Dennis Erickson's Sun Devils knew that no matter what the final result "Between the Hedges" was, Arizona State had to win against Oregon State, in the Pacific Ten conference opener. Well, ASU did not upset Georgia on the road two weeks ago, and the Sun Devils stumbled against the Beavers at home last Saturday. Now, the Sun Devils have to rally in "The Palouse" against Washington State, to get their season back on track.
Rally, is a term that I would use loosely. Rebirth is a word, that I am hoping Arizona State exemplifies on Saturday. The ASU offense has not eclipsed the 40 point mark vs. a Bowl Subdivision school, since September 6 of last season versus Stanford (41 points).
Sun Devil senior quarterback Danny Sullivan, not only needs a rebirth, the first-year starter needs to find a chemistry with the wide receiving corps. The play-makers out wide, were slated to make plays weekly during the summer, but that outlook has turned gloomy quickly.
Sullivan has yet to get on track with multiple receivers during the same game. Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha both had breakout performances this season versus Louisiana Monroe and Oregon State respectively, however, the two Arizona natives have yet to link up with Sullivan on the same Saturday.
Rebirth is a term, that the ASU defense would like to display at Martin Stadium Saturday afternoon as well. The Sun Devils gave up a half dozen plays of 20 yards or more last week against Pac-10 foe, Oregon State. Not to mention, the big plays that Georgia wide receiver, A.J. Green showed off two weeks prior.
The bottom line is that all three facets of the game need an overhaul, and who better to get ASU back in the win column, than Washington State?
Keys to Success: Offense
Although the talk this week has swirled around Danny Sullivan, I am going to put the pressure on the ASU running game this Saturday. I know that Dennis Erickson, was forced into a tough spot, battling back from 21-3 versus the Beavers, but the rushing attack led by Dimitri Nance has to get back on track.
Last week was not the follow up, that Nance was looking for, after having a career game versus Georgia. Nance finished with 48 yards and a touchdown.
Now, I realize that not all of the pressure can be put on the running back, and the same goes for the quarterback in the passing game, moreover, the return of Garth Gerhart, might be the recipe for success for the "big uglies" up front.
Gerhart was slated to be the starting center during fall camp, however, a turf toe injury has limited him. Now, with the resurgence of Thomas Altieri at center, the need at right guard outweighs the position battle at center. Gerhart will replace Brenton Good, who was just recently awarded a scholarship.
The running game has to get back on track, if nothing else, to take the pressure of Sullivan and the passing game. However, the make or break plays will ultimately come down to No. 15, Sullivan.
The third down conversions for Erickson's Devils will have to turn into big plays for ASU to earn the victory in Pullman. But, hey no one would mind an offensive explosion similar to Oregon vs. WSU, from last week (52-6 final score). Although, Sun Devil fans would just like to see a few passing touchdowns in the same game.
Keys to Success: Defense
Washington State is a far stretch, from a potent offensive juggernaut. Although, with the Cougars playing at home, on homecoming, anything can happen, and usually does in "The Palouse."
With the Cougars trend, of offensive struggles, ASU and Defensive Coordinator, Craig Bray will have to go into the game with the mindset of a dogfight. Arizona State cannot play the first quarter, like they did against Oregon State, or else the Sun Devils will be forced to claw their way back into the game vs. Washington State.
Bringing the right attitude and determination to the field, is a good start, however, the leaders on defense, for the Maroon and Gold, need to bring up the level of play of all 11 players on defense. Seniors Mike Nixon and defensive end Dexter Davis, both need to have big games, if ASU wants to stop their two game losing streak to come to an end.
When the Sun Devils are looking like a top tier team, their defense is making plays. Interceptions, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns, were all plays that Mike Nixon, safety Jarrell Holman, and the young Vontaze Burfict have been making all year, but sacks have yet to be concured on that same spectrum.
Dexter Davis, Lawrence Guy, and other defensive lineman were supposed to provide an unrelenting pass rush this season, however, that has not been the case. Davis, with 27.5 career sacks, has yet to record one sack in his Senior season.
Unfortunately, to couple with that, no one else on the defensive line has stepped up and filled that void. Whether Davis, has a breakout performance or the defensive line supplies quality pressure from the opening whistle, the Washington State quarterback can't get comfortable against ASU.
Whether your thoughts on the quarterback situation, "jive" with that of Erickson and the ASU coaching staff, you without a doubt, are excited to see what ASU can do against a weaker opponent of the likes of Idaho State and Louisiana Monroe.
Although, fans might be excited to see, or hear Brock Osweiler perform, (since the game is not on TV), I think that the Sullivan is going to find comfort on the road in Pullman, and "pull together" a solid workman-like performance against the gritty Cougars.
The numbers for Washington State might look poor, the "Cougs" did hold USC's juggernaut to only 27 points.
From my perspective, Erickson's squad has a tough fairly early with the weather conditions, and ruckus road crowd at Martin Stadium, but the running game and passing game link up and form an extremely balanced offense to regain their swagger and light up the scoreboard.
However, this game would not be a typical ASU game, if the defense did not contribute to the point total for the Maroon and Gold. I look for Vontaze Burfict to make a trip to the end zone today while intercepting WSU's Freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel. Look for Mike Nixon's experience to pay dividends as well against the youthful Cougars today.
Final Score: 34-7
Martin Stadium, 2pm PT kickoff
Weather: mid 40s with a low of 15 degrees at night. No precipitation in the forecast.