Arizona State's season ended in a sour note, as it yielded 50-plus points to Texas on a national stage at the Holiday Bowl last Thursday. Here is our position-by-position Sun Devil Report Card.
Rudy Carpenter had a very good season but he would probably be first to admit, especially after watching film, that his performance against Texas was sub-par and borderline poor. Following the game, Carpenter said that he often felt as though he wasn't able to set his feet to deliver passes and they were sailing on him as a result, and while that could potentially be part of the reason he was off, even on plays were he had ample time to deliver the ball properly, he just didn't get it far enough or on target enough or whatever the case. He had two receivers deep and underthrew both, leading to his two interceptions, and on a critical fourth and 2 when ASU had momentum and a chance to climb back into the game, he overthrew a wide open Brent Miller on a play where the only thing he couldn't do was overthrow it. It was about as frustrated we saw coach Dennis Erickson all season long on the sidelines mid-game.
Carpenter was sacked four times and Texas got some huge shots on him. He has a very difficult task, taking deep drops consistently facing pressure on a team that gives up as many sacks as any in the nation. But even so, he has to perform at a higher level than he did on Thursday for the Sun Devils to beat high quality opponents on most weeks. Danny Sullivan came in and directed ASU on two late scoring drives and looked good doing it, but by that point, the Texas defense may have mentally checked out. Still, it was a good sign. Overall, the quarterbacks get a C-, primarily due to Carpenter's shaky performance.
The Sun Devils struggled to run the ball against the other Top-10 rushing defense it faced this season following the injury to Ryan Torain and with Keegan Herring limited due to the high ankle sprain sustained against Arizona, the running back situation was even more precarious versus Texas. Dimitri Nance does a lot of things really well. He's got great vision and footwork and he can make himself skinny through holes and find room to run where they doesn't appear to be much. But he's not a pushing inside runner and with type of offensive line ASU has, and in particularly against a team with physicality up front like Texas, that's precisely what is needed. It just wasn't there. We'll grade the group out at a C, as Jarrell Woods had some nice runs in garbage time.
This group probably improved more than any other on the team from last year to this year. They played well against Texas for the most part, especially Chris McGaha, who has matured tremendously and will be among the Pac-10's top receivers for the rest of his career, it would figure. Mike Jones also played well. If Carpenter had connected on the two deep balls where ASU receivers had beaten their defenders, it may have been a different game. When it's clear the running game isn't doing much, these guys have an even more difficult challenge and they handled it quite well, until the fourth quarter, when they appeared to be going through the motions with their route running with the game in hand for the Longhorns. Overall we'll give this group a B.
There was nothing particularly noteworthy from the tight end group in this game. Miller and Tyrice Thompson performed at a reasonable level in terms of what was asked of them in the passing game. Miller put himself in great position on the fourth down play, wide open, but very few players would have made that grab. The blocking from this group at the line of scrimmage has been average all season and it was again in this game. With both of these players departing and Dane Guthrie on defense, ASU really needs some younger players or newcomers to step up here. The tight ends earn a C+ for their efforts.
If everyone played with the energy and intensity of Luis Vasquez from the opening series for the ASU defense, it might have been a different outcome. He seemed to improve with every Longhorns possession. His game wasn't flawless, as numerous Sun Devils including Vasquez seemed to have breakdown with quarterback contain responsibilities, but his ethic was unchallengeable. Vasquez had 2.5 tackles for loss, including a big sack on Colt McCoy. Michael Marquardt also impressed us with his effort in the game. He seemed to really take the fact that it was his last game to heart and had 5.5 tackles and a fumble recovery. Overall though, the line didn't do a great job. McCoy too easily got yardage on the edges, which is in part the line's responsibility, and speedy back Jamaal Charles did more damage than any running back the team played all season at the point of attack with his shiftiness. The ASU front-seven just looked under-athletic, frankly, and the defensive line gets a C+ for the game.
This is a hard working group of over-achievers, but the difference in athleticism was noticeable against top tier opponents Texas and USC this season and tackling issues crept up a bit in both games as well. Mike Nixon and Travis Goethe each had a forced fumble and Goethel led the team with 6.5 tackles as well, but the group was shaky at best with its responsibilities against the Longhorns' spread offense component, which James admitted, the opponent ran more of than anticipated, perhaps in anticipation of ASU struggling with it in earlier games this season. The group gets a C.
McCoy had thrown 18 interceptions coming into this game and the ASU back seven led the Pac-10 in picks but weren't able to come close to one in this game, and generally, McCoy was able to do just about whatever he wanted. In fact, the Sun Devils had just two pass break ups from the secondary and McCoy was an efficient 21-of-31 passes. Granted, many of the passes were screens and lateral type throws, but even then, the Sun Devils were below average in their awareness and response to this types of plays relative to their assignments and responsibilities. Nate Jones caught six passes but it seemed like a dozen or so during the game. He and Jordan Shipley did a lot of damage in space on the edges of the field and the Sun Devils couldn't seem to get stops with any consistency on medium to long third downs. The safeties did little that was memorable. Overall the group gets a C.
Thomas Weber was his consistent self in the kicking game, making his two field goal attempts, from 32 and 46 yards respectively. On punts his performance left something to be desired, with a 32.2 net average, though Texas had just one return, for 21 yards. For the Sun Devils, Kyle Williams had the worst performance of his career on special teams. Usually sure-handed, he muffed two punts, one of which was lost at a critical juncture. ASU did a pretty decent job with its coverage teams, but Williams keeps the team from a grade higher than B-.
The Sun Devils did not execute well, certainly, and probably wouldn't have won even had it done a better job in that area. But it would have been certainly possible. They started slow once again, down 21-0 to start the game, and they again failed to handle the spread offense component of an opponent well. But what was costly is that while in other games where they didn't handle the spread well, they were able to do a nice job bottling up opposing running backs, even good ones. On Thursday, that didn't happen. Additionally, the offense didn't do a very good job adjusting to the constant blitz pressure from Texas. The Coaching gets a C+ in this game.
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