November 1, 2008

Oregon State preview

Throughout the Arizona State football team's five game losing streak, the team has used a new theme every week to try to break its slump.

This week, that mantra has been: execution.

The Sun Devils have practiced relatively well during their skid, but the biggest issue has been transferring what they do on the practice field to success on Saturday.

Once again ASU had a good week of practice, but once again nobody knows whether that will pay off when it counts.

"I'd like to say I know we are going to play better, I hope we do, I think we will, but there's no way to know until we go out there and play the game," wide receiver Mike Jones said. "Right now our mindset is a little different. Everyone is tired of losing. Everybody is tired of being at the bottom of the pack.

"We all want to turn that around as a team so we came out here, worked hard in practice and this time hopefully carry it over to the game."

Coach Dennis Erickson thinks his players need to loosen up when they head to Oregon State on Saturday.

He thinks the team has been so concerned with snapping its losing streak that the players have put too much pressure on themselves.

Erickson wants them to stop thinking so much and just get back to playing the game they love.

"We've got to play loose," Erickson said. "I think sometimes we've been a little uptight when we played.

"Just go out, have fun and play the game."

Another phrase the Sun Devils have thrown around a lot this week is: mental mistakes.

ASU feels there have been too many dropped balls, missed tackles, missed assignments and that there has been an overall lack of focus.

Erickson needs his team to fix all of those things quickly if it wants to get back in the win column for the first time in nearly two months.

"We have to be focused on what the hell is going on and not make mental mistakes," he said. "That has killed us more than anything.

"We have to come out, get up early and just have fun playing the game."

But one thing that will make ASU's game in Corvallis, Ore., a little less fun is the fact that it will be playing without wide receiver Kyle Williams. Williams suffered a concussion against Oregon and has not been cleared to play yet.

Williams is fourth on the team in receiving yards and tied for the most receiving touchdowns.

Williams is also the Sun Devils' kickoff and punt returner so in his absence wide receiver Nate Kimbrough will handle punts and cornerback Omar Bolden will return kickoffs along with T.J. Simpson.

"Having Kyle out is a big loss for us," Jones said. "But we're real deep at receiver so there will be guys to step up and fill in for him."

This time of year, Corvallis is known for being wet and cold. Saturday shouldn't be an exception.

When the game kicks off at 7:26 p.m., the temperature is expected to be in the high 50s and there is a chance of rain.

The quarterbacks and special teams have prepared for the wet conditions and have doused footballs in water during practice to simulate what it could be like on Saturday.

"It could be rainy so everybody is ready for that," kicker Thomas Weber said. "We can't use that as an excuse though. We just need to go out there and play well and try to get a win."

About Oregon State

Head Coach: Mike Riley (6th consecutive season, 8th overall)

2007 season: 9-4

2008 record: 4-3 (3-1 Pac-10)

Offense

This is not the same Oregon State offense that was outscored 44-13 over the final three quarters of the game last time it faced ASU.

The Beavers come into Saturday's match up near the top of the Pac-10 averaging almost 35 points and 433.4 yards per contest.

OSU has a very balanced offensive attack as it features the conference's top passer and rusher.

Quarterback Lyle Moevao is averaging 254.1 yards per game and has thrown 13 passing touchdowns on the season.

Moevao spreads the ball around to a very talented receiving corps, wich includes Sammie Stroughter, Shane Morales and James Rodgers.

All three players have made four touchdown receptions on the year and Morales and Stroughter are very close to passing the 500-yard mark on the season.

And on the ground, nobody in the Pac-10 has been better than Jacquizz Rodgers, who is averaging 116 yards per game.

Rodgers' strength and speed allow him to shine either in between or outside of the tackles, and that is something that could present ASU with problems on Saturday.

"He can run it inside, gets lost in there, then all of a sudden because of his leg strength he breaks a lot of tackles," Erickson said. "He is one of the better backs in our league.

"You put the combination of his brother (James) in there with reverses, and things like that that they do, and it's a pretty good 1-2 punch."

A big reason the Beaver offense has been so good this season is because of the protection its offensive front has provided.

OSU's offensive line is tops in the conference having only allowed eight sacks in seven games.

Defense

Along with their high-powered offense, the Beavers also have one of the Pac-10's top defenses.

OSU limits its opponents to less than 24 points per game and give up just over 300 yards per contest.

A big reason for the solid defensive play: experience.

"They have eight starters, I think, that are seniors on defense," Erickson said. "So they are guys who have been through their program."

Erickson called OSU's front four "very, very, very, very physical" and the strength up front for the Beavers is at the defensive end position.

At right end, Slade Norris is leading the team with five sacks and has forced three fumbles in 2008.

Opposite Norris on the left side is Victor Butler who has recorded two sacks on the year.

At linebacker, the Beavers have Bryant Cornell in the middle, Keaton Kristick on the strong side and Keith Pankey on the weak side.

Those three have combined for 92 tackles on the year. Kristick, a Valley native, leads the group with 42.

The Beavers might have the most experienced cornerback tandem in the country in Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes.

The two have a combined 77 career starts and they play very physical with opposing wide receivers.

"I've been playing against them for years now and they're probably some of the best corners in the Pac-10," Jones said. "They're very physical, very experienced, fast, big, strong. They have it all."

Lewis has two interceptions in 2008 and Hughes has recorded one.

The physicality of OSU's cornerbacks allow its safeties get closer to the line of scrimmage and play the run. Both safeties have taken full advantage of that opportunity.

Greg Laybourn leads the team with 62 tackles and Al Afalava, who has only played in five games this season, has 21.

ASU vs. OSU

The Sun Devils have played OSU 34 times and lead the all-time series 24-9-1.

When the Beavers traveled to Tempe last season they jumped out to an early 19-0 before ASU came back and won 44-32.

ASU is 6-6-1 in Corvallis and last time the Sun Devils visited OSU they lost 44-10.

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