Athleticism Stands Out For Arizona State

The Fighting Illini, 2-0 on the young season, face their first big test as Arizona State invades Memorial Stadium Saturday. A quick look at the Sun Devils shows a head coach who has won two national championships, coordinators with vast experience, and tremendous amounts of athleticism and experience on both sides of the ball.

Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson brings his high-flying Sun Devils to Illinois this weekend for a game against two unbeaten teams. Erickson has 175 career wins, seventh most among active NCAA coaches. He has won two national championships and seven conference Coach Of The Year Awards from multiple conferences.

He knows how to win, and so do his coordinators. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and defensive coordinator Craig Bray combine for 68 years experience coaching in the college and pro ranks. This is third most in the NCAA.

Mazzone runs a no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense that scores in rapid fashion and prevents frequent defensive substitutions. He had two drives against UC Davis that lasted less than 1:10 each. One drive against Missouri lasted a mere 8 seconds.

Bray's defense is known for its negative-yardage plays. The Sun Devils held Missouri to 14 plays for zero or negative yardage, producing 26 yards in losses. Last year, they produced 143 negative-yardage plays for 307 yards in losses.

Junior Brock Osweiler (6'-8", 240) leads the offense. That is correct, he is 6'-8" tall, the tallest quarterback in the NCAA this season. He has a rifle arm, a quick release and mobile when the situation calls for it. All he did last week against Missouri was pass for 353 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he ran for another TD.

In two games, Osweiler has completed 74.1% of his passes for 615 yards and 5 touchdowns. His passing efficiency is an amazing 188.2. He has also gained 59 net yards in seven carries. Like Illinois, the Sun Devils have minimal experience available if Osweiler goes down. In that eventuality, they must rely on freshman Mike Bercovici and redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly.

Running back Cameron Marshall, a 5'-11", 223 pound junior, leads the team with 84 net yards gained in two games. He has 1165 career rushing yards and is a Doak Walker Award Watch List. He is also an effective receiver out of the backfield. Sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks (5'-8", 175) backs him up and has a 5.5 yards per carry average this season. He is also a kick and punt returner.

Junior Jamal Miles (5'-10", 183) is Mr. Versatile. He is listed at flanker but sometimes appears in the backfield and carries the ball. He is averaging 16.3 yards per carry while also catching six passes for 50 yards. For his career, he has 37 receptions for 311 yards and 6 TDs.

He returned a kickoff to score against UC Davis. He threw a TD pass against Mizzou and caught the game winning pass in overtime. He is on the Paul Hornung Award Watch List.

Three other receivers are listed as starters for the Sun Devils. Senior Aaron Pflugrad (5'-10", 180) had a career night against Mizzou. He caught 8 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Gerell Robinson (6'-4", 222) has 64 career receptions for 788 yards and 5 scores. Senior Mike Willie (6'-4", 220) also starts.

Other receivers expected to play include senior George Bell (6'-3", 203), juniors A.J. Pickens (5'-10", 176) and Rashad Ross (6'-0", 164), and sophomores Jarrid Bryant (6'-5", 180), Chris Coyle (6'-3", 235) and Kevin Ozier (6'-0", 201). The tight ends are senior Trevor Kohl (6'-1", 245) and soph Max Smith (6'-2", 248).

All five linemen are returning starters. Senior center Garth Gerhart (6'-1", 300) is on both the Rimington and Outland Trophy Watch Lists. Sophomore left tackle Evan Finkenberg (6'-6", 292) is a preseason third team All-Pac-12 honoree. Other starting linemen are senior left guard Mike Marcisz (6'-5", 300), junior right guard Andrew Sampson (6'-3", 300), and senior right tackle Dan Knapp (6'-5", 277), a converted tight end.

The front seven defensively is aggressive and fast. It is led by super Vontaze Burfict (6'-3", 252). The junior MIKE is a head-hunter with great speed for his size. He is on the Chuck Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi, Butkus and Walter Camp Award Watch Lists. He is considered a high NFL draft choice, likely after this season.

Defensive ends Jamaar Jarrett (6'-5", 260), a senior, and sophomore Junior Onyeali (5'-11", 245) are special. Onyeali is a preseason first team All-Pac-12 by three national magazines after being Pac-12 Freshman Defender Of The Year. Sophomore Will Sutton (6'-2", 285) mans one tackle spot, and the other is shared between senior Bo Moos (6'-0", 286) and junior Corey Adams ((6'-3", 285).

Three seniors join Burfict at linebacker. The SAM spot is shared between seniors Shelly Lyons (6'-2", 230) and Oliver Aaron (6'-0", 208). The WILL backer is Colin Parker (6'-1", 228).

ASU misses the injured Omar Bolden as he recovers from an injury. Without him, they still have quality athletes in the defensive backfield. Sophomore Osahon Irabor (5'-11", 180) and junior Deveron Carr (5'-11", 193) are the cornerbacks. Junior Keelan Johnson (6'-0", 201) plays free safety, and senior Eddie Elder (5'-10", 186) plays strong safety.

Both the punter and placekicker are seeing their first action. Junior Josh Hubner is averaging 39.6 yards per punt. Redshirt freshman placekicker Alex Garoutte is 3 for 4 on field goals, connecting from 49, 25 and 47 yards out.

ASU has 27 senior returnees among 51 lettermen. They were 6-6 last year but are highly motivated to make 2011 a season to remember.

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