November 24, 2009

Familiar tune at weekly press conference

As if it were a rehearsed skit, Arizona State football coach Dennis Erickson and the media met Monday to discuss the reasons behind his team's most recent loss.

The conversation played out like the many that had preceded it; reverting to giveaways, good defense and poor offense. That's what happens when a team loses five straight games.

But Saturday's 23-13 loss at UCLA carried a bit more weight than any other, as it knocked ASU (4-7, 2-6 Pac-10) out of postseason consideration.

"You can't turn the ball over like that and expect to win the game," Erickson said. "We played awfully good on defense. That's kind of been the story of our season."

Sophomore quarterback Samson Szakacsy made his first career start, but also made two turnovers that led directly to 14 UCLA points.

The first was a 68-yard interception return by UCLA senior safety Alterraun Verner, which came after an apparent miscommunication between Szakacsy and junior wide receiver Kerry Taylor.

While Taylor streaked down the right sideline, Szakacsy looked like he expected Taylor to do a curl route, throwing a quick strike. Verner left Taylor running by himself, made the easy interception and waltzed into the end zone.

ASU's offensive line also made Szakacsy look bad on near the end of the first half, when it let a three-man rush get to Szakacsy and force a fumble.

UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price lined up on the outside and beat ASU senior right tackle Tom Njunge, before knocking the ball loose. It was scooped up by Akeem Ayers and returned nine yards for a score.

By half, ASU had turned the ball over four times and trailed 20-7.

"Unfortunately, I got home last night about midnight and turned the TV on and the replay was on," Erickson said. "So, thank you, God. I started watching it, hoping I could sleep. But, obviously, there was no chance of that."

ASU's defense stifled the Bruins all game, allowing just three field goals, one of which came on a very short field.

But once again, the offense stumbled, killing itself with untimely penalties and six turnovers.

Szakacsy finished 15-of-22 for 197 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His 68.1 percent completion percentage was the highest of any performance by an ASU quarterback this season.

"There's some things [Szakacsy] has got to learn," Erickson said. "But he does have some talent, athletically."

Erickson wouldn't go so far as to name Szakacsy the starter for Saturday's game against archrival Arizona, but said he would probably make his decision on Tuesday. Once again, Szakacsy and senior Danny Sullivan are in the running to start, while freshman Brock Osweiler has taken a back seat.

"With our offensive front as beat up as it is right now and with [senior center Thomas] Altieri not playing, we're going to have to have somebody that can move a little bit back there," Erickson said.

Senior wide receivers Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha each voiced their support for Szakacsy and said he didn't do anything to hurt his status as starter.

"He's been great," Williams said of Szakacsy. "It's tough for a quarterback especially, to come in after being cold for two years, really of having no game experience, to perform the way he has."

For Williams and the other 23 ASU seniors, it will be their final game as a Sun Devil.

"A lot of us spent a lot of time here bled maroon and gold for this program," Williams said. "[Saturday's game] is going to be big. You want to finish it out in the right way. We haven't really, in a sense, because we're not going to a bowl game, but there's still a lot to play for in this game."


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