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September 24, 2006

Rough outing yields tough lesson for Carpenter

Rudy Carpenter no doubt wishes that yesterday had never happened. By any measure, it was his painfully poor performance that kept Arizona State from having any real hope of winning an important Pac-10 road game against a ranked opponent.

In case you somehow missed it -- and we're guessing you didn't -- Carpenter had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and he committed two other turnovers that led to Cal touchdowns: a lost fumble that gave up the football on the ASU 31-yard line and an interception that gave it up on the ASU 26-yard line.

Even if the ASU defense had held the Bears to field goals on those two possessions where their starting position had them already in scoring position, it would have been 20 points essentially gifted to them by the opposition.

As it turned out, it was 28.

Throw in the 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by DeSean Jackson and the Bears essentially had 35 points that could be pinned primarily on the ASU offense or special teams, and not the Sun Devil defense.

Winning on the road in conference play is always tough, but against a Top-20 caliber team, it's darn near impossible given the above scenario.

"I'm obviously not as good as I thought I was," Carpenter was quoted as saying by the Arizona Republic following the 49-21 debacle.

The truth is, Carpenter's probably not as good as he was made out to be by ASU fans and some members of the national and local media following a season in which he led the nation in passing efficiency but didn't play against a single stout, nationally-ranked defense.

But he's also not nearly as bad as his performance on Saturday may have indicated to someone watching him for the first time.

Quarterbacks are almost always given too much credit for their team's success and frequently heaped with too much blame when things don't go well.

Carpenter has experienced the former and he's now experiencing the latter.

Give him some respect. Following yesterday's tough loss he took all of the blame for not only his poor performance but for the poor performance of his team, essentially putting the loss entirely on his shoulders.

This is a guy who never tries to pass the buck. He owns up to his mistakes and in fact, is probably too hard on himself generally speaking, as his coaches have said on numerous occasions.

Carpenter is a workaholic. He cares. He's a good teammate. We've all seen that he's capable of big time performances.

And we certainly haven't seen the last of his great efforts; not by a longshot.

Remember, this is a sophomore who has only started nine games in his career. A legitimate argument can be made that until Saturday, Carpenter hadn't even faced a really difficult opponent.

Right now Carpenter is in a rut, of that there is little doubt. His problems were not isolated to the Cal game. He's made critical errors in all four of the team's games this season, including two really bad decisions that led to two Colorado interceptions.

The only difference is that those opponents weren't good enough to make ASU pay.

Cal was.

ASU fans and coaches can take a little solace knowing that Carpenter's mistakes are correctable. They are mostly mental mistakes: tuck the ball when you're scrambling or being tackled; don't force throws into places where there appears to be solid coverage; be careful about locking into a receiver thereby allowing a defensive back to lock into you.

The big thing now for he and his teammates is how they will respond. Adversity happens in life. Challenges are inevitable.

It's how a person responds that determines his true character.

It's how this team responds that will determine its seasons.

If ASU had lost by one point against Cal but played a great game, its record would still be the 3-1 that it is having taken a bad beating.

Fans would be largely content. The Sun Devils would probably have increased confidence. But the record would be the same.

This is the week that could make or break ASU football in 2006, or at least as it relates to the team's hopes of a 10-win season and solid national ranking at the end of the year.

While they shouldn't carry the weight of the Cal loss into the Oregon game, they should carry the lessons that came out of it.

"I think I'm going to have to go back to the basics," Carpenter was quoted as saying by the Republic following the game. "Go back to where I was last year, being happy with a completion, being happy with a first down."

If Carpenter really does do that, it will have been lesson learned.

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