Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ASU Preview: A devil of a time

At last, the no good, lame month of October is coming to a close.  I knew going in that October would probably end with an 0-5 record, with a whole bunch of blowouts thrown in for good measure, but this has almost been worse than I could've imagined prior to the WSU game.  So far, the 10th month of 2011 has thumped CU to the tune of 176-60.  Woof.

Before the season started I saw at least a few opportunities for sweet, sweet victory in November, but now I'm not so sure.  At least there's fewer opportunities for a 40 point blowout.


The Sun Devil is an acceptably unique mascot; certainly better than their Territorial Cup rival Arizona Wildcats.  To take advantage of the unique aspects of having a Devil for a mascot, I unapologetically present this clip of the Robot Devil from Futurama.
(I got a hundred bucks on rectal exam bot!)

The Buffs are off to warmer climates, poised to hit the Valley of the Sun for the first time since 2007.  Kickoff is set for 4:30, but there's no TV coverage to avoid looking at this weekend.  If you really want to, you can join Mark Johnson on 850 KOA to agonize over the play-by-play.

Click below for my preview...

Last week in this space I jinxed the shit out of Tyler Hansen.  I praised his ability to stay healthy while his teammates were dropping like flies.  Of course, come Saturday, he would suffer a concussion before halftime and not return.  At this point, the coaching staff is the only part of the program not affected by the injury bug.

The result is that redshirt freshman Nick Hirshman will probably get a jump start on the 2012 quarterback competition by taking the reins against ASU.  Sure, why not. 

As far as I can tell, the fates have now exhausted their ability to afflict this program. Dipping deep into my bag of hubris, I therefore defy fate and the football gods to come up with further ways to punish this program.  I DEFY YOU!  *shakes fist*

Opponents season so far - The Sun Devils were handed a gift this season.  With the USC Trojans left ineligible for Pac-12 Championship play, all ASU has to do is squeak past a pack of also-ran teams to win the right to play for a BCS berth.  UCLA: directionless.  Arizona: so sad they axed their coach after failing to beat a FBS opponent in 10 tries.  Utah: flummoxed by BCS caliber play, they've still yet to win a Pac-12 game. CU: well, we all know the problems with CU.

The point is, not since the Buffs at the end of the Gary Barnett era has a team had such an easy path to a divisional title.  If they fuck this up, the program will need to seriously re-evaluate where it's headed.

So far, they've handled service on schedule.  After a 2-1 start in non-conference play (including a loss to MY ILLINI), they've taken care of business in Pac-12 play.  Three straight wins to open their conference slate has them right where they should be headed into November.  While they haven't sowed up the South Division yet, the remaining five conference tilts on their schedule are all winnable, and I wouldn't bet against them sweeping the set.
MY ILLINI did a pretty good job of tripping up ASU a few weeks back.
Two weeks ago, however, the Sun Devils were handed a frustrating defeat up in Eugene.  Taking a lead into the 3rd quarter of a game that saw both Ducks stars Darron Thomas and LaMichael James on the bench with injuries, you would think victory was attainable.  But, it was not to be as Oregon went on a 20-3 scoring burst to close out the game, keeping bragging rights in the Pac-12 North for at least a few more weeks.
It was the perfect set-up - what happened, ASU?
A bye week was ASU's only solace in the wake of defeat, and I expect the Sun Devils to be fired up to reclaim the bit of their pride that was chipped away up in Eugene.

Offense & Defense - 

Offensively, the Sun Devils are a pass happy bunch, relying mostly on the arm of Brock Osweiler.  Near 300 of their 427 yards per game come through the air.  Most importantly, well over half of their accumulated first downs have come from pass plays.  When the chips are down, this bunch throws the ball, and they have a sizable total of 16 total scores through the air.  They can run the ball, but they're simply average on the ground, grabbing only 3.8 yards per rush.
At the end of the day, ASU will look to move the ball through the air.
Overall, this ASU offense is good enough not to be a detriment, solidly stuck in the upper half of the FBS in terms of yards per game, but not proficient enough to worry a solid defense.  They should, however, be more than capable of putting up big numbers on the struggling CU defense.

Defensively, they do a great job of focusing on make-or-break situations.  All told, they hold opponents to a paltry 25% conversion rate on 3rd down, and a sub-50% red zone TD rate.  There are some yards to be gained on the ground, as they allow 4.5 yards per carry, but overall this unit is solid.

When you look at the whole picture, ASU is far from elite, possessing just enough talent to be labeled 'good,' but no where near the quality of the upper echelon of the conference.  They're still good enough to take the Pac-12 South in a year with USC sitting on the post-season sidelines, but, if placed in the North, I think they'd have a hard time finishing higher than 4th.

