As the 2010 Pacific-10 Conference schedule unfolds, the Sun Devils’ record in conference is an underwhelming 0-2. Dennis Erickson’s team lost an entertaining contest at Frank Kush Field against the now-third-ranked Oregon Ducks. However, many in the Arizona State fanbase expected a bounce-back win on the road in Corvallis last Saturday.
As the Sun Devils found out, that is much easier said than done.
But the past is the past, and ASU now needs to get on the right track. Three straight close, nail-biting losses that could easily have been victories in the Sun Devils' favor now leave a youthful squad trying to remember how to win.
Because on the field, Dennis Erickson’s squad have seemed to invent ways to sit back and watch the game slip away.
If a blocked extra point or a 95-yard kickoff return that comes up inches short to end the half at Wisconsin were not enough, then the seven-turnover destruction amidst a defensive performance that forced the Ducks to punt 11 times was the icing on the cake.
Seriously, when looking at the season, it is impressive how ASU has let games escape their grasp.
But as they say, “Each Saturday is a new season.”
The Washington Huskies are the opponent, and another road test will ultimately decide ASU’s fate in 2010.
Last week in Corvallis might have seemed like a must-win game, and in some cases it was. If ASU wanted any shot at running to the top of the conference in the most unsuspecting way, the Sun Devils needed to beat Oregon State to hold serve.
That didn’t happen, and instantly everyone who cheers for the Sun Devils hit the panic button. From one week to the next, ASU was being talked as a top-half-of-the-conference team, to cellar-dweller mates with the Washington State Cougars.
Oregon State came out on top, as a disciplined, hard-nosed, Mike Riley-coached team normally does. So now, the pressure is all on the Sun Devils.
In the coming weeks fans of the maroon and gold are really going to find out what this Sun Devil team is made of, and hopefully it will be positive.
The players know how important Saturday’s game is. Seriously, it’s Husky Stadium, under the lights, against Jake Locker. The game is going to be exciting, plain and simple.
The environment off Lake Washington is going to be electric come kickoff at 7:00pm. Oh and speaking of environment, the predicted forecast for the game is 62 degrees and 80 percent chance of rain.
Obviously, the conditions are not exactly favorable for the pass-happy, no-huddle offense from the desert, but believe it or not, the conditions will help ASU.
Erickson’s young squad will be in for a tough test against a team that beat USC just days ago, especially on their home field, but the game Saturday night will be decided at the line of scrimmage.
No matter what formation they lineup in, ASU's objective from the snap is to produce an explosive play. The Sun Devils' most explosive player is true freshman running back Deantre Lewis.
For the second straight week, Lewis will be the starting running back next to Steven Threet in the shotgun. Going with the idea that the best 11 players play, Lewis should never leave the field.
In a contest that could decide both teams’ futures, ASU's best route to victory might be pounding the football with the running backs. Also, utilizing the running game in the red zone might be the difference between field goals and touchdowns, as well as interceptions resulting in zero points.
Although ASU’s formations might give the allusion of a wide-open passing attack, and they are, the Sun Devils’ biggest plays this season have been on the ground.
Following a 2009 season where the Sun Devils only managed to average 3.7 yards per carry, Lewis’ 7.8 yards per rush are a pleasant surprise. On Saturday night, his yards per carry average should increase in a major way. Washington ranks 113th in rushing defense.
Lewis and fellow tailbacks Cameron Marshall and Jamal Miles have produced 12 touchdowns thus far in 2010 and look to be a talented trio that Pac-12 defenses will have to deal with for years to come.
But first, Nick Holt, Washington’s defensive coordinator will have to deal with Lewis and the athletic Sun Devil offense. For Holt, facing ASU will regurgitate plenty of sour tastes from last season’s meltdown in Tempe.
Similar big plays by Lewis and company will be necessary in a game that could get sloppy. The good news for ASU is that most of their sloppy plays and mistakes are preventable and all controllable.
First up, the man under center, starting quarterback Steven Threet. Yes, he is the starting quarterback and leader of this Sun Devil team, contrary to many fans belief.
Threet is the first one to say that he needs to improve his play. As the leader and signal-caller of ASU’s no-huddle attack, Threet has to be on the top of his game on every single play, before the play and after.
Everything ASU offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, conducts runs through Threet. He is the centerpiece, and as the centerpiece, his struggles have led to the entire offense’s struggles.
But before Threet even touches the ball, the offensive line will have to regain their “road grader” status. Last week the five offensive linemen ASU plugged in did not work.
By the final gun, Oregon State accumulated six sacks (2.5 in their first three games), and hit Threet repeatedly. Not to mention Threet getting his bell rung at the goal line on an attempted QB sneak.
Needless to say Threet was never comfortable in the pocket.
There is no doubt Threet needs to have a good game. Not only for No. 14 to build confidence and resurgence, but also for the entire ASU team as a whole.
For ASU to build confidence on the road, in potentially brutal weather conditions, the best option Saturday night be handing the ball off to one of the three horses in the Sun Devil stable.
A solid running game will help relieve Threet from defensive pressure and open up the deep routes.
And look out for wide receiver Mike Willie on play-action passes. The junior college transfer only caught one pass for six yards against the Beavers. The playmaker that wears No. 1 on his jersey has to live up to that billing, when the game counts.
Don’t get me wrong, Willie has been outstanding this Fall, but in crucial circumstances against Oregon State when a big play was needed, Willie was silent.
On Saturday Mike Willie along with the entire Sun Devil squad will have to make some noise at Husky Stadium. A win in this game is an absolute must.
ASU’s bark will be loud, but the final result will prove which team has the bigger bite. Will it be the Washington Huskies or the Arizona State Sun Devils?