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September 2, 2011An off-season of pageantry and a fall camp filled with observable improvement from 2010, Thursday night was not for determining what it all means for Arizona State.
For an FCS opener, an annually assumed blowout for even marginally succesfull FBS programs, this particular version was longer-awaited than most.
Now still won't be the 'time' until next Friday.
"We've got to play better than that next week against Missouri if we want to win that," coach Dennis Erickson said.
Appearing less than thrilled about his team's performance against UC-Davis, even when it thoroughly dominated every aspect of the game, it's hard to figure if even the head coach knows exactly where his guys are, or perhaps, how to evaluate them relative to expectations.
It's safe to say for every ounce of instantaneously evaporated sweat on this 100 degree night, an ounce of salt should be applied to the on-field evidence provided by the bigger, faster, and simply better-at every-position Sun Devils.
Time to forget, and fast.
There were plenty of mistakes to cast judgment upon, if you're so inclined.
Some unfortunately, all too familair.
A catchable pass dropped on third down early in the game by a thought-to-be reliable reciever; poor special teams coverages, allowing returns that would have likely been much longer against an FBS opponent like Missouri; missed tackles on defense by players who'll need to make the same plays against all of the remaining opponents; missed blocks on offense by lineman and wideouts who appeared occasionally tentative, their feet stuck in sand; a few errant passes and missed reads by junior Brock Osweiler, and perhaps, some questionable play-calls at the goal line early in the game.
"It's not anything I'm going to cut my wrist for, but we've got to play better next week," Erickson said.
But if all that can be dismissed off-hand, as it should be, so should a few straight-to-the-point trends.
On the positive side, the Sun Devil defensive front was virtually unblockable in passing situations. It was not just highly thought of pass rushers Junior Onyeali and William Sutton either, but Gregory Smith and Bo Moos and others. It was an array of effective blitz packages, sure to be broken down in the coming weeks by opponents. It was an almost complete absence of penalties. The one personal foul that was commited, a helmetless (headless according to the official) Andrew Sampson smashing a tackler to protect his running back, was alluded to by Erickson as a positive flag -- a display of toughness and 'teamness' not often seen by an ASU offensive line in recent years. On top of it, the return game did nothing to shed its game-breaking reputation, and the kicker and punter showed they could be marked improvements from post-injury Thomas Weber and Trevor Hankins -- not an empty compliment.
On the other hand, there were some scary developments if you believe the game merites such analysis -- as you shouldn't.
There was a softness in the middle of both lines. A lack of push on some offensive running plays, and too much backwardsmovement by a smaller-than-it used-to-be defensive line. Sure, it was a defense that kept UC-Davis to their side almost all night, but didn't seem quite as ferocious as last year. It was an offense, while extremely efficient by any common metric, that left something to be desired.
Considering the monumental spring and summer, which included fundamental changes to the athletic program that went well beyond color schematics and logos, combined with what seemed like an usually long fall camp and a record-setting month of heat -- 48 points never felt so unfulfilling.
Evidenced by the the thousands of empty seats, The Valley is holding out hope, begging for the mercy of the next high-pressure system to push out the hot-air. In some ways, it's an apt metaphor for their participation in this ever-so-critical Sun Devil football season.
In this desert, bandwagons don't form until the final destination is a virtual guarantee.
Spanning from the internal to the media mainstream, the hype is shared and espoused by talking heads, players, and the the handful, perhaps less, of detail-oriented analysts who've watched it day after day, year after year -- the only media members with the acumen deserving of your trust.
They aren't changing course after last night's 34 point win.
Nor should you.
Whether hype is outpacing reality, or worse yet, they're barreling towards each other on different tracks, will be known soon enough.