My SB Nation colleague, C.W. of House of Sparky, was kind enough to agree to exchange interview questions on the eve of the intriguing cross-sectional matchup between Georgia and Arizona State. My answers to his questions are available at his site. C.W.’s answers to my questions follow:
All right, let's go ahead and get it out of the way: Arizona State was caught looking ahead against UNLV. How will the loss impact the Sun Devils' performance on Saturday? Will the loss demoralize the team, energize the team, or have no effect at all?
Kyle, thank you for bringing up a very basic truth about last Saturday. Arizona State is a much better football team than UNLV, and it was very obvious that the Devils were dreaming of an unprecedented showdown between two 3-0 squads before they should have.
Rudy Carpenter has stepped up and made it very clear that the loss to UNLV has been very motivational. Unable to sleep, he and Dennis Erickson are not going to allow the team to come out flat against Georgia. The damage has been done to the fan base, however. This season appears nearly lost to the casual observer who has seen so many promising Sun Devil teams fall by the wayside after an early season defeat.
ASU has been very enigmatic in recent years. You never really know what you’re going to get, whether it’s a gutsy victory (see: 2007 at Washington State), or a demoralizing loss (see: 2007 vs. USC on Thanksgiving, Holiday Bowl vs. Texas). I don’t think any of us really understand just what this team is capable of, and unless Carpenter can play up to his ability as senior signal caller, we may never truly know.
In the end, losing to UNLV has to feel like a slap in the face to every player on the team. The Sun Devils will come out fired up, as the season can still be salvaged very quickly with a win against the Bulldogs.
Dennis Erickson has a reputation as a vagabond coach who has succeeded at every stop along the way. After winning two national championships at Miami, spending two separate stints in the NFL bookended by two separate stints at Idaho, and coaching at every Pac-10 school with "State" in its name, Coach Erickson now says he's ready to spend the rest of his career in Tempe. Is ASU Dennis Erickson's last coaching gig? What are the long-term prospects for the program if it turns out to be?
To answer this question, I have to reflect upon his attitude. I think his first year here was the most telling aspect of his happiness to be at Arizona State, and his motivational skills are undeniable. He brought an expectation of greatness that former coach Dirk Koetter never insisted upon. Erickson isn’t a coach that lets the inmates run the asylum; it is very clear who the boss is when you are watching the sidelines.
With that said, 2007 was a storybook year for ASU, going 8-0 before faltering down the stretch and finishing 10-3. In Erickson’s first year, he saw just how loud the fans could be when the product on the field is worth cheering for. He has a great situation here in Tempe, making at minimum $1.275 million a year. The weather is perfect; the players and the city revere him.
In my opinion, Dennis Erickson isn’t going anywhere. His latest recruiting class is incredibly solid from top to bottom, and the program can only benefit from his presence. If Erickson stays around for 4 more years, I can see ASU legitimately competing with USC on an annual basis for the Pac-10 crown.
Last year, coming off of back-to-back seven-win seasons, the Sun Devils surprised most observers by winning ten games and sharing the Pac-10 title. However, losses to Oregon, Southern California, and Texas in the Holiday Bowl came by double-digit margins. What would a win on Saturday do to validate Arizona State's recent resurgence? Conversely, what would a loss do to ASU's reputation as a player in the Pac-10?
I think it is very important to look at this from a few angles.
First of all, a close loss to Georgia would signal more to ASU’s strength than to Georgia’s weakness. In that same vein, a victory over the Bulldogs would put Arizona State back in the thick of the Top 25, and well on their way to challenging for the Pac-10 championship.
Last year felt odd to many Sun Devil fans, because deep down we knew our team was still a year away from really showing us what they could do. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but they couldn’t put away similarly ranked teams. In fact, they couldn’t even come close to matching up against USC or Texas.
ASU’s schedule last season was very easy from the outset, with home games against San Jose State, Colorado, and San Diego State. After that, despite an impressive come-from-behind win at home against Oregon State, ASU didn’t play any great squads until they traveled to Oregon in the 9th game of the season.
These reasons are yet more indicators of why the loss to UNLV hurt so much. That just wasn’t supposed to happen. Should Georgia blow out Arizona State, consider the resurgence postponed until 2009.
