Friday, June 20, 2008

Spring Fish Wrap - ASU Shocker Edition

Anyone know what the deal is with ASU fans always flashing the SHOCKER symbol all the time? I know, it's supposed to be a pitch fork....but I think we know what's really going on.

Anyway, why go with SHOCKER for an ASU fish-wrap? Well, for one thing it's cool to see cheerleaders doing the SHOCKER. For another thing, the whole Dennis Erickson to ASU backstory? SHOCKER in itself.

Here's some solid rumor-mongering for you (take this as you wish, but we have heard from more than one person that this actually happened). Back when ASU was interviewing around for their head-coaching position upon giving Dirk Koetter a copy of the "home game" after the '06 season, AD Lisa Love of ASU stumbled upon good old Mike Price. One thing led to another, yada yada yada, boom - Love is totally feeling Price, so much so that she was ready to hire him. Only one small thing. As part of the hiring process at ASU, Love needed Price to list some referrals on his application. Guess who was #1 on the list?

psst - if you can't tell, that's Dennis Erickson.

Anywho, so Lisa Love calls Dennis, and she's like "So, hey, tell me about Mike Price" and he's all "Oh, Mike's a great guy, graduates his kids, successful on and off the football field....."and she's all "Cool" and he's all ".....hang on a second Lisa.....so....this ASU job....is it still officially available?" And she's all "Uh, YEAH!" and he's like"....can I tell you that I'm interested?" And boom, bada bing, yada yada yada, suddenly Lisa Love is on a plane to Moscow! We know how that turned out....

Meanwhile old friend King of Poop Island is back in El Paso wondering when the deal is done and what color tie he should wear to the press conference.....hmmm, Sun Devil gold? Maybe maroon? Oh, hey, how about BOTH! Maroon and gold stripes! Honey, can you run to the Walmart and see if they have maroon and gold striped ties!??! Yet like a watched pot that never boils, Price's cell never rings with Love on the other end. News breaks that Love is in Moscow, and the dots are connected. Price's heart breaks. That SOB did it again.

Ok, in all seriousness, we don't know with 100% certainty that is the way it went down. We only have heard some chatter about the situation which made it's way around the RV scene when ASU was in Pullman last fall. It could be complete BS. It could be completely innocent, and Love changed her mind after talking to Erickson. Then again, with a track record like Erickson....you make the call.

On the verge of taking the Miami job: "I'm not interested."
On the verge of taking the Seahawks job: "I'm not interested."
On the verge of taking every other job on the planet: "I'm not interested."

All that out of the way, one cannot ignore Erickson's college record. 158-68-1 in 19 years at the NCAA level? That is pretty remarkable. Even more, everyone predicted he would turn things around down in Tempe, and sure enough, year one saw them win 10 games before getting throttled in the Holiday Bowl by Texas. That was the game that Mack Brown's moronic step-son just couldn't help but try and be part of the game:


That kid took a lot of heat. The thing is, look at all the extra Texas people on the field on that play. It could have been anyone to reach down and hit the ball. One coach in the background is at least 5 yards onto the field. But whatever. It's good blog-fodder, but that's about it.

Anyway, how does ASU look coming out of spring ball? Are they ready to challenge for the conference title?

2007: 10-3, 7-2 in the Pac-10, tied for first with USC. After starting 8-0, finished 2-3 including Holiday Bowl wipe out, 52-34, at the hands of Texas.

Offensive Scheme: In the classic Erickson attack, it's a one-back system, with three WR's and a tight-end. We've seen that same offense in the Palouse for the last 20 years, so you know what they do. The offense played OK last year but I think ASU fans expected a little better. They were only 56th in the nation in total offense, and struggled in the running game, averaging 137 yards per game, or 77th in the nation. With seven starters back, including the QB, they should be better in their second year in the Erickson offense.

Top Offensive Player: QB Rudy Carpenter. The kid is still black-n-blue from the beating he took last year, a ridiculous 55 sacks(!). Our own Andy Mattingly had a career day against ASU last year, blitzing from every angle to bag four sacks of Carpenter in Pullman. But Carpenter still got the job done last year, throwing for over 3200 yards and 25/10 TD to INT ratio. Still, Carpenter took a beating last year:



Carpenter has a good arm and throws a nice deep ball, but he is not your prototype QB in terms of size. He stands 6-2 and weighs in at just over 200 lbs. Not Flutie-like or anything, but 55 sacks would take a lot out of any QB, and he certainly doesn't have the build for that kind of punishment. It's hard to finish off the season strong when your QB is on his back every other pass attempt. As Indiana Jones said, "it's not the years honey, it's the mileage."

