During the pre-season ASU’s aerial game was the epitome of the proverbial Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. More often than not in practice, it was smooth and efficient. Yet, when it came to the scrimmages it was average at best. No one could blame Rudy Carpenter for feeling uneasy about this issue, but for the most part team’s performance in the season opener put those worries to rest.
"I think that the biggest worry was the passing game,” said Arizona State quaterback Rudy Carpenter about his feelings before the San Jose State game. “We've been meeting with the wideouts a lot. I changed where we stay at the hotel so I can stay with the receivers and meet with them all throughout the day. I thought they did a great job.”
“Mike Jones did well; Mike saw a few mistakes where he could get better on. I think Chris McGaha did a good job too. I wish I would have gotten the ball to him a couple more times. Overall we did well, Kerry [Taylor] did well and Kyle [Williams] did well. I think it was important for us to start well on throwing game to give the guys some confidence and prove we can throw the ball and be successful doing it when we want to. The passing game would have been better had we hit that deeper one down the middle. Once we get stuff like that fixed, I think we can be good."
ASU’s 45-3 win over San Jose State was hardly just about the finesse of the passing game. The brute character of the maroon and gold on both sides of the ball was impossible to ignore. "Since Coach Erickson got here that's been the biggest thing he's tried to emphasize with our team is being really physical,” Carpenter explained. “He was very short in his pre-game speech and said let's play so physical that this team and any other team never want to come back to play here. I think we did a good job of that on Saturday. Teams don't like to get hit like that, I know I don't."
The junior signal caller thought that the run game was better than the passing game, but was confident that this aspect would get better as the season went on. "We didn't throw the ball a whole lot. We didn't have to,” Carpenter stated. “I thought when we did throw we executed well and we did well. I think there were a couple of mistakes we made in picking up some blitzes and seeing some hot routes we were supposed to throw to. I made a few mistakes running around too much instead of just throwing the ball to the open guy or out of bounds."
Carpenter pointed out that cutting down the turnovers and penalties from last week’s game in necessary to increase efficiency. Another deficiency that revealed itself in the game against the Spartans was the early time outs in the first half that Carpenter had to take in order to avoid a delay of game penalty.
"We're going to start wearing the wristband at practice,” he said of the solution that will be implemented this week. “We hadn't worked on it a whole lot with wearing it at practice. So I'm going to start wearing it with all the plays on it and getting used to calling it like that at practice. We made a couple of mistakes with the numbers but I was messing up a couple of the signals too.”
On the other hand, the new offense also brought the shotgun formation, an arrangement that received a resounding two thumbs up from the ASU quarterback. "The coaches like to keep it balanced (between shotgun and snaps under center) but I hope we keep on using that. I hope we use it a lot more than we did because it's so much easier for me to throw out of the shotgun and see things. I hope we can make it a mainstay in our offense."
Another staple of the offense that is well-received by Carpenter is getting the plays from the sidelines without running back and forth to the coaches as in years past. "Not only does it save energy for me but it gives me a chance to look at the defense longer,” he remarked. “I'm not snapping the ball with two or three seconds on the play clock. I've got a lot of time to see what they're doing, change the play if I need to, and do certain things so we're getting out of the huddle faster. We had very few glitches but the few we had we had to waste timeouts which in a bigger or closer game could be very important."
The fact that Carpenter was sacked one time, coupled with the team’s 250 net rushing yards against San Jose State, naturally points to a strong performance by the offensive line. Keeping in mind that this was their first game under the Erickson system, the Sun Devil signal caller is even more impressed with their display last Saturday.
"Defense football is a lot easier to play when you have a new coaching staff. When you have a new coaching staff and system it's hard,” claimed Carpenter. “No matter if you've got veteran quarterbacks, veteran running backs, and veteran wide receivers. They're all learning a new system, new blocking styles new schemes.”
“I thought those guys did a great job. We rotated some of those guys too. I think Julius [Orieukwu] came in for Zach Krula and Richard Tuitu'u came in for Brandon Rodd and Sean [Lauvao] for Paul Fanaika. A lot of guys got experience and to be completely honest until I was watching the film I didn't even know they were rotating and I think that's a good thing."
Another second string player that had a strong showing was Carpenter’s backup Danny Sullivan . The sophomore threw his first ever touchdown pass and was 9-12 for 73 yards.
"I thought Danny played really well,” said Carpenter. “Danny's gotten so much better than last season, so much more confident in himself. I was really happy for him…he asked me before the game if I can get him in there early and I think I came out 10 minutes before the third quarter was over so I was happy for him."
Up next for the maroon and gold is a home game against Colorado, who won their season opener against Colorado State 31-28 in overtime. Even though the Sun Devils handled the Buffaloes with relative ease last season, wining 21-3 in Boulder, Carpenter fully expects a much stiffer test this weekend at Sun Devil stadium.
“They're a Big 12 team so they're going to be faster and physically stronger,” he said. “I expect them to be a little bit stronger up front and more physical than San Jose St. was. I know they've got five starters back from last year. I think they got all their linebackers back and that was the best part of their team last year. Their defensive backs are new so I think that's something that we might have to look at and see what we can do with that. They played us pretty well last year. We've got to come out and play the way we play football: run the ball and throw when we can throw."
Needless to say that a fast start, especially with the rushing attack, is a sure recipe for success against Colorado. Nonetheless, Carpenter knows that the offensive game plan and overall approach may have to be different against the visitors from Boulder.
“…they are a better team so we're going to have to stay patient and we're probably not going to score on every possession like we did against San Jose St,” he said. “We're probably going to have to use our passing game a little bit more. And if we do, I'm interested to see what happens when we do need to use it more and see if we can be as efficient and successful as we were in this game. Overall that's where the biggest stride is going to be. I am confident in those guys and in myself that we can do that."
The Sun Devil nation is arguably giddy about the 45-3 victory. It wasn’t just the score, but the convincing and efficient manner in which all three phases of the team performed. When it comes to the overall team’s attitude after the victory, it’s business as usual.
"With Coach Erickson he said that's one, we've got 12 more to go but the most important one is next week,” said Carpenter. “Coach Erickson never looks past Colorado or whoever the game is against this week. He said good job to us and I think we knew it was a game we should have came out and won. We were just happy we played well but we know it's a long season to go and Colorado is a good team we've got next week."