Devils Defeat Aztecs, Look Ahead to Pac-10 Schedule…
Saturday's contest seemed to have an NFL preseason sort of feel to it, and the impression is noticeable that the Sun Devils are ready to measure themselves against greater, Pac-10 Conference competition. The Sun Devil "O" showcased overall improvement in efficiency, however the "D" allowed the Aztecs to move the ball much more than expected. The true potential of this team is still uncertain, and it is prime time for the Devils to get Pac-10 action underway and see what they're really made of.
The offense was most more efficient than the previous week, led by running back Keegan Herring --replacing the temporarily injured Ryan Torain-- who rushed for 161 yards on 19 carries (8.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, also showing the burst of athleticism that makes him one of ASU's most popular athletes. Sophomore running back Dimitri Nance added 58 yards on 11 carries (5.3 avg.), helping fill the momentary void left by Torain's injury, before Nance himself suffered a faulty hamstring. Overall, ASU's rushing offense has not disappointed ranking 26th in the country, averaging 218.7 rushing yards-per-game, while Torain and Herring have combined for 470 yards on 79 carries (6.0 avg.) and six touchdowns, despite Torain not appearing against San Diego State.
Although the level of competition undoubtedly improves from this point, ASU's thunder-and-lightning running backs combination certainly has the potential to improve on its combined total of 1,813 rushing yards from 2006, the most among a returning pair of teammate running backs in the Pac-10 Conference. Another reassuring figure regarding the Sun Devil rushing attack is that Torain, Herring and Nance have lost only two total yards among the 95 carries the trio has compiled, and none of the three has lost a fumble in the first three games, a testament not only to the quality of the running backs, but the offensive line as well.
Despite a late-game interception, quarterback Rudy Carpenter completed 71.4 percent of his 21 passes for 200 yards and two touchdown passes, once again productively facilitating a run-oriented offense. Currently ranked 20th in the nation in pass efficiency (157.74), Carpenter has an excellent ratio of seven touchdowns to two interceptions, improved from a ratio of nine-to-four after last year's first three non-conference games. To date in 2007, Carpenter's efficiency rating is up nearly 25-points from last season and his completion percentage is greatly improved, standing close to 62-percent.
It cannot be stressed enough that Rudy's effectiveness this season should be judged on efficiency, not gaudy, Andrew Walter-esque numbers. Fans and critics mustn't become concerned with moderate yardage and touchdown numbers and should focus on statistics such as completion percentage and pass efficiency, which he has greatly improved thus far over last year's figures. Carpenter may only total close to 2,500 passing yards this season, however if his touchdown-to-interception ratio and completion percentage stay in the area that they are now, he will enjoy an excellently efficient year.
The Sun Devil receivers continued to improve and impress, led by another fan favorite, senior Rudy Burgess, who caught three passes for 52 yards, including a 30-yard, second-quarter touchdown catch, Burgess' first touchdown catch since Oct. 22, 2005. It would serve the joy of all Sun Devil fans for Burgess to close out his college career in impressive fashion after an injury-plagued junior season which followed two excellent seasons in 2004 and '05. Sophomores Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams, along with junior Michael Jones, provide an excellent array of receivers for Carpenter and have shown exponential improvement in consistency and reliability from last season.
Defensively, the team was not as effective as the previous two weeks, despite another Herculean effort by "The Beast" Robert James, once again leading ASU with 11 total tackles (nine solo), while assisting in a tackle-for-loss. Making Sun Devil fans think Dale Robinson has snuck back into the line-up wearing No. 29, James has totaled 30 tackles (22 solo), 6.0 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two pass break-ups and one interception in only three games. The main question marks that loom for the Devil defense entering its Conference schedule is its lack of pass-rush and the play of captain Josh Barrett, who was ultimately benched in favor of Jeremy Payton. Injuries to starters Michael Marquardt and Gerald Munns also limited the impact of the defense; however it gave reserves such as Tashaka Merriweather and Jon Hargis opportunity to see the field.
Overall, the defense has allowed only 30 total points, however the Aztecs totaled 323 yards of total offense Saturday, four more than ASU had allowed in its first two games combined. It's tricky to gauge how good the defense really is; it's not as poor as predicted to begin the season, but it may not be as stable as early-season statistics suggest.
On special teams, Thomas Weber continued to impress, connecting on field goals of 31- and 48-yards, making him perfect on all three attempts this season, while also continuing to boom kickoffs to unreturnable lengths. Kyle Williams added a dynamic, 48-yard punt return, while Rudy Burgess, Chris McGaha and Justin Tryon each had at least one kickoff return of more than 25-yards. Punter Jonathan Johnson is still not quite as effective as last year, but the punting game hasn't yet become the liability it was in the past, so ASU's overall special teams efforts have been greatly solid.
The past two games for the Devils have answered several questions, but have prompted just as many new ones. This team willl be more efficient than last year's, however it's difficult at this point to solidify the overall expectations for the Sun Devils. Although ASU has swept its non-conference schedule for the third time in four years, it faces a new beginning of sorts this weekend when Oregon State travels to Tempe.