Defensive Scheme: 4-3 alignment, but somewhat conservative last year. This year is billed to be more aggressive, attacking, blitzing defense now that everyone has settled into the schemes. Craig Bray is the defensive coordinator, and yes, that is the same Craig Bray who spent considerable time at WSU, including help coaching up the defense for the 1994 Palouse Posse and the 1997 Pac-10 champions. The first year under Bray went pretty well, ranking 30th in the nation in total defense, and 21st against the rush. They were third in the conference in passing defense and scoring defense as well. Seven more starters are back on D for the upcoming year, and with a renewed commitment to attacking more, they could challenge USC as one of the top defenses in the west.
Top Defensive Player: Strong safety Troy Nolan looks like the best of all the returning defensive players. Nolan had six int's last year, just one behind Oregon's Jairus Byrd for the most in the Pac-10. He also had an impressive 64 tackles and 13 passes defended, good for #8 in the Pac-10. Decent size at 6-2, 210, he isn't afraid to get his hands dirty on defense.

Top Spring Questions:

1) 55 sacks last year? What's the deal with that? Are they trying to put their own QB in the morgue?

That is pretty amazing to think about the QB actually going down that many times. What you don't know is how many other hits he took in just getting rid of the ball. But there is supposedly a new commitment to keeping Carpenter healthy this upcoming season from offensive coordinator Rich Olson, including some more "spread 'em out" additions to the playbook. Also look for more quick-hitting pass plays vs. the traditional 5-and-7-step drops. Finally, they will be breaking in three new starters on the O-line. After 55 sacks, as well as the 77th ranked running attack, that can only be viewed as a positive thing.

2) Besides Nolan, who else could shine on an experienced defense?


The answer is actually two-fold, but ASU's defensive ends look really impressive. Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez will both be seniors this season, and they combined for 15 sacks and 25 tackles-for-loss last year. Davis alone had 10.5 sacks, tied for 2nd in the Pac-10 last year.

But Luis Vasquez....hmm, sound familiar to you? That's because he committed to WSU out of junior college late in 2006, but once Robb Akey left for Idaho, Vasquez bailed on the Cougs, instead opting to go with Erickson. Thanks again Dennis!

3) How about the rest of the skill positions?

They did lose Ryan Torain, who was having a strong season for the first half before suffering a knee injury that ended his senior year. But the rest of the top running backs are back, led by Keegan Herring. The 5-10, 195-lb back had 815 yards and 5 TD's last year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. But junior Dimitri Nance is a load at 5-10, 220. He had an even 500 yards last year with a team-high 7 rushing TD's.

But where they are really strong is at wide-out. They looked stacked, where they might have the best receiving unit in the Pac-10. Chris McGaha led the team in catches(61) and yards(830). But Michael Jones is the true home-run threat. He had 769 yards, a 16.7 yards-per-catch average and an impressive 10 receiving TD's, tops on the team and 9th in the conference in scoring. Jones is a nightmare on the edge, at 6-4 and 200 lbs and outstanding hands and speed.

WSU Football Blog Bottom Line: A lot of the experts see big things for ASU in '08. Some are even saying that they will threaten USC for the conference title, and are showing up as the #2 team in the Pac-10 in virtually every pre-season rag. But are they what they seem? On the surface, I wouldn't hesitate too much to put them squarely behind USC in the pecking order. But after looking at them a little more, well, I'm not so sure at this point.

First of all, we all know how important the schedule is. Last year, ASU opened the season with four straight home games, and then a road game at Stanford. The road to 5-0 was paved in gold. In fact, six of their first eight games overall were at home. This year, it's sort of the same...but not really.

Sure, they open with four straight at home again, but one of those four is a doozy - GEORGIA, everyone's darling pick to win the SEC and even possibly the top BCS title contender! But after that game, they begin a stretch of four road games over their next five. They travel to Cal, and then to USC before hosting Oregon. Then they take consecutive trips north to begin November, at Oregon State on 11/1 and at Husky Stadium on 11/8, before WSU comes to Tempe on 11/15. We all know, playing in the NW in November can be a dicey proposition for a team out of Arizona.

That looks like a real grind beginning with Georgia. They get waxed in that one, it could be tough to get up off the mat, but with the meat of the Pac-10 on the horizon, they won't have a choice.

But most of all, I really wonder if they can take the heat off Carpenter. The beating he took last year just cannot continue in '08. If it does, he won't survive, especially when Georgia gets off the bus on 9/20. I don't know if you caught the Sugar Bowl last year vs. Hawaii, but that defense was as fast and nasty as I saw out of any team last year, and that includes USC. And while they look loaded at the skill positions, breaking in three new offensive line starters could cause some strain on Carpenter. They better get the kinks worked out early.

No matter what, they are going to be a real interesting team to watch in '08! It should be another entertaining year. We'll see if they can match the expectations.

Only two more fish-wraps to go - UW and Hawaii. They will hit next week, and that will be it. Also we'll be monitoring the Seattle Times tear-down piece on WSU. As soon as it hits, we'll do our best to filter through the BS and get to the heart of the matter.

ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!

1 comment:

steve_azcat said...

pretty strong write-up. The devils are loaded with Denny but you are correct in the schedule thing. Road games at USC and Cal is hard but the northwest road trips could be harder than they seem. I still see them #2 in conference but they will not catch the trojans.

Strong rumor-mongering too. I heard similar buzz but not in Pullman, rather in Tucson.