Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson and his team have been left dumbfounded and searching for ways to make this season count after enduring a yet to be concluded four game losing streak in which the offense has only averaged eleven points per game.
"We've got half our season left and that's the bottom line," said Erickson. "They're all Pac-10 games. A lot of good things can happen. Obviously we have to take it one at a time but we can still have an outstanding season. The bottom line with us is taking it one game at a time and getting that first win (since beating Stanford). It's pretty hard to look past anything other than that but we do have a lot of games left."
"I like the character of our football team. I really believe they'll fight back and play well the last half of the season. We've practiced pretty well but again we just need to carry it out on the football field. They're a very resilient group."
Senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter needs to believe that message as much as anybody. The veteran signal caller seemed poised for an all conference final year and ready to lead his team to that elusive BCS game. Unfortunately, things got off to a rocky start with consecutive out of conference losses and things got even worse when Carpenter suffered another injury against Cal in the team's third straight loss. To further damage the quarterback and teams psyche, they were bludgeoned on the road a week later against USC but Carpenter still claims that not all is lost.
"I think we can make a lot out of this season," said Carpenter. "I was talking to Coach Erickson yesterday and if we look at the positive side we're worried about Oregon and trying to get a win against them but obviously we feel we can win a lot of these games that we're playing. Just like every week we feel that way. We can still finish with a nine win season."
The quarterback's sentiments may not scream confidence but Coach Erickson offered up assurance that his team is staying mentally prepared and focused throughout thee week.
"They're motivated," proclaimed Erickson. "They're competitors. They want to win games as bad as anybody. They know what it takes and obviously that's how we deal with it all the time. It's how you prepare in practice every day during the week and its not that we haven't practiced pretty well, because we have. They also understand that they have to focus all the time and we're prepared and ready to play at a high level on Saturday against Oregon."
If the Sun Devils really want to break their four game losing streak and get back on track for a solid bowl game than they will certainly need to come to play on Saturday. The Ducks are as talented as any team in the Pac-10 not named USC and have given the Sun Devils fits the last couple of years. Oregon wide receiver Jaison Williams has recorded 243 receiving yards and four touchdowns in three games against the maroon and gold and defensive end Nick Reed has amassed three and a half sacks and five tackles for loss against the Sun Devils.
"They have a really good defense," admitted Carpenter. "They have a lot of guys returning. Both their corners and their safeties are good. (Oregon Safety) Patrick Chung is one of the better players in the Pac-10. They also have good linebackers with Jerome Boyd and some of those other guys and they have a good front four with Nick Reed. He's a good player who sacked me a few times last year and he's having a good year this year as well."
"They have a lot of experience and a lot of talent on their defense so it's going to be another tough week for us."
Since the Oregon defense offers up such a challenge and the Sun Devil offense has been so stagnant many would wonder if Coach Erickson and his staff would try doing some different things with the offense. Although Erickson has not been shy about sliding players up and down the depth chart and switching players' positions, he is not ready to make any changes with the offense's style.
"Well it's hard to make philosophical tweaks," explained Erickson. "To me that is easier said then done. You just have to execute what you're doing better. Obviously we're not going to change our whole offense and all of a sudden go into the triple option or something like that because there are so many things involved. What we do have to is move people around a little bit more and just continue to improve on what we're doing."
"Our running game is not going to change. What we do in the passing game isn't going to change. We may move people around a little bit more to give them different looks as we go through the season but we've been doing this ever since I've been here for two years. So we're not going to tweak anything. We just have to continue to execute. We're young in some areas so I look for those guys to improve quite a bit. We have to start making plays."
"We just haven't been consistent. We have to become more consistent for us to have any success in these last six games," said Erickson.
A big part of the Sun Devils success will depend on how healthy Carpenter is. He was injured in the latter stages of the game against Cal and was noticeably hurting in the game against USC. But with roughly two weeks since the injury the quarterback seems to be doing better by Erickson and his own admissions.
"Yeah I would definitely say (that his health has improved since the USC game)," remarked Carpenter." I'm going on sixteen days now since I hurt it so it's getting better every day. I finally got the boot off for good I hope. I think I should be fine for Saturday."
If there is a silver lining for Arizona State this year it lies in the defense and their rapid improvement over the season as new, young talent has been fused with some of the senior leaders. The improvement has been most evident along the defensive line where freshmen like Lawrence Guy have stepped their game up and given Sun Devil fans reason to be excited about the future.
"What we've been able to do now is we're playing eight players through there now," commented Erickson. "Obviously the guys we have coming back are playing really well right now. Dexter (Davis) and (Luis) Vasquez are the ends in particular right now. We didn't even have David Smith the other day. Lawrence (Guy) is playing extremely well. Saia (Falahola) played pretty well in that (USC) game. Jamaar Jarrett is coming back so we have eight or nine guys we run through there so we're able to substitute. The first four play a little more than the other guys but they're getting better all the time."
Players and coaches do not really like to use the term "do or die" when talking about regular season games but if the Sun Devils want to have a legitimately successful season this Saturday's game against Oregon might be one of those rare "do or die" occasions.
"Winning this game this week would be an outstanding start, then we'll work our way forward and that's all we can do right now," said Erickson." I just can't look that much further down the road then what is happening right now. As a football coach you can't do that and as a team you can't do that. At the end of the year I'll tell you (if it's a successful season) but right now we have to come out and play well against Oregon, play better than we've played and just move on from there."