...And now, for a change-of-pace, I'll go a little off-topic…
DISCLAIMER: The following views are solely those of SUN DEVIL SUNDAY and do not represent those of DevilsDigest.com.
Hail, Hail, The Gang's NOT All Here…
One aspect of the game which was the most disappointing occurred late in the second half. It seemed as though they didn't care any more. You wondered why they even bothered showing up. You ask yourself questions such as "how can we survive games against Pac-10 teams with this happening," and "how can this affect gaining the attention of top-notch recruits?"
Am I referring to the performance of Sun Devils? Of course not, ASU outscored San Diego State 20-3 over the course of the game's final 38 minutes to solidify its third consecutive victory. What became unbearably appalling were when the aisles and exits of Sun Devil Stadium became flooded with ASU "fans" (using the term very loosely), casually making their way from the contest -- a scene that has become all too familiar. By the time the Sun Devils had wrapped up a victory, a large percent of the 54,617 total attendees (less than 75-percent of the stadium capacity of 73,379) were well on their way home.
As traditional as fight songs, mascots and halftime shows, thousands of visitors to Sun Devil Stadium enjoy taking part in another weekly custom; leaving the game early. I mean EARLY, we're not talking final-minute preparation of a series of victory formations; I'm talking third- or early-fourth-quarter departures. Apparently, for thousands of people, attending a football game at Arizona State University is merely a social event, simply a way to pass two-or-three hours (not the four or more a full game requires).
As an Arizona State University graduate and die hard Sun Devil fan, to see this happen week-in and week-out is sickening; it is absolutely pathetic. It makes one think that many of the obstacles that this program faces on its path to becoming an elite national power do not only lay on the football field and in the administration. Sure, one can make a chicken-and-the-egg comment with this, demanding a perfect football performance every game in order for fans to stick around all four quarters, but the simple comparison can be made to dozens of schools around the nation – of varying levels of success – whose stadiums are packed each week from start to finish. No exceptions.
We've all seen it though -- in good and in bad -- tens of thousands of ticket holders stampede the exits tremendously early, whether during a near-perfect victory against San Jose State early this season or in the waning moments of last year's Oregon game, one of the most poorly-played games in recent Sun Devil history. It almost seems as if the game's not tied until the final whistle, there are fans that lose interest. There seems to be all-too little appreciation for a well-played game and even less devotion to a team in despair.
Let's all think back to last year's UCLA game, where -- whether deserved or not -- the chorus of boos and disdain toward the home team and staff created a very ugly and embarrassing sight -- especially given the fact that ASU was hosting 14 recruits on official visits (including four-star players which ultimately signed elsewhere such as Javario Burkes, Armando Murillo and Markques Simas). Also, only one of which who hadn't pledged to ASU prior to the weekend (James Brooks) ended up committing to the Sun Devils. It's laughable that people exist who find it in themselves to complain about ASU's lack of elite talent and inability to collect five-star recruits, and then in-turn boo, berate and belittle the players and staff of the home team.
Sure, it's the god-given right of any man, woman or child who purchases a ticket, but in the "business" of college football, such behavior begs the question, "who the hell would want to play for a school where this happens?"
Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, it's absolutely understandable for parents to exit early and take small children home -- when games run well past 10 p.m., those accommodations are necessary. However, the mass exodus at each home game does not consist of such cases, just too many phony fans that turn their respective back on their "favorite" team.
Unfortunately, those who are reading this article are not likely those to whom it is intended. It is not the tried-and-true who are under the scope, so perhaps this is nothing more than "preaching to the choir". There are thousands and thousands of awesome fans, die-hard followers who bleed maroon and gold and have done so for decades, well before a fan such as me was born, and it is simply frustrating to see those with half-hearted allegiance. With the trendy nature of many sports fans in the Phoenix area, loyalty is sadly at a premium, which is disgusting to see with Sun Devil athletics, as it is the longest-tenured show in town and since the University boasts such a massive enrollment.
Sure, there are improvements to be made for this to be an overall successful season and for Arizona State football to continue its climb to greater achievements, but not all adjustments must be made by Coach Erickson and his players.
A budding issue irrelevant to the game itself which has the potential to alienate a large number of fans is the excessive and unprecedented police involvement among tailgaters in parking structures near Sun Devil Stadium. In Parking Structure-7 alone, fans were ambushed by undercover officers, while an unbelievable scene transpired on the ground level of Lot 59, where nearly a dozen bicycle officers had a handful of students on their knees, hands cuffed behind their backs. Also, accounts of students being otherwise accosted and even tackled by officers in that structure alone were spoken of, despite the fact that the most disruptive activity the tailgaters took part in was throwing a football back-and-forth.
It is not the purpose of this article to condone or condemn rambunctious behavior among college-aged tailgaters; that is far from the authority of this column. However, what occurred Saturday night was unprecedented and by many accounts uncalled-for and, if it continues, will have ramifications. This could potentially prompt students to stay in a presumably "safer" location during Sun Devil games and avoid the potential for fines and/or arrests. It was a simply baffling situation and is a controversial issue that is difficult to truly defend, however such force of authority is something that made the environment more greatly resemble an urban riot than a college football pre-game cookout.
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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