz impressed more technique upon this group in '06. The Sun Devils
got great penetration at the beginning of the year but the pass rush
tapered off a bit as they got into the heart of conference play. As a
total defense, ASU tallied 35 sacks, up 17 from the 2005 season. 18.5
of those sacks came from the defensive line. Ultimately, you'd like to
see a little more of that pressure coming from the front four but
considering the anemic state of the pass rush just a year ago, it was a
welcomed step in the right direction.
Two seniors closed out their careers in Tempe, defensive end Kyle Caldwell and tackle Jordan Hill. Caldwell didn't get into opponent
backfields quite as much as anticipated (1.5 sacks) but the senior did
provide some much needed leadership for the group just by staying
healthy. Caldwell was also solid in run support and finished with
29 tackles. Jordan Hill was flanked by BYU transfer Michael Marquardt
on the interior of the line and the two proved to be a very workable
and consistent tandem. Hill and Marquardt combined for 51 stops and six
sacks. Redshirt freshman Dexter Davis was perhaps the unit's brightest
spot in terms of a pass rush and overall the biggest surprise of this group. Davis parlayed the time he got with the first unit in the spring and led the team with six sacks. His 40 tackles
were also best among all defensive linemen.
Looking Ahead: Stretz was retained by Erickson and will continue to
mold the group. The loss of Caldwell, Hill, and utility lineman Will Kofe means a
wealth of experience will be missing but the hope is that more bodies
available for rotation may ease the transition. Marquardt will be a
senior at one defensive tackle spot while the other will be up for
grabs with David Smith, Martin Tevaseu, Zach Niusulu, and Jon Hargis
all competing for time. Smith has the benefit of playing this year and
a non-stop motor while Tevaseu, Niusulu, and Hargis are coming off of a
Dexter Davis and Kellen Mills will be facing another round of competition at defensive end with two new spring JC transfers, Eric Tanner and Luis Vasquez. Alex Fa'agai will also be a factor in the battle for playing time after redshirting. Florida transfer Tranell Morant, perhaps the biggest disappointment of this unit must show the new staff more consistency to avoid getting lost in the depth chart.
Replacing Dale Robinson, Co-Defensive Pac-10 Player of the Year in
2005, and steady veteran Jamar Williams was not going to be an easy
task for this youthful group. Yet the unit was a heavy contributor to a
much improved run defense. ASU allowed an average of just under 180
rushing yards per game in 2005 but this year's version cut down on that
mark by posting a 116.9 yard average. Beau Manutai, Robert James, and
Chad Lindsey were the only returners with any kind of experience.
Manutai quietly finished his Sun Devil career in solid fashion as the
team's second leading tackler with 68 stops and two sacks. James managed
to gather 26 tackles despite sharing snaps and suffering from a concussion that forced
him to miss five games. After playing as a true freshman the previous
season, Chad Lindsey redshirted in 2006, which should benefit the Texas
product and the overall depth here in the near future.
Three players emerged from a pool of five true freshmen to get into
the rotation. Mike Nixon, Travis Goethel, and Gerald Munns all received a healthy dose of playing time as
newcomers. Nixon arrived earlier in the spring and was originally projected at safety. It wasn't long before numbers and a knack for the ball led to his tryout at linebacker. Nixon combined with Goethel to
give the defense 61 stops and four sacks. Munns played in all 13 games as
well but wasn't utilized as much at the beginning of the season due to
a few opponent offensive schemes.
Looking Ahead: The linebacker position went from having anemic production last
spring to one of enviable numbers in a matter of just months. Nixon,
Goethel, and Munns naturally appear to be a big part of the future here. Lindsey
and James both have previous experience on their resumes and will challenge for a starting position. Jamarr Robinson and Jeff Bereuter are two freshmen that redshirted this season that will also be competing for playing time. Erickson also added junior college transfer Morris Wooten in the early signing period which
makes him eligible for spring drills. Wooten was a star player at local Glendale Community College and some believe that he could be an instant impact player as fellow former Gauchos Dale Robinson was in 2004.
Josh Barrett played himself into arguably the defense's most
valuable player. The junior led the entire defense in tackles with 82
stops and three interceptions. Barrett's pass-defense was invaluable this
season while the cornerback group was in a transitional phase due to
inexperience. Zach Catanese also played a vital role in turning around
the defensive fortunes for the team. The hard-hitting senior collected
59 tackles and two interceptions. Perhaps the value of the safety duo was
best illustrated in the Hawai'i Bowl when the Sun Devils ability to stop the Warriors' aerial attack was severely hampered when both went out with injuries. Unfortunately, it was also an indictment on the drop- off in depth here.
