Its that time of the week again for a little Q&A. This time, Justin and Mark of the excellent ASU blog Pitchfork Nation were kind enough to join us. As always, you should be able to see my answers to their questions up soon. Lets go:
ATQ: Statistically, the ASU defense looks really, really good. I've heard that they are average, but only good because of the schedule. I've also heard that they are the real deal, better than SC. I think that its probably somewhere in the middle. What is it?
PN: They're definitely a very stout group, something we're not used to seeing around here in Tempe (I mean, Jesus, this team once gave up 40 to Rutgers before they were Rutgers). Before the win over Cal, I would have put a little stock in the idea that the Devils hadn't faced a team with an incredibly potent offense. For instance, they knocked out SJSU's Yonus Davis on the 2nd play of the game, Colorado had some nice but young pieces and Stanford's offense was clicking just the week before ASU beat them by 38. However, when they were able to smother Jake Locker and then completely silence DeSean Jackson in the 2nd half last week, I now think this is a real defense for once. Robert James is unbelieveable and Troy Nolan, not Josh Barrett as expected, has emerged as this team's standout safety. Justin Tryon is starting to step it up and is a very instinctive route jumper. The D-Line leaves something to be desired, but they get the job done; Michael Marquardt is commanding double teams, leaving room for JuCo transfer Luis Vasquez and last year's team sack leader, Dexter Davis, to get to the quarterback.
ATQ: Tell us about Rudy Carpenter. He has been playing at a really high level this year. And what about his thumb?
PN: I'm not quite sure how to describe Rudy Carpenter. He's a complex dude and a very streaky player. What I will say, comparing his play from last year at this point to where his now, is that he has become a lot better at letting go of mistakes. Last season, an early pick or rough first few drives would devestate his confidence. This year, he threw a pick-six on the third play from scrimmage against Colorado and he recovered nicely. This shows me that he's become a more mentally tough player. He's also a lot more emotional player as well, and the more emotional get, the better he seems to play. He'll even admit that it takes him a little while to get started in a game, but once he's firing away, look out. I was on the field for the Cal game, and to see him jump around like a kid who just got an XBOX 360 for his birthday as the time ticked down to zero...he's just a different player than he was last year. His thumb should be fine, at least that's what he's insisting. He didn't throw in practice on Tuesday and might not until Thursday. It's a wait and see thing, but it's not entirely devestating because the Sun Devils have become a run first team anyway. He's having no problem handing the ball off.
ATQ: ASU is second to Oregon in scoring offense. The only player who caused us any problems last year was Ryan Torain, and he's out for the season. So tell us about the weapons that ASU has that should concern us.
PN: Losing Torain was a blow for sure; arguably no one in the Pac-10 was able to wear down run defenses like Ryan did. However, Dmitri Nance blew us all away against Washington and Cal. He's a much better between the tackles runner than I expected for his size and he's got a very strong upper body. He could use a little bulking up, but Nance is certainly very fleet of foot. Our other RB, Keegan Herring, is one in a million. He'll talk your ear off, he'll boast about his speed, and then he'll back it up. He's an erratic, almost ADD-style runner who can make things happen on his own. He has the potential to turn 8 yard losses into 13 yard gains just by reversing his field and outrunning everyone; he was a track champion after all. In the passing game, Mike Jones is having a season none of us expected and is a deep threat on any play. Rudy Burgess and Chris McGaha are battling the dropsies just a bit, but those are the guys to look for over the middle. Tight end Brent Miller, the older brother of Zach, is still getting over arthroscopic knee surgery from two weeks ago but made some key catches to preserve the win over California.
ATQ: How about ASU's special teams?
PN: What can you say about Thomas Weber? 15 of 15 on field goals this season as a true freshman along with taking over the punting duties from Jonathan Johnson...and this is a kid that barely beat out a walk-on named Zach Richards to win the job. He's making everyone forget about how consistent Jesse Ainsworth was during his career here. The return game has been nothing to write home about but it's been consistent at least. No one on this squad was going to replace how explosive Terry Richardson was, but Rudy Burgess and Kyle Williams are coming into their own as guys who will get at least 20-25 yards on each return.
ATQ: ASU has not played anywhere like Autzen this year. I know that ASU has a two game win streak at Autzen (against the two worst Oregon teams of the last decade). Do you think that the Sun Devils will cope with the noise okay?
PN: You can never cope with the noise of Autzen. You can only hope to work through it, and it's not like ASU has had to play at the loudest places on Earth this season (Stanford and Washington State). They faced a pretty tough crowd at Colorado and California last year but it's nothing like playing in Eugene. The noise has no place to go, it just sits there and doesn't escape. I think they'll cope OK with it. It's not like ASU starts quickly anyway, so it'll probably take at least a half a quarter for the Devils to get on track running their offense in the deafening noise.
ATQ: How much do you love Dennis Erickson right now?
PN: He's a great coach, he's engaging to talk to and funny as hell. He's everything Dirk Koetter wasn't, namely a good football mind. He's done something in that locker room to turn a bunch of 7-6 underachievers into a band of 8-0 warriors. He's a motivator and a master of getting the most out of everyone he has. One thing is for sure...anywhere Dennis goes in Tempe, you can be sure he doesn't pay for a beer. He and men's basketball coach Herb Sendek have almost reached cult status in the House of Heat.
Again, many thanks to Pitchfork Nation for joining us. It is the best new college football blog this year, and I highly encourage all of you to check them out.