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September 15, 2008

Devils look to rebound

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson has had a hard time getting over the Sun Devils' unthinkable 23-20 overtime loss to UNLV on Saturday night.

"I haven't slept in two days," Erickson said at his weekly news conference on Monday. "Doesn't it look like it?"

Reviewing films of ASU's next opponent -- third-ranked Georgia -- probably won't help Erickson catch up on his sleep. The Bulldogs are headed to Tempe this weekend for the first meeting of the schools, and the timing couldn't be worse for the Sun Devils.

Or perhaps the timing couldn't be better. The Georgia game lost a lot of luster when the Sun Devils (2-1) were upset by UNLV and slid out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll. But it gives Arizona State a chance to make a statement in front of a national television audience -- and to quell the perception that the program often buckles under weighty expectations.

"We can change everything in one week," quarterback Rudy Carpenter said.

Erickson said he reminded his players that they have nine games remaining, and that their goal of winning the Pac-10 title remains in reach.

"Although we didn't play well -- that's an understatement -- there are a lot of things left to play for," Erickson said.

If Arizona State should somehow knock off Georgia (3-0) and top-ranked Southern California in Los Angeles on Oct. 11, it might jump into the top 10.

But first the Sun Devils have to show that last weekend's loss to UNLV was a fluke instead of another example of Arizona State wilting in the spotlight.

The Sun Devils' No. 15 preseason ranking was their highest since 1998, when they opened at No. 8. They dropped from the rankings after losing their first two games that year.

This was the fourth time Arizona State had been ranked in the preseason top 15 since it joined the Pac-10 in 1978. Twice it finished unranked, and the third time it dropped six spots in the final poll.

And then the Sun Devils lost to UNLV, a team with scant football tradition.

Carpenter said he believes his teammates are ready to atone for the UNLV debacle, which ended with a blocked field goal in overtime.

"I'm not concerned because I know the character of our team, and I know how they are," Carpenter said. "For me, being a leader on this team, I've got to make sure that all that negative energy and all the bad feelings they had from last week, hopefully they use that as some type of motivation and, I don't know, I guess you could say a rally cry to take all that anger out on somebody else."

Carpenter said he noticed that practice didn't go well last Thursday, and that turned out to be a harbinger of the problems the Sun Devils had on Saturday night, when they looked lethargic.

"You look at some of the mistakes we made in that Thursday practice and you look in the game, and it was kind of like a little correlation," Carpenter said. "There's nothing the coaches can do about that. That's completely on the players and the leadership of this team to make sure things like that don't happen."

But the coaches devised the game plan against UNLV. The Sun Devils ran the ball 36 times and threw 32 passes, the first time this season that ASU tried more runs than passes.

Carpenter was asked if ASU might have been too conservative.

"I'll pass on that one," he said. "I'm not the coach."

Arizona State hopes to have two important players back for the Georgia game.

Linebacker Gerald Munns, who has one of the team's three interceptions this season, may return after having surgery on a broken pinkie.

Tailback Keegan Herring is recovering from a hamstring injury that recurred against Stanford.



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