December 26, 2008

Part II: Sun Devil season review

Here is a week-by-week analysis of the second half of Arizona State's football season, which follows on Part I released earlier this week.

Week 10: October 19-25

In the week leading up to the Oregon game ASU seemed ready.

The Sun Devils were playing at home for the first time in a month, they had practiced very well and they appeared motivated to get back into the win column.

All week long the defense said it was well prepared to slow down Oregon's spread offense, and Rudy Carpenter was getting closer to 100-percent.

And when ASU took the field it made a statement, but not the kind it wanted to.
The Sun Devils' "new season" looked a lot like their old one.

The offense couldn't do anything productive and the defense was on the field so much it quickly wore down.

The Ducks jumped out to a 23-0 lead midway through the second quarter and went on to stomp ASU 54-20.

Dennis Erickson called the loss "inexcusable" and the talks of finishing the season 8-4 completely vanished.

This was really the first time when missing a bowl game seemed like a real possibility.
Carpenter went 17-of-33 for 146 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Keegan Herring got the start at tailback and rushed for just 15 yards on eight carries.

And the defense was completely blown away by the Ducks speed allowing 537 offensive yards.

This was an ugly loss.

"They kicked our rear ends pretty much in all aspects of the game," Erickson said. "To play at home like that, regardless of how good of a team they were, is embarrassing to me and I know embarrassing to our team."

Week 11: October 26- November 1

The five straight losses were tough on the entire football team, but Erickson said he would "stay the damn course."

He also wanted his players to start enjoying the game again too.

Erickson believed part of the reason ASU was playing so poorly was because the players weren't having fun on the football field.

And when the team took the field in Corvallis, Ore., it appeared the players had listened to their coach.

Everyone played a lot looser, the execution was better, but the result was the same.
ASU fell to Oregon State 27-25.

ASU looked its best since early September, but when Carpenter's pass attempt on a 2-point conversion ended up in the hands of a Beaver defender the Sun Devils had tied a school record with six consecutive losses.
However, ASU had shown signs of life throughout the game.

Shaun DeWitty got the start at running back and he rushed for 110 yards on 16 carries.

Also, Carpenter showed signs of improvement leading a late, fourth quarter scoring drive.

And the defense looked better too.

But none of that mattered as ASU was in the midst of its worst losing streak since the Great Depression.

Week 12: November 2-8

The game against Washington couldn't have come at a better time for the Sun Devils.
At the time the Huskies were 0-8 and coach Ty Willingham had just been fired, and Washington ranked among the worst in the nation in nearly every statistical category.

This was exactly what ASU needed.

By no means did the Sun Devils play mistake-free football in the game, but they did enough to snap the nearly two month long losing streak with a 39-19 victory.

"It's been the longest two months of my life," Carpenter said after the win. "It's been terrible."

Erickson knew his team played sloppy, but he too was just happy to get the win.

"We'll take any win after six losses," he said. "It's just good to get that feeling back, it's been a while."

Part of the reason for the win was the fact that ASU took the field with a revamped offensive line featuring Shawn Lauvao at right tackle and Zach Schlink at left guard. That combination helped the Sun Devils to control the line of scrimmage and as a result the team rushed for 182 yards.

Also, the defense stepped up late not allowing a second half touchdown and forcing a safety.

The win kept ASU bowl eligible, but the team knew it needed to improve a lot if it wanted to earn a post-season berth.

Week 13: November 9-15

As happy as ASU was to face Washington the week before, it must have been ecstatic to get Washington State at home this week.

Statistically the Cougars were even worse than the Huskies and this was game was another easy win for ASU.

The Sun Devils were 36-point favorites and took care of business with a 31-0 shutout. It was the school's first shutout since 1996.

"To play a full 60 minutes defensively is awesome," Mike Nixon said.

In this game the defense was dominant. Along with the shutout it forced two turnovers and returned one of them for a touchdown.

Nixon and defensive end Dexter Davis led the way for the defense as Nixon had an interception and Davis tallied two sacks.

