SUN DEVIL SUNDAY

For those who reserved any doubt about the hiring of Dennis Erickson as head coach of Arizona State University, Saturday's 45-3 victory over San Jose State left even the most staunch of skeptics in a state of reconsideration.

San Jose State is a solid team. Dick Tomey is a phenomenal football coach. With all pleasantries aside, what occurred at Sun Devil Stadium was an old fashioned, pillar-to-post beat down, in every phase of the game.

Sure, Saturday marked the start of the 2007 football season for ASU. Of course, it will go down as a tremendously impressive start to the Dennis Erickson tenure as Sun Devil head coach. However, what intangibly stuck out most about ASU's season-opening victory was that it may very well have marked the point at which Sun Devil football became fun again. Fans looked forward to the maroon and gold entering the field, whether on offense, defense or special teams, and the home team did not disappoint. One can only take so much out of one out of 12 football games, but Arizona State exceeded all expectations-- by some accounts this was chosen to be a neck-and-neck competition-- but the Sun Devils dominated in a fashion that has not been seen for a good while.

Erickson, a head coach who has been compared to legendary ASU leader Frank Kush, engineered a game plan which would make the name sake of the field on which the Sun Devils play beam with school pride.

As the Sun Devil nation advances past game one and looks ahead to it's week two match-up with Colorado, ASU faithful urge that we must not get ahead of ourselves and that the team's first opponent was in fact a team from a lesser conference with collectively lesser talent. However, what cannot be avoided is that the bottom line that the boys in maroon and gold flat out took care of business from bell-to-bell in a fashion that hadn't been common in years past. A team which often times fell victim to playing to the level of lower competition, this was as thoroughly efficient a game as has been played in Sun Devil Stadium in many years. By no means should Rose Bowl guarantees stir from this one victory, however even the most optimistic Sun Devil fan couldn't have predicted such a dominant and efficient first-game performance.

At this time one year ago, amid controversy which began the season unceremoniously, Sun Devil fans were shaking their heads after an unpredicted nail-biter victory over division I-AA member Northern Arizona, setting the tone for a season which inevitably was labeled as a disappointment. However, fast-forward 12 months and a new coaching staff, ASU stuck the nails to a team which finished 9-4 last season, featured two of the most accomplished defensive players in college football in linebacker Matt Castelo and cornerback Dwight Lowery and one of the most successful active head coaches in college football.

There was something different about Saturday's game from those of recent past. The enthusiasm, the passion, the expectations did not resemble those of the previous staff, and that is a tremendous compliment to Erickson and company. Enough of playing to the level of inferior competition, this game was about setting a standard and making a statement.

Aside from the amazing intangible factors of Saturday's game, the numbers do not lie and are seemed as if taken out of a game played on EA Sports' NCAA Football 08-- set on easy. ASU out-gained San Jose State by a whopping margin of 520 yards to 115, including a lop-sided rushing total of 250 net yards for the Sun Devils to only 40 for the visiting Spartans. The Sun Devils converted on 13-of-17 (76.5 pct.) third-down conversions and punted only twice, both in the second half. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter did exactly what is expected of him-- facilitate a run-oriented offense and not make costly mistakes-- by completing 14-of-20 passes (70 pct.) for 197 yards, with two touchdown passes and zero interceptions., which calculates to a pass efficiency rating of 185.7, over 10 points higher than his NCAA freshman record and national high rating of 2005.

ASU's star combination of running backs Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring spearheaded the Sun Devil offense, as was expected, with the pair combining for 199 yards on 33 carries (6.0 avg.), and Torain added three touchdown rushes. Senior linebacker Robert James led a swarming defense, which nearly pitched a shut-out, by recording his finest game as a Sun Devil, with a game-high 10 total tackles, along with one sack and an interception.

Carpenter's stat line may look average at best by the casual Sunday morning newspaper reader, however they were compiled in only two-and-a-half quarters, as with the game well in hand, and Carpenter was pulled with 8:21 remaining in the THIRD quarter, while fourth- and fifth-string running backs Preston Jones and Cole Ptacek combined for 15 carries as ASU cruised to victory. Also, Torain would have inflated his numbers beyond his already impressive totals of 123 rushing yards and three scores if he hadn't been pulled at the same juncture as Carpenter. However, in a case like this, Sun Devil fans were grinning from ear-to-ear when the starting quarterback and running back were able to rest after a short night's work. Such early departures beg the question, when has a game played in Sun Devil Stadium been so one-sided in favor of the Devils that the offense was put into the hands of the second-team with nearly half the game remaining?

Ultimately, the game can confidently be labeled as a total success. ASU's defense allowed only seven first downs and forced six three-and-outs, compared to 33 first downs for the home team, as well as five drives of 10 or more plays, with only one not resulting in a touchdown. Carpenter was sacked only once, while ASU's lone turnover was a first-quarter fumble by Brent Miller where he was nearly called down before losing control of the ball. The defense was active and motivated, while kicker Thomas Weber, in his college football debut, was perfect on six extra points, easily connected on a 44-yard field goal attempt, and boomed kickoffs in a fashion which negated any possible impact by kicking from the 30-yard line.

Additionally inspiring is that Saturday's beat-down was done without the services of running backs Dimitri Nance and Jarrell Woods, wide receivers Rudy Burgess and Brandon Smith, as well as linebacker Ryan McFoy. Previously seldom-used reserves such as Jeff Gray, Andrew Pettes and Tyrice Thompson made significant contributions to the Sun Devil offense, as well as back-up quarterback Danny Sullivan who completed 75-percent of his passes, along with his first career touchdown pass and appeared exponentially improved over his deer-in-headlights mop-up performances as a true freshman last season and looks greatly capable of serving as a solid reserve to Rudy Carpenter.

Overall, the Sun Devils stand at 1-0 on Sept. 2, 2007. Eleven regular season games remain and of course the ride can toss-and-turn in any number of ways from now until December. However, Coach Erickson and staff have quickly begun making a significant difference at Arizona State University in a variety of ways, and based on Erickson's debut effort with the Sun Devils; his impact will be quickly visible in the play on Frank Kush Field and in the stands of Sun Devil Stadium.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and will be a guest contributor to Devils Digest during the 2007 football season. He currently writes for ASU's Maroon and Gold Illustrated and his work has also been featured in Sun Devil football media guides and other official team publications.

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