November 9, 2006

Toss-Up In Tempe

For those Washington State fans making the trip to Tempe on Saturday, if by chance you hear a sputtering sounds upon entering Sun Devil Stadium, that may not be a car having trouble in the parking lot, it could just as easily be the collective groan of the Arizona State team as it struggles to come to a complete, safe stop as we near the end of what has become a particularly troublesome season.

Sun Devil coach Dirk Koetter said prior to the season that this was the most talented team his staff had assembled through this, his sixth year in Tempe. ASU started the campaign ranked in the Top-25 nationally and there were hopes this could be the year Koetter could get over the hump and win a big Pac-10 road game against a team like Cal or USC.

Instead, it's turned into a nightmarish season relative to expectations, as ASU was blown out earlier in the season at Cal, humiliated by Oregon at home and most recently, embarrassed in Corvallis, 44-10 to Oregon State.

Some of the problems are as follows:

- Mediocre passing attack: In recent years the Sun Devils have been known as an extremely explosive offensive team that loves throwing the ball vertically downfield. Sophomore quarterback Rudy Carpenter led the nation in passing efficiency last season, but we've seen little of that in 2006. Gone are his three top wide receiver targets from a year ago, including Derek Hagan. Now he's throwing to a collection of unproven players, especially with some of the team's veterans at the position not performing as anticipated or in the case of senior Jamaal Lewis, facing his second suspension of the season for non-football related issues. To top it off, the team's most consistent player at the position to this point, Nate Kimbrough, tore his ACL against Oregon State and is done for the year.

- Pass defense: Defensively, the Sun Devils are improved on the whole, but they've been put in bad situations repeatedly by an offense prone to turning the ball over, resulting in a lot of short field situations for opponents. The big problem on defense has been at cornerback, where JUCO transfer Justin Tryon has played relatively well, but beyond that, it's been a trouble spot. Rudy Burgess has looked good in the couple outings he's had at the position when healthy, but they came against average opponents.

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