Tuesday, October 17, 2006

 

Get Ready To Groan


As put off as I was regarding the late-game punting issue, I'm not really that broken up about last Saturday's loss to USC. In fact, I'm actually filled with a renewed sense of hope for 2006. This may be because I didn't see the first quarter, but the Sun Devils actually seemed to play with a sense of pride. The schedule certainly gets easier from here on out, and while I'm not making any guarantees yet, there really isn't any reason this ASU team can't- wait for it------- run the table for the remainder of the season. Much has been made of the 1995 ASU team turning a mental corner under incompetent boob/head coach Bruce Snyder, when something clicked and the guys simply "got it." Here are some of the things I've read and observed in the last week or so that have given me this new found faith in this year's team.

Rudy Carpenter is having fun again. He faced a good/great defense in the Coliseum, and rather than crumple in the face of a pass rush he shucked and jived defenders and even took off running, gaining 38 rushing yards on one play. In a Monday press conference, Dirk Koetter commented how Carp's on-field body language has changed since the Oregon loss and admitted that his lackluster stats had more to do with play calling than performance. Carp did, after all, complete over 50 pecent of his passes, and this week that didn't count interceptions. In addition to working with the receivers after practice, he's also allegedly been "talking to the team," and I suppose you can infer that the sophomore is taking a leadership role. I don't think it would be mentioned in the media if he was just up there telling dick and fart jokes.

The young linebackers are beginning to come around. They were managing gaps against the run and covering well in pass protection situations, even though USC ran a lot of two tight end sets. I don't think anyone expected these guys to set the world on fire upon arrival, but Munns, Goethel, and Nixon were all major contributors on Saturday. In fact, I didn't see anyone who looked lost all night. This is refreshing in the wake of Derron Ware's disappearance and Robert James' overall ineffectiveness.

The defense played better overall. With the exception of USC's first and last drives, the defense played lights out all night. Even though there is youth in the Trojan backfield, it was still USC at the Coliseum. The Devil D looked focused, aware, cohesive, and they were attacking, something that can't be said for any game this year or last. It's good to see turnovers forced, not to mention the offense's newfound ability to capitalize on them. Ryan McFoy is definitely a player and he should slide into Catanese's spot next year wih a smooth transition.

Practices have been better. They've been closed to the media since the Oregon game, but dedicated writers listening from the other side of the fence have noted more cheering and an overall better attitude from the players. Koetter has noted that the hitting in practice has been the hardest it's been all year, and that was probably a major factor in the D's improved performance against the Trojans. As mentioned above, Carpenter has been working on his timing with the receivers after practice, something indicitave of dedicaion and a desire to get better.

Keno Walter-White made me eat my words with his pick-for-six in the USC game. I have to admit that he was a big part of the defensive success on Saturday, and almost played well enough to make me forget about that offsides call on the final USC scoring drive. Rome wasn't built in a day, so I guess I'll just accept this as marked improvement. An extra kudos to Justin Tryon, who has done a solid job since his arrival from junior college. Way to not get posterized by Dwayne Jarrett, JT. I'm still a fan, even if everyone in Berkeley thinks you're a cheap shot artist.

The upcoming schedule. How 'bout this little article right here? Stanford is first, and they might be the worst BCS conference team in America right now, especially without Trent Edwards at QB. They could be bad enough to restore enough ASU mojo to start throwing deep again. Outside of the rivalry game, home matchups against UCLA and Washington State are probably the toughest challenges left on the slate.

By the way, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Be sure to read this and this to get your hopes up. Buck up lil' campers, good times are around the bend. By the way, the aforementioned 1995 ASU squad won five of their last six games after losing to Nebraska 77-28. I think it's rather well documented what happened the following year, as a young defensive corps and a young quarterback matured...

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