Star Players - 

Gargantuan 6-8 QB Osweiler leads the Sun Devil offense.  Taking the 'tall QB' thing to an extreme, the overly-tall junior has but up some good, not great numbers this season.  Just shy of 2,000 yards on 66% passing is good enough for most conferences, but, in the Pac-12, it's only good enough to place you in the middle of the QB pack.
He sure is tall.
Much like Washington, there's no one primary aerial target, as six Sun Devils have at least 100 yard receiving, and five have caught TD passes.  The best receiving threat, however, is probably the 6-4 senior wide-out Gerell Robinson.  He's a nice big target who has hauled in over 500 yards receiving on the season to go along with 4 scores.

Junior Cameron Marshall handles running duties.  He's not necessarily 'explosive,' but he's hit endzone pay-dirt 9 times, and he's pretty deadly in short yardage situations.

On defense, the story is all about guaranteed NFL prospect Vontaze Burfict.  Known for being a nasty player, Burfict has put his passions to good use on the field, having been named a first-team All-American by the Sporting News in 2010.  He's a devastating backer, capable of shredding any offense that dares get in his way.  So far this season, he's grabbed 5.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks; far more than anyone else on the team.  It seems, however, that teams are starting to shy away from him a little bit, as Burfict has only 19 solo tackles this season, far less than the 54 he recorded last year. CU would be wise to follow suit and stay out of his way.
Burfict is the undisputed leader of the Sun Devil defense.

Coaching - 

Dennis Erickson has a coaching resume that basketball lifer Larry Brown could get behind.  The 64 year old has held nine different head coaching jobs over the past 30 years, rarely staying in one place for more than a few seasons.  In fact, should Erickson stay in Tempe through next year, his six seasons at ASU would tie his time at Miami for his longest stint.

A lot of people poke fun at him for his nomadic ways, but it's been a successful and lucrative proposition for him.  While he never found much success in the NFL, Erickson has been a consistent winner at the collegiate level, compiling an impressive 178-91-1 record over seven different stops, and earning two national titles while he was running the show in Miami.
Erickson is about as experienced and successful a college coach as there is.
So far, his 4+ seasons in Tempe have had mixed results, with the Sun Devils going 30-26 since his arrival in 2007, and a perfectly average 20-20 in conference play.  With only one previous winning season in his tenure at ASU, this year's 5-2 record is looking like a rejuvenation of a program that had seemed stalled in mid air over the last three years.  It remains to be seen, however, if Erickson can lead the Sun Devils back to winning ways.

Prediction - 

Loss.  If you honestly have hope of a CU victory to snap the interminably long road losing streak this weekend, then you need to pass the pipe, 'cause you're hogging the good stuff.  While CU is starting to get a little healthier, with the return of Ray Polk and Travis Sandersfeld a very welcome sight in the constantly undermanned secondary, there's no reason CU should be able to hang in Tempe.

Might I suggest running some errands, or perhaps hitting the mountains this weekend, 'cause there won't be much good to listen to if you stay inside.

The only question left is, with a freshman QB leading a reeling team on the road, does CU have it within them to score.  I'll say yes: two Will Oliver field goals

ASU 51 - CU 6



Goose said...

Did you ever think you'd see the day where you'd say you were glad to have Sandersfeld back? Great kid, hard worker, but doesn't that just sum up what Danny Boy did to us?

All I know is that I'll be at the game, and there's 3:1 odds in Vegas right now that someone in my group gets maced at some point this weekend. So good times will be had.

RumblinBuff said...

I'm just happy that warm, defensive bodies will be populating the defensive backfield this weekend. We can worry about talent level later.

Be safe man, can't have you commenting on basketball from one of Sheriff Joe's jail cells :-)

Ron said...

Mark Johnson's play-by-play drives me absolutely crazy!! The guy never shuts his freaking trap! When you call a play I don't need to hear where he went to school, what his favorite color is and that he loves puppies and walks on the beach. Call the damn play and shut the hell up for just a few seconds. For God's sake, give our ears a break! Why do you have poor old Larry in the booth? You don't let him get a word in sledge-wise! The rule of thumb in play-by-play is "less is more." Allow the listener to absorb what just happened. Take a lesson from a real sports broadcaster who doesn't blab just to hear himself, Vin Scully. Call the play, let the crowd tell the story if applicable and then recap how the play developed if there's time. It boils down to closing your pie hole once in a while.