The Sun Devils' aerial offense, ranked first in the Pac-10, features conference passing leader Rudy Carpenter and three of the league's top ten receivers in yards per game in Michael Jones, Kerry Taylor, and Kyle Williams. What are the keys to the undeniable success of the ASU passing game?
You’ve summed up a few good reasons right in the question, Kyle. Depth has been the key for the wide receiving core. One receiver you didn’t mention was Chris McGaha. He is arguably the most essential cog in our passing game, being Rudy’s favorite target on 3rd down. McGaha reminds me of a young Wes Welker; a possession receiver with great hands who can catch nearly anything thrown at him.
Kerry Taylor really stepped up this season thus far, showing determination and skill in running precise routes with control, yet still showcasing breakneck speed when the opportunity arose. Kyle Williams, while having a penchant for muffing punts, is a threat to return a kickoff or a punt any chance he gets. UNLV did a great job of neutralizing his presence by punting short and forcing Williams to call for a fair catch on multiple occasions.
Most importantly is Michael Jones. He is a tall, sure-handed receiver who can alter games with his long reach and speed. Jones is skilled enough to play baseball at powerhouse ASU, and was drafted by the New York Yankees in June’s entry draft. Watch for him to make a few big plays.
Rudy Carpenter has been starting since the 2005 season, racking up passing efficiency records from the get-go. A warranted knock on Carpenter, unfortunately, has been his inability to knock off a highly ranked team. One thing you cannot take away from him is his undeniable toughness, and even with a broken thumb last year he still played through the pain and led the Sun Devils to a 10-3 season.
Look for all of these players to make a big impact if the running game can establish itself.
Last year, the most glaring deficiency on the Arizona State squad was along the offensive line, which returned five starting upperclassmen yet still allowed more sacks than any Division I-A team not named Notre Dame. How has this year's less experienced line performed thus far? How do you expect the ASU offensive line to hold up on Saturday against the toughest front seven the Sun Devils have seen so far this season?
The offensive line had looked good against Northern Arizona and Stanford, but they let up against UNLV. The Rebels were able to apply an ample amount of pressure on Carpenter, sacking him way too often for my liking, including back-to-back sacks at a crucial juncture in the third quarter.
I can only hope for the best, seeing that the line is still young and full of potential. Unfortunately for them, if they can’t hold up UNLV, they definitely will not be able to keep Georgia at bay. The vaunted speed of the SEC will be on full display against the inexperienced linemen. In order to succeed, Carpenter will have to hit his receivers quickly, and I imagine a lot of sideline passes from the spread formation will be the key to breaking the pressure.
We know the Sun Devils can pass. However, ASU ranks seventh in the Pac-10 in rushing offense despite having run the ball exactly as many times as Arizona State has thrown the ball. Georgia, on the other hand, allows 2.5 yards per carry, gives up 59.7 rushing yards per game, and limited South Carolina to 18 yards on 16 carries. Will the home team be able to run the ball? How critical a role will ASU's ability to run the ball play in determining which team wins?
If Keegan Herring plays on Saturday, you will see a much different run game than has been on display so far this season from Arizona State. Herring is well known for his east to west running style, and for being able to make big plays out of nothing. Without that aspect of the running game, Dimitri Nance has been hung out to dry facing defenses that know just what to expect. Herring has been nursing a hamstring injury that won’t go away, and we don’t know his status just yet.
Georgia’s defense is truly spectacular against the run. They get to see Heisman Trophy candidate Knowshon Moreno every week in practice, so they know what greatness looks like. I can’t even tell you how much respect I give to the Bulldog front seven.
I think the running game is only as good as the line that protects it. Should Herring and Nance get solid protection and find decent gaps to burst through, it really could be a long night for the Bulldogs. But that seems more like fantasy than reality at this point.
A team must be able to run to have any success in the air. If they can’t move the ball on the ground, the defense can drop back and cherry pick the quarterback’s passes. Should the running game be stopped by the ‘Dawgs, the passing game will soon follow, making this Saturday another miserable night in the desert.
Once again, my thanks go out to C.W. for taking the time to take part in this exchange. I’m looking forward to what promises to be an exciting duel in the desert tomorrow night.