It Starts for Real This Saturday

The Sun Devils are three games into the season, and they're about where we expected them to be: 3-0, slightly inconsistent, but with some real potential. We will find out just how good Dennis Erickson's squad is this Saturday when the Sun Devils face off against the Oregon State Beavers (2-1).

Ironically, Oregon State is the program Erickson took from Pac-10 doormat to legit program (who can forget their thrashing of Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl).

Last year, the Beavers embarrassed the Sun Devils 44-10 in Corvallis as running back Yvenson Bernard scored twice. In that game, ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter had perhaps his worst day as a Sun Devil, completing only 9 of 27 passes with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns.

The Beavers scored on their first five possessions and jumped ahead 31-10 at halftime. So this proves to be a strong test for the 2007 Sun Devils. Oregon State is still coached by Mike Riley, one of the most underrated college head coaches.

So what did we learn after the first three games? First, Rudy Carpenter looks much more poised and comfortable this year. Perhaps he's more relaxed with Keller-gate behind him and a talented set of young receivers coming on. Which leads us to the next point: those receivers. Even though the group lacks a great downfield tight end like Zack Miller (who's now playing in the NFL), we can certainly say that this receiving corps is much improved. So far, Michael   Jones, Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha have been excellent, while the depth is there with Rudy Burgess and freshman Kerry Taylor.

ASU received a nice shot in the arm from the running game with the performance of Keegan Herring, who was filling in for a dinged up Ryan Torain. Herring rushed for 161 yards, the second most of his career, on 19 carries. Torain should play against the Beavers, and Herring will provide a nice change of pace.

The offense line has played well at times, though Carpenter had to verbally thrash the squad during the Colorado game because of the beating he was taking. And they were called for four holding penalties this past Saturday. Look for the O-line to improve throughout the season.

Defensively, the Sun Devils are still not generating a pass rush, and this is reason for major concern. Teams in the Pac-10 can throw the rock, and pocket pressure is the best way to throw off a team's rhythm. Seven total sacks against the likes of San Jose State, Colorado and San Diego State is not getting it done. The defensive line will have to show marked improvement if this team is to win Pac-10 games.

While they lack any NFL caliber players, the linebackers seem to be a position of strength. Senior Robert James is enjoying the finest season of his career as he's clearly become the team leader. He's still a bit undersized, but flies around to the football. Travis Goethel and Morris Wooten have played well. But an injury to Gerald Munns will keep the sophomore out several weeks. Look for Mike Nixon to play a larger role in coming weeks.

The mistakes of the secondary have been well documented in the first three games, and the unit will have to play smarter to avoid blown coverages. Safety Josh Barrett is in the doghouse and justifiably so. Looking like a certain NFL draft pick last year, Barrett has been inconsistent and will have to play much better to reach that next level.

Punter Jonathan Johnson has been mediocre at best. The last thing the team needs is to give the opposition a short field. Johnson has to boom his kicks deeper and higher. This looks like an area that could haunt the Sun Devils all season. Freshman kicker Thomas Weber has played well.

Which brings us back to the original question: So what did we learn after the first three games? Not even Erickson has an answer for that.

"I have no idea where we're at," Erickson said. "I do know we're 3-0 going into this game. It's like the first game of the season. It's so dang competitive. You don't know where you're at compared to other teams. We'll all have a little better idea after the first week."

We'll finally find out the answer this Saturday.

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