Pac-10 Preview: Sun Devils to Rely Heavily on Defense This Fall
The 2008 football season was one to forget for the Arizona State Sun Devils. A season that opened with ASU in the nations top 20, quickly diminished to a 5-7 record and no bowl game.
Many would argue that the bar was set too high after Dennis Erickson led the Devils to 10 wins a year before and a berth in the Holiday Bowl.
Now, it's back to reality in the desert. Here is a look at the Sun Devils in 2009.
Arizona State will enter this season with several questions still left to be answered by their offensive unit, one that took a huge step back last season.
Much of the finger pointing can be directed towards the offensive line. ASU has struggled to field a decent line to work with and the production, especially in the running game, has suffered greatly.
Without the ability to open any holes for the stable of backs, the offense finds itself passing a little more then coach Erickson may want. The result? Nearly 90 sacks over the last two seasons.
The health of the five men up front will be key to their cohesiveness this fall. If they can stay on the field as a unit, many of the other problems will be solved.
Arizona States boasts one of the deepest backfields in the conference this season. Dimitri Nance and Ryan Bass are returning runners with experience, and true freshman Cameron Marshall has turned some heads in the offseason. All three should see significant time at running back.
Three receivers will take the field for the Sun Devils, with Chris McGaha leading the group. McGaha is looking to rebound from a season filled with injuries in '08. When healthy, few can argue his toughness and ability to make the most difficult catches.
Kyle Williams and Kerry Taylor will fill the other two spots at receiver. Both have shown signs of great speed and talent, but inconsistency has overshadowed their skill set.
At quarterback you will find another one of those question marks. Danny Sullivan left spring practice as the starter, but did little to solidify the position for the start of the season.
Now that Jack Elway has stepped away from the football field, both true freshman Brock Osweiler and sophomore Sampson Szakacsy will be close behind Sullivan. Both underclassmen quarterbacks present ASU with the option of running a zone-read offense, which would take some pressure off of the protection.
Much of the success this fall for Arizona State will hinge on the dominance of the defense. Dexter Davis will lead the strength of this group, the front seven. Davis is coming off of a season in which he had 11 sacks. He has been among the elite at that position in the conference over the last couple of years.
Along with Dexter, the line will bring back sophomore Lawrence Guy. Guy returns as a freshman All-American last season. James Brooks brings great combination of size and speed to the defensive line. This should allow for great pressure up front off the edges.
The linebacking corp is returning two starters, Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel. The third position may be filled by true freshman and five star recruit Vontaze Burfict out of California. Expect him to be an impact player immediately if he gets the green light to play.
With the loss of both Troy Nolan and Rodney, the secondary will be challenged early on in the season. Ryan McFoy, a converted linebacker, will take over strong safety duties for the Devils.
Both Omar Boldin and Terell Carr bring experience and speed, but with both corners being under 5'10", they may find themselves outmatched in man-to-man schemes.
Thomas Weber has been one of the more accurate kickers over the last two seasons in the college game, missing only one field goal attempt in 2007.
The issue that must be addressed is the protection. Arizona State had three attempts blocked last season, as well as two in the punting game.
Kyle Williams will continue his duties as punt returner, providing both the league and the country with one of the more electrifying return men in the game.
Arizona State's schedule sets them up for some success this season, and should return to a bowl game with seven or eight wins this season. Getting over the hump that is Cal, USC, and Oregon may be a feat that will have to wait for another season.
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