September 1, 2007

Five keys to success

After watching more than 30 Arizona State football practices in the last month, we feel we have as good an idea as anyone (and much better than most) at understanding the strengths and weakness of this football team. Here are our Top-5 keys to the Sun Devils' having a successful season, as well as what to look for in tonight's San Jose State game.

1. Defensive front more must make its impact felt:

The Sun Devils, we predict, are going to be moderately successful with the blitz but you can't rely on that and expect to stop or even limit some of the better offenses in the Pac-10. You absolutely need a consistently strong push from your front four that puts pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The defensive line was a team weakness two seasons ago and average at best last season. Dexter Davis and Michael Marquardt are solid returning Pac-10 players but they key guys to watch will be Dane Guthrie and Luis Vasquez. One of both being capable pass rushers on the edge will be a major boost not only to the line, but the overall strength of the defense. San Jose State has a decent offensive line, but ASU is going to need to establish dominance at the point of attack in this game to effect confidence in its front four.

2. Cornerback play has to be relatively consistent:

Everyone knows the Pac-10 is historically a passing league and that means that you have to have a capable secondary if your defense is going to be successful or even adequate. The Sun Devils have a mid-tier Pac-10 corner in Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney has the potential to play at that level if he's patient and disciplined. If Omar Bolden can learn quickly on the fly and become a solid contributor by mid-season it will provide a big boost. San Jose State has essentially an entirely new receiving corps., as plays in what is thought to be an inferior conference. If ASU can't do well against this group, it's going to likely struggle throughout the season.

3.Receivers must not only run good (and correct) routes, they must catch the football consistently:

By now we all have heard repeatedly about the terrible loss to Oregon last season in which ASU had a record low passing yards. We know all about the team's inconsistent play at the position last season when it was extremely inexperienced (excluding Terry Richardson and Jamaal Lewis, who were essentially AWOL for the season), and it appears the group has grown significantly in the off-season. But as the saying goes, it's now time to show and prove. There were five or six clear drops in the team's final true scrimmage of camp at Sun Devil Stadium and that's a bad sign. It can't happen for this offense to ultimately be very success, even with a very solid running game and offensive line. Kyle Williams, Mike Jones Chris McGaha, Kerry Taylor and Brandon Smith are five players that must step up. Tonight would be a good place to start, and it will be a real test with the excellent corner play of San Jose State. Look for Williams to have a real shot at a big day from the slot.

4. Leadership and effort must remain constant:

It's been an unfortunate trend in recent ASU history. Have a tough game or two, get dealt some adversity, and then comes a collapse. It was predictable under the previous coaching staff. This team has five senior offensive linemen who have already graduated and many other veterans who should be able to keep this team's focus pointed in the right direction regardless of outcome. But it's not a given. They have to demonstrate they're able to deal with some things going against them, whether it's mid-game or mid-season or whenever. It's not about how you get knocked down, but how you respond that defines you.

5. This team is not deep enough to survive serious blows to its health:

The bottom line is, if ASU loses players at key positions, like Rudy Carpenter at quarterback or a couple of offensive linemen (two would probably be enough to do it) or Davis, Marquardt, Tryon or Barrett on defense, it's going to have a difficult time overcoming that. The team has talent at most places on the field but some spots are extremely shallow with their talent, especially at those positions which correspond to the players we just listed. You can't try to stay healthy per se, but you can play well enough to get players the rest they need to maintain freshness throughout the season. And by that, we mean, ASU has to win some of these early season games by a big enough margin that it can get reserves inserted in the game in the second half.

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