Also, the offense had a stellar second half and Carpenter totaled three touchdowns compared to zero interceptions on the afternoon. The rushing attack picked up too as the team ran for 141 yards.

It was a solid victory that gave ASU a much-needed confidence boost.

"It's a win," Erickson said after the game. "It's like I told them, we're sitting here at 4-6 and trying to crawl out of that hole we're in right now. We're scratching and trying to get out of it. Any win for us right now is good."

Week 14: November 16-22

The Sun Devils had their third bye week of the season, but the players and coaches would have liked to get back on the field and to continue the momentum they gained in the past two weeks.

But this was their schedule and they had to accept it.

"I would have rather not had the bye-week and just been able to play," Mike Jones said. "We've had two wins in a row and we want to keep that going and just play. Sometimes when you have a bye-week you get kind of farther away from the game. You get a little bit relaxed or whatever it may be and sometimes people can come out flat. Hopefully that won't be our case especially because it's senior night and hopefully we can use some of that emotion."

During the week Clint Floyd returned to practice after sitting out nearly two months with a lacerated kidney and many young players got a chance for some extra reps in practice.

Besides that, the off week allowed several nicked up players to return to full strength and it gave ASU extra time to prepare for its upcoming opponent, UCLA.

Week 15: November 23-29

This week was all about the seniors.
Saturday was Senior Night, and all week the players and coaches said they wanted to win for the oldest guys on the team.

Players such as Carpenter, Herring, Jones and Troy Nolan said they would cherish their final game at Sun Devil Stadium, but when the contest ended the offense tried to block this game out of its mind.

ASU beat the Bruins 34-9 but all four touchdowns were scored by the defense, tying a FBS record.

"In however many years I've been coaching now… I've never seen a defensive effort like that," Erickson said. "I've never seen that many points scored on defense ever in my life. It's something special."

The players who scored were defensive tackle Paul 'Unga, Nixon, linebacker Travis Goethel, and Nolan, who scored on a 100-yard pick six.

Meanwhile the offense only managed 122 yards and Carpenter threw for a meager 101 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

"We probably should have just started punting on first down because we were probably hurting our defense more," Carpenter said.

With the win ASU was 5-6 and in prime position to earn a bowl berth. Now the only thing in the way of that achievement was rival-University of Arizona.

Week 16: November 30- December 6

In the state of Arizona, the Territorial Cup means everything.

"For everyone in this state, this is the biggest game of the year," Chris McGaha said. "You are either a Sun Devil or a Wildcat."

Every year there are bragging rights on the line and this is the one game neither school wants to lose.

And ASU hadn't lost to UA in three years. Every player on the roster was undefeated against the Wildcats and they wanted to keep it that way.

"For us seniors and myself it's a big game because (if we win) we can say we never lost to them," Carpenter said. "Anybody can say anything they want about what type of careers we've had, or what type of people we are, or whatever, but at the end of the day they're going to have to respect us a little bit about what we did here as far as playing against the University of Arizona."

In the two previous seasons ASU's win had kept UA out of a bowl game, but this year UA had a chance to return the favor.

Coming off of a dominant performance the ASU defense was as ready as ever, but there were question marks swirling around the offense.

When the game began neither team played particularly well.

At the end of the first half and the score was 10-7 in favor of ASU. But it didn't take UA long to take the lead and erase any hopes the Sun Devils had of winning.

ASU received the ball to start the second half and went three-and-out.

Then the Wildcats took the ball and marched 70 yards for the score.

On the ensuing possession Carpenter threw a costly interception and it didn't take long for UA to score again and go up 21-10.

Then ASU went three-and-out again and UA wide receiver Mike Thomas took the punt 52 yards to the house. That score was the nail in the coffin on the game and the Sun Devils' season. ASU went on to lose by a final score of 31-10, which cost it a bowl game.

What started out a season full of high expectations ended with a disappointing loss in Tucson.

Clearly ASU was not as good as everyone thought it was just 18 weeks before and the Sun Devils found themselves where no college football team wants to be: home for the holidays.

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