SUN DEVIL SUNDAY

In a game such as ASU's 33-14 victory over Colorado, fans and critics must remember to see the "forest for the trees", and appreciate the underlying lessons of an imperfect victory as an early-season necessary evil.

This game -- the Sun Devils' contest with the Buffaloes and the game of football in general – is all about adjustments, whether made during a contest or in preparation of future games.

After falling down 14-0 before nine minutes expired in the game – including a first-series "pick-six" thrown by ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter – Carpenter and the Sun Devils showed a quality that prove tremendously useful as the 2007 season continues and grows more challenging; resilience.

The light went on among the maroon and gold shortly after the Buffaloes' second score, as after trading failed fourth-down conversion attempts, ASU would force a Colorado punt before staging a 12-play, 80-yard drive culminating in a 12-yard touchdown reception by Michael   Jones, his first of two on the evening.

From that point, the Sun Devils tighten the clamps and would outscore Colorado 33-0 over the course of the final three quarters, as Carpenter completed 19-of-37 passes for 269 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. With Saturday's effort, Carpenter has won 10 of 11 career starts in which he throws over 200 yards, and owns an 8-2 record as a starter playing in Sun Devil Stadium.

In total, ASU came within three feet of doubling the offense output of Colorado, out-gaining the Buffaloes 407 yards to 204. With two contests in the books, ASU has out-gained opponents by a whopping margin of 928 yards to 319.

Ryan Torain continued his indisputable reliability, rushing for 91 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown, marking his 10th career game (of 15 played at ASU) totaling 80 or more rushing yards. "The Train" also currently leads the Pac-10 conference with four rushing touchdowns and ranks fourth in the conference, averaging 107 rushing yards-per-game.

Michael Jones had career highs of six catches for 96 yards and a pair of touchdown receptions against the Buffaloes, becoming the first Sun Devil to record multiple scoring catches in a single game since Matt Miller in the 2005 Insight Bowl. Jones exits week two tied with Washington State's Brandon Gibson with a Pac-10 high of three touchdown catches – already matching his total output from last season – while ranking third in the league with 159 total receiving yards.

After a career game last week versus San Jose State, Robert "The Beast" James again led the defensive charge, totaling nine tackles and an awesome 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two pass break-ups and a sack, helping him make claim for a second consecutive Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Week selection. For the season, James has now accumulated 19 tackles (13 solo), 5.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two pass break-ups and one interception. On pace for a phenomenal senior season, James currently leads the Pac-10 in tackles-for-loss while ranking third in sacks and fourth in total tackles.

Individual accomplishments aside, a critics' view of the win can be seen optimistically or pessimistically, but regardless the outlook, Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson and staff have been given fuel for upcoming practices and film sessions, which can be viewed as a good thing if the team can correct mistakes after a slightly sloppy win rather than a loss.

The pessimistic Sun Devil fan focused mainly on the penalties, penalties, penalties. The big ones, the drive-prolonging ones, the ones that stir criticism claiming it is "typical Dennis Erickson football". Twelve in total, costing 136 yards, including a pair of punt-return personal fouls and other infractions stemming from nothing but a lack of discipline. Perhaps there is some sort of bad blood between the Devils and the Buffs, as ASU committed 11 penalties in last season's match-up in Boulder, including similar special teams fouls. The issue that remains to be seen is if ASU can properly adjust its discipline from this game and avoid situations like last season in which the Sun Devils' posted four games with 10 or more penalties and six contests with eight or more.

However, ultimately the glass is much more than "half-full", maybe three-quarters full, perhaps even over 80- or 90-percent. There were way too many positives in this game to stay stuck on the negatives. Despite momentary lapses, the Sun Devil defense – predicted to be a liability and not a strength – allowed only 204 total yards, including only 39 on the ground. After two weeks of action, the Sun Devils lead the Pac-10 Conference in scoring defense (8.5), pass defense (120.0), total defense (159.5) and rank second in rush defense (39.5), while allowing only 1.5 yards-per-carry and one offensive touchdown.

For those who are skeptical about the level of competition, take into consideration the fact that after two games last seasons (home games against Northern Arizona and Nevada), the Sun Devils allowed an average of 308.5 total yards and four passing touchdowns, while Division I-AA (as it was called then) member NAU gained 312 total yards in the opener, only seven fewer than the total that the Sun Devils have allowed in the first two games of 2007.

What can be considered most reassuring from this game are the efforts that may not appear in box scores, as the Sun Devils collectively took a stand in their home stadium, and cut the bleeding at an early point. ASU proved it can succeed in a variety of fashions, and fans can rest assured that this Sun Devil team has the pride and determination to fight through rough circumstances. From this point, it remains to be seen whether the team and staff have the collective focus and discipline to correct its mistakes and consistency produce efficient games, starting Sept. 15 against San Diego State and into ASU's Pac-10 schedule, starting the next week against Oregon State.

True, the offense wasn't nearly as sharp as the previous week. Rudy Carpenter's completion percentage against Colorado resembled his 2006 total after a 2005-esque performance against San Jose State. Outside of Torain, ASU's running game was largely ineffective, totaling 47 net yards on 27 carries combined by four players.

Also, ASU's streak of 146 consecutive made extra points was snapped with Thomas Weber's miss in the second quarter. The streak was predominately held by former Sun Devil Jesse Ainsworth, who connected on 139 straight dating back to his freshman season in 2003, and Weber had hit his first seven attempts before missing his second attempt against Colorado.

Take the good with the bad, Sun Devil nation, that's what the early part of the season is for. We have a vastly veteran coaching staff on our hands, and believe me; they've seen it all and have answers to virtually any football scenario. A three-score victory shouldn't be a reason for concern, and while ASU faces two very winnable home games, Erickson and staff are well aware of the challenges they will face and the adjustments that must be made.

In general, the Sun Devils should be applauded for a resilient victory, doing as they did the previous year at Colorado and not allow a point after the first quarter. Despite lesser efficiency than last week's game, ASU bent early but did not break, and surged ahead toward a large margin of victory. The imperfections are much less subtle than they were after San Jose State, but are by no means uncorrectable, and with a staff such as Coach Erickson's, this is by no means their "first rodeo", and look for the Devils to take the field against San Diego State with a slight chip on their shoulder, despite gaining a 33-14 victory against Colorado, raising the team's record to 2-0.

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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