December 28, 2007
ASU vs Texas: Expert observations from press row
ASUDevils.com Publisher Chris Karpman was on hand for Texas' 53-34 crushing victory over Arizona State. Here are his observations of the game, as seen from press row. Texas' opening drive broke a 17 year old Holiday Bowl record for quickest touchdown and the Longhorns also broke a record dating back to the same game with 21 points in the first half. The opening drive was relatively reminiscent of the opening drive USC had in its throttling of the Sun Devils a month ago and it certainly didn't hurt the opponent's confidence or help ASU in that regard.
Rudy Carpenter played arguably his worst game of the season. In his defense, a lot of his throws were released under severe pressure, and on some of them he literally couldn't even fully extend his arm or even set himself and get his front foot out in front. Carpenter deserves great respect for being such a competitor. He doesn't back down from anyone and has no fear on the field, even hanging in on his throws when he knows he's about to be hit by a 300-pound defensive tackle.
But he was just off on Thursday night. He had two deep passes that were under thrown, both of which could have been touchdowns but instead were tipped and intercepted. One of the plays was probably pass interference, but it wasn't called, a big break for Texas. I've noticed Carpenter doesn't seem to throw the ball as well in colder weather. Maybe that's just a coincidence, as ASU hasn't played in too many games with temperatures in the 40s in his career.
The third down play in Texas territory where Carpenter was under pressure and attempted to throw the ball away to literally nobody while still in the pocket, only to have the pass ruled a lateral and be touched (ruled a touch anyway) by Mack Brown's step-son on the sidelines was one of the wackiest I've ever seen. Dennis Erickson said it was the strangest play he'd ever been on the field to see.
Carpenter's decision was absurd -- there is no reason to throw the ball away as a lateral on third down there because it's going to be fourth down anyway and the team was still well within field goal range -- but Chris Jessie's move was even worse. A member of the Texas operations staff, Brown's step-son was signaling for the pass to be ruled intentional grounding when he got the bright idea to try to pick up the ball while it was still on the field near the sideline bouncing toward him, and while no official had ruled the play dead.
A Texas player scooped up the ball and took it deep inside ASU territory, only to have the play rule unsportsmanlike conduct on Texas for the alleged touch (I thought replays were inconclusive) and ASU given a first-down inside the red zone. ASU followed up with a touchdown from Carpenter to Chris McGaha, his first scoring grab of the season to make the game 21-7.
The Jessie mishap and subsequent score led to ASU momentum, and it quickly got the ball back in excellent field position at the Texas 39 yard line with another opportunity to put quick points on the board, but failed to convert. On third-and-2, Dimitri Nance carried up the middle for no gain, and on fourth down, a beautiful play call by the Sun Devil coaching staff proved to be frustrating for Erickson, as Carpenter performed a play-action fake and had Brent Miller wide open 10 yards downfield but overthrew it off Miller's fingertips. The play led to Erickson showing about as much emotion as you'll ever seen mid-game, and cost the Sun Devils a loss of momentum. Texas took over on downs and then went on a 4-minute scoring drive to make it a 28-10 game.
ASU's receiving corps continue to show that they are the most improved position group on the roster. Credit the job that Eric Yarber has done with this group and also the work ethic of players like McGaha and Mike Jones. There were fewer dropped balls this season than any I can remember in recent years and the route running and ability to get open was remarkable. To think that all of these players will return, save Rudy Burgess, is quite encouraging.
The Sun Devils later closed the deficit to 15 points twice, at 28-13 early in the third on its first possession of the half, and later, at 35-20 at the end of the quarter, but the game never really felt particularly close. It actually felt closest at 21-7 with ASU having the ball in Texas territory before the failed fourth down opportunity.
This game proved that once again, ASU's season-long problems were easy to identify and difficult to address. The team didn't protect Carpenter well (4 sacks and numerous hurries), didn't run the ball in between the tackles well (22 net rushing yards) without Ryan Torain, and didn't handle the spread offense component of the Texas offense, particularly the lateral-type passes and screens and mobility of quarterback Colt McCoy. ASU linebacker Robert James said that Texas ran more spread-type offense than they had anticipated, though they were prepared for it. They may have been prepared, but they didn't execute and that's been the problem area for the Sun Devils all year.
Give a lot of credit to Texas' players and coaching staff. They were well-prepared, extremely focused and they had terrific energy at the start and throughout the game. They had a great gameplan and their athletic advantage -- which we knew would be on display leading up to the game -- was extremely clear and decisive. McCoy was terrific and Jamaal Charles (27 carries for 173 yards and two touchdowns) was the most impressive running back ASU faced all season, and that includes Jonathan Stewart, Justin Forsett and any of USC's talented backs.
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