Ryan McFoy's lived up to his billing and made a positive
impression early on in camp, which prompted the coaches to play the true
freshman rather than redshirting him. McFoy finished with 34 stops and two
picks. The freshman's emergence took some snaps away from
sophomore Jeremy Payton but Payton still managed to see the field in 12
of ASU's 13 contests.
Looking Ahead: ASU will be looking for a new playmaker to emerge to help fill the void of Catanese's departure. Ryan McFoy had a promising start as a true freshman and will likely see his role expand in the coming year. Two juniors will also figure into the mix, Troy Nolan and Jeremy
Payton. Nolan came to Tempe last spring and immediately drew positive
reviews from the previous staff but was ultimately redshirted over the
'06 season due to an injury. Payton has seen the field over the last
two seasons, mostly in nickel situations, and has to prove that he can be the proverbial every-down safety. Rodney Cox and Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, both juniors, may be called upon more if injuries
begin to set in.
After losing a wealth of experience to graduation, the cornerback
group was expectedly in for a long season. Junior college transfer
Justin Tryon turned in a decent debut on one side with one interception
and seven pass break-ups. Three other players made the start opposite Tryon
this past season, however. Chris Baloney began to show a few flashes
here and there before succumbing to a mid-season injury. Consequently, wide receiver
Rudy Burgess was moved to this unit and was a relative success in pass coverage. Burgess suffered a high ankle sprain soon afterwards and the injury plagued him for the remainder of the
season, unfortunately. Senior Keno Walter-White remained relatively
healthy the entire season but was not consistent enough in his coverage
skills. Former walk-on Littrele Jones and junior Chad Green came off
the bench to contribute a combined 12 tackles.
Looking Ahead: Keno Walter-White is the only loss of the group to
graduation. As mentioned above, it remains to be seen whether or not
Rudy Burgess will play on offense or defense. Burgess has said he would
like to play corner as senior and his talents could surely be utilized
here in the defensive backfield. Overall, the position will take
another big hit after next season by losing Tryon, Burgess, Baloney,
Green, and Jones. Grant Crunkleton and Travis Smith will be sophomores
next season and, ideally, you'd like to see them get some more snaps
but with five seniors ahead of them, it may be tough. Erickson may look
at bringing in some junior college help here at some point.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
After a rocky season in 2005, the punting game figured to be under
much scrutiny this season. Junior college transfer Jonathan Johnson was
a solid replacement for departed punter Chris MacDonald and
place-kicker-turned-punter Jesse Ainsworth. None of Johnson's 54 punts
were blocked, which is also a nod to an improved punt protection group.
Johnson finished the year averaging a solid 41.5 yards per punt. With a
formidable punter in tow now, senior Jesse Ainsworth went back to his
original duty and converted on 14 of his 19 attempts this season. Nonetheless, he was only 50% on attempts between 40 and 50 yards despite displaying an extremely strong leg in kickoffs. His struggles from long ranges at times prompted Koetter to give his offense another try on a few fourth down situations
in opponent territories during the season.
Terry Richardson didn't have quite as much as success in the return
game as he had in the past but the senior was still the team's best
special teams playmaker. The highlight of Richardson's season was a
100-yard kick return for a touchdown. A handful of others returned
kicks as well, including Rudy Burgess, Kyle Williams, Justin Tryon, and
Chris McGaha. Tryon had the longest return of the group with a 67-yard
return but all four showed some flashes of brilliance. Williams was also
utilized as a punt returner as a true freshman, and returned 14
punts for an average of 5.5 yards per return.
Looking Ahead: Finding replacements for kicker Jesse Ainsworth and
long snapper Jason Burke will be top priorities in spring practice.
Ainsworth and Burke each had four years of extensive experience that will
be missed. Thomas Weber figures to have the inside track at being
Ainsworth's replacement at this time. Finding a replacement for
Johnson, who will be a senior, will also be a priority in the near
future. ASU got an early taste of what life is like without Terry
Richardson returning kicks and punts and there was a noticeable drop-
off. The pool of candidates to assume his responsibilities do not lack
talent but rather the uncanny field vision that Richardson had. Tryon's
experiment returning kicks seemed to be a success late in the season
with two big returns against UCLA and Hawai'i. Nobody has really
emerged as a punt returner yet, which figures to be one area of
interest in spring drills. Williams handled a bulk of the duties when
Richardson went out but did so with very mild success, and surely isn't safe from the
2006 Football Season in Review
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