The Arizona State Sun Devils are 2-0 on the season after tossing aside two Big Sky Conference foes. Now it is time for the meat of the schedule: Wisconsin on the road, and then it doesn’t get any easier as red hot Oregon rolls into Tempe the following Saturday.
Unfortunately, the cupcakes on ASU’s schedule no longer exist, unless you include Washington State, but the good news is, following both contests the end result was a “W”, and a 2-0 record heading to Madison.
A lot of fans in Maricopa County are voicing their displeasure regarding ASU’s lackluster performance against their rivals to the north, NAU, but the point spread according to the “experts” in Las Vegas was only 24. So, maybe Las Vegas knew something that ASU fans overlooked. Then again, everyone was getting excited after a very lopsided season opening victory against Portland State.
Lets just wait and see what the University of Oregon does to the Portland State Vikings this weekend. Keep in mind the Oregon Ducks made New Mexico look foolish in a 72-0 opening weekend victory at Autzen Stadium.
But first things first, ASU has to improve from their dismal display Saturday night against the Lumberjacks. It is time to look forward to ASU’s big showdown with Wisconsin and fix the errors.
ASU will be heading into the heart of “Big Ten country”, and to win against those opponents usually means stopping the run and having success running the football. ASU would most likely receive an incomplete if you analyze both those statistics through their first two contests.
Against Portland State, ASU rushed for 242 yards and didn’t allow the Vikings to sniff the end zone; and against NAU, the Sun Devils finished with just 56 yards rushing. ASU has yet to allow a running back to break the century mark in a game, but Dennis Erickson and his bunch have yet to see a tailback as big or powerful as John Clay of Wisconsin. It doesn’t help matters that ASU’s defense will be lining up across an offensive line that averages 6’6 320. The Badgers’ offensive line is just one of many reasons why Wisconsin is ranked number 11 in the nation, and having ten returning starters on offense certainly doesn't hurt.
The Sun Devils have shutdown the ground games of lesser competition in 2010, and have not allowed a running back to reach 100 yards in the last six games dating back to 2009. However, just last season an “eighteen-wheeler” of a running back from Stanford beat the Arizona State Sun Devils nearly all on his own. If you are drawing a blank, his name is Toby Gerhart, and he is pretty darn good. Is the 6’1 255 pounds of muscle on Wisconsin running back John Clay up to par with Gerhart, Sun Devil fans and players sure hope not.
If Arizona State is going to have any success on defense on Saturday, the penalties will have to be limited. Clearly, the personal fouls and silly mental lapses in the game have cost the Sun Devils, not just this season, but it seems like forever. Erickson has tried to drill the message home, that penalties will cost you a game.
The situation for Dennis Erickson and ASU now rests on the shoulders of their best all around playmaker and pure athlete on the defense: Vontaze Burfict, number seven in your programs, and number one in your hearts. Well, maybe not after his 11 tackles and two personal fouls on display Saturday night. As a fan in the stands, a teammate on the field, or a coach on the sideline, you have to like the intensity and determination to get to the football each and every play. Although it just seems like Burfict only plays at one speed, and the coaches can’t control that. The only person who can is Burfict, and the bad news is, that has been his wrap since his days at Corona Centennial.
So, Saturday following the Sun Devils win over NAU, the head man was not too pleased with a record high 13 penalties literally one week after ASU was flagged 11 times. Erickson responded with, “maybe the only way we will learn, is if we actually lose a game because of the penalties.” ASU is ranked 118th in penalties, two slots shy of last in the nation.
Then again, ASU came out on top Saturday against the Lumberjacks behind an extremely potent passing attack. Arizona State has now had a game in which they totaled over 500 yards and another last Saturday when Noel Mazzone’s offense achieved 450 yards. In Both contents, Steven Threet was the man that attracted the spotlight.
Although, it is not difficult to have everyone’s eyes on you as the quarterback and signal caller of a no huddle, four and five wide receiver spread offense, but the demeanor in which Steven Threet carries himself is something that the Sun Devils have not seen since Andrew Walter. Walter, and now Threet have a quiet confidence about them on the field, but the leadership skills to rally their teammates in the huddle and on the sidelines. Maybe that is what the Sun Devils have been missing on their nationally televised road affairs of years past.
Just Last season ASU traveled across the country to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. Fans thought ASU could keep it close with their defense, but because of their glaring weakness at the quarterback position, those hopes were limited to dreams and fairytales. In the end, ASU licked their wounds on a rain soaked night in Athens, only to wonder what a difference a quarterback would have made.
Even tracing further back at ASU, former starter Rudy Carpenter, was a big game quarterback but as everyone knows, his emotions would sometimes get the best of him. Then again, that is the passionate fiery leader that a lot of players could relate to.
In 2010, Steven Threet has conducted himself as if he is a man on a mission each and every time he touches the football. As soon as Threet receives the signals from sideline, he goes to work and exudes confidence. Even Saturday when Threet tossed two interceptions, number 14 went back out there and drove the offense down the field and taking full control of the game as ASU went on to win by three touchdowns.
A comparison to Andrew Walter might be a good fit, both passers are students of the game and very studious off of the field as well, but on the field both quarterbacks have a quiet confidence that they play and played with in Walter’s case. And don’t look now, but Threet is wracking up some gaudy numbers thus far.
Threet would not mind putting up a performance like Walter had in 2002 when the Sun Devils visited number six Oregon, and came away with a 45-42 win. Walter broke the Pacific Ten Conference single-game record for passing yards with 536 yards. Threet already has a win under his belt against Wisconsin, dating back to his days at Michigan, but with ASU’s passing attack, fans might witness an old wild wild west shootout.
Oh and it will not hurt that Threet has some pretty solid receivers to pass to. Although drops have been a cause for concern, when big plays have been needed the receivers have stepped up. Both Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugrad have made instant impacts for the Sun Devils in their first season, and with each game these two wide outs will be leading the receiving statistics following every contest. Willie has become the deep threat for ASU, while Pflugrad has made fans forget about former slot receiver Kyle Williams almost instantly.
A big difference between Arizona State and Wisconsin is style of play. The big red Wisconsin Badgers are a physical team that likes to overpower their opposition with a dominating rushing attack and a stout defense. Wisconsin beat UNLV and San Jose State in their first two games, and Bret Bielema’s team total over 400 yards of offense in both affairs. However, the UNLV Rebels did rush for 112 with their spread offense, so it is not impossible to gain yards against a Big Ten defense. But as Erickson stated, “Wisconsin is powerful.”
With Arizona State’s speed and athletic ability matched up with Wisconsin’s size, strength, and power this contest matches up pretty nicely on paper. It is a battle of two good offenses versus two good defenses. Both teams have played subpar competition, and the only way to find out who has the better horses, is to line up and race. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, Dennis Erickson and his Sun Devils would like to show off their speed, and race back to Tempe with a 3-0 record.