Roses Not Out of Reach

It was all sorrow and dismay in Sun Devil Land on Sunday. Most of the despondency lingered over until Monday. But hang in there Sun Devil fans. The team still can overcome a tough 35-23 loss to Oregon.

Everyone knew Oregon was going to be perhaps the toughest opponent on the schedule. Great team … tough place to play.

The game taught us that the Sun Devils can't beat a good college football team when they play sloppy. Oregon is a very good (to great) college football team. ASU played sloppy. ASU lost. Oregon is no Oregon State.

So what was broke on Saturday? The three things that we've been concerned about for some time: 1. Poor pass protection from the offensive line; 2. Rudy Carpenter holding onto the football too long; and 3. Poor offensive play calling to counter the blitz.

Let's face it … UCLA, USC and Arizona are going to blitz and blitz and blitz. That has been the Achilles heal of ASU's passing attack. Send five or six guys after Carpenter, and you throw a monkey wrench into the passing attack. Oregon did that, and they finished with 9 sacks.

Again, Carpenter has to recognize the blitzes and audible with a screen pass or draw play. There are ways to counter a heavy blitz package, and screen passes are the most effective way. Not sure why OC Rich Olson is not factoring this into the game plan. Bubble screens, crack screens and jailbreak screens are all effective at countering the blitz. Get the screen pass off, and get the ball into the hands of the guys who can makes plays. How about a nice timely screen pass to Keegan Herring?

The offensive play calling was abysmal at times, and for the first time all season you can say that Dennis Erickson was out-coached in a game. Certainly no insult, because Mike Bellotti of Oregon is one of the best in the business.

Case in point: ASU ran the ball three straight times with Dimitri Nance on first and goal at the Oregon 3 in the first quarter. They had to settle for a field goal.

Clock management was sketchy at best right before the half, when ASU mounted a drive inside the Oregon 20 with plenty of time on the clock. But again, Nance carried three straight times to reach the Oregon 13-yard line, and ASU quickly ran out of time.

Carpenter spiked the ball, and then Thomas Weber rushed onto the field with six seconds left and missed a 32-yard field goal. So instead of some serious momentum heading into halftime, ASU trailed 21-13. Why not take a shot at the end zone before half?

While the Sun Devils are no longer undefeated, they are still tied for the Pac-10 lead with No. 3 Oregon, and in some ways still control their own destiny to reach a BCS game. Finish 11-1, and it doesn't matter what anyone else does, ASU will be playing in a BCS bowl.

With games on the horizon against UCLA, USC and Arizona, an 11-1 season is still a possibility. And with a little help, there are plenty of favorable outcomes. If Oregon wins out (remaining games include road contests against Arizona and UCLA and a home game against Oregon State), the Ducks would either be playing for the national championship (LSU or Ohio State loses) or possibly the Rose Bowl. With a loss (c'mon U of A), the Ducks could fall behind ASU in the Pac-10 (assuming the Sun Devils take care of business and beat UCLA this weekend).

Of course, so many scenarios are possible when there are three games remaining. But Saturday's loss does not have to ruin ASU's dream season. There is still a lot of football to be played, and a lot at stake.

First up is UCLA. The Bruins have fallen on hard times and now sit at 5-4 (4-2 in the Pac-10). UCLA has lost three of its last four games, but would love to spoil the Sun Devils season, finish up strong and reach a bowl game. Of course, with remaining games against ASU, Oregon, and USC, UCLA may have the toughest schedule remaining in the conference.

The Sun Devils have to take care of business this Saturday, and keep an "eye on the prize." The Rose Bowl is still within reach. And it's nice to be saying that in November.

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