Dennis Erickson did what he usually does in 2007 and that is lead a college football team to victory. Arizona State wasn't exactly devoid of talent, but the new coach put together an impressive first season molding a fractured team back together officially ahead of schedule.
The biggest concern the Sun Devils have in 2008 is the offensive line. The unit allowed over four sacks per game and ranked 117th in the nation in that category. With both tackles and center Mike Pollak gone, the o-line has some huge holes to fill. They hope junior college transfer Tom Njunge and converted defensive tackle Jon Hargis can come in and quickly fix the problem.
Here is where the magic of Erickson comes in, he didn't have a very good offensive line in 2007, but he was still able to light it up through the air, and on the ground against the majority of the schedule. expect him to figure out a similar solution in 2008.
If the offensive line can improve, the Sun Devils will have an explosive offense led by quarterback Rudy Carpenter. The senior threw for 3,202 yards and 25 touchdowns last season and if he is not sacked 54 times again ...ouch, Carpenter will have a much bigger year.
Receivers Chris McGaha and Michael Jones were Carpenter’s top targets last year and both are back. McGaha will catch more passes, but it is Jones who is the big play receiver and will take more trips to the endzone.
In the backfield Coach Dennis Erickson has a nice crop of backs to choose from. Keegan Herring led the way last year rushing for 815 yards, but Dimitri Nance and Shaun DeWitty should earn some carries as well. It is most likely that Herring will be the workhorse with Nance and DeWitty coming in for certain situations.
The pass defense was not all bad last year. In fact, giving up 228.9 yards per game through the air is actually pretty good in the Pac-10, but the secondary will have to replace corner Justin Tyron and safety Josh Barrett. Corner Omar Bolden was impressive during his freshman campaign and should be starting once again and he will likely be joined by juniors Terrell Carr or Travis Smith. Bolden is a kid who could develop in to an All American pretty quickly.
At the safety spots, Arizona State has a little more experience. Troy Nolan, Rodney Cox and Jeremy Payton are all experienced seniors. If Bolden can improve and become the shutdown corner the team needs, the pass defense could actually be even better in 2008. Keep an eye on Nolan who is one of the best in the conference.
The front four of the defense was responsible for a lot of the success the DB's had in 2007. Luckily for ASU, three of four starters return to the line. Ends Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez did a great job of getting into the opponents backfield and combined for 15 sacks and 25 tackles for loss and tackle David Smith is a fine clog up the middle. If the line can repeat its performance of 2007, the defense will shine.
In the end it really all comes down to the offensive line. If Erickson and his staff can improve on last seasons performance this could end up being a great team rather than a very good team.
How do you beat ASU?
First of all you need to out coach Dennis Erickson and his staff. UW played an excellent first half in Sun Devil stadium last year only to see it all fall apart in the third quarter when Erickson started making adjustments.
The one obvious thing that can be exploited is the offensive line. If you sack Carpenter all night and force him into bad decisions you can take advantage of that for awhile. A well disguised blitzing defense may be tough for this offense to handle.
The Devils can counter by simply handing the ball off to Herring who is a load to bring down no matter what the offensive line does, but if you can get a lead on them, force them to pass, and bring successful pressure you can beat these guys.
What do I think?
I think the Devils will be better in 2008, and will be one of the top three teams in the conference. That means Washington will not have the firepower to beat these guys at home in 2008. The ASU offensive line is a concern, but Erickson should be to make it adequate by the start of the season.
Defensively this will be one of the tougher teams in the Pac Ten. They had little problem with Washington is the second half last year in Tempe once they figured out how to contain Locker. That most likely will be the case in 2008 since the Devil defense should have the upper hand against the Husky offense.
I have to go with ASU even though this one is being played at Husky Stadium.