September 9, 2008

Report Card: Stanford

Arizona State won its first Pac-10 game 41-17 against Stanford on Saturday, pulling away late in a contest that never felt close in the second half. Here is our position-by-position report card on the Sun Devils' efforts.

Quarterback

Senior Rudy Carpenter went 27-of-36 for 345 yards with three touchdowns and one interception that drew praise from ASU coach Dennis Erickson for Carpenter's accuracy and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh for Carpenter's toughness. He displayed both in spades. For the second game in a row, Carpenter's mistakes were few and far between and he now has a school record for most yards through the first two games of a season with 733, eclipsing the old mark of 669 by Sam Keller in 1995. Carpenter did have one bad decision/poor throw that led to his lone interception, and he said he made a read error along the goalline that contributed to ASU having to kick a field goal on its first possession. Those mistakes were far outweighed by his brilliance in this game, however, and Carpenter deserves nothing short of a top grade for his performance. Grade: A

Running back

This game served to provide a much better idea of where the ASU rushing attack is at because the offense was going up against defensive looks that are more frequently common in the Pac-10, and the results were a bit mixed. We learned what we expected all-along and what Carpenter even hinted at during his press sessions following the game: There is no full-service Ryan Torain-type back on the team. That said, we're only in the business of grading the players on the basis of how well they handle their assignments and how close they play to their potential. And in that sense, this was a pretty solid effort. Dimitri Nance is not a guy who will gash opponents in the second-level and we don't expect that. He gets tough yardage inside with footwork and vision, picking up several yards after contact often. His 75 yards on 18 carries were respectable, though on some of his reps he probably could have had bigger gains if he had gotten more vertical. Keegan Herring is the change-of-pace guy that will get big gains or not much, as Carpenter said Monday. He brought big energy and had the impressive 20 yard first carry that sparked his overall performance of 12 carries for 59 yards. Shaun DeWitty got his feet wet primarily on third downs as a blocker and pass catching option and performed acceptably in that role. Grade: B

Wide Receivers

We're seeing a clear-cut top group of Mike Jones, Chris McGaha, Kyle Williams and Kerry Taylor emerge and that wasn't unanticipated by any means. All four are performing at a high level. There have been hardly any drops from these players through two games, the route running has been crisp, and they've taken advantage of man coverage as well as their hot routes with the new emphasis on counteracting blitz pressure. There is a good rhythm established with these players and Carpenter and we don't anticipate this changing or desecrating as the season progresses. Taylor and Williams both impressed us substantially on Saturday, especially Williams, who had two big third-and-long catches in traffic. This was the type of performance he needed to springboard to greater heights. McGaha has been a bit quiet this season thus far, but that's more a function of how wide open others have been at times than anything he's done improperly or how he looks returning from the injury. We've been underwhelmed with what we've seen beyond the top four, but that's getting rather nit-picky. Grade: A-

Tight ends

Of course, everyone will mention the Jovon Williams missed opportunity in the end zone where the ball hit him in the facemask, and that's reasonable. Still, Williams has generally proven himself to be a pretty good pass catcher in practice and he showed a glimpse of that with the beautiful grab he had when well defended on a pure throw from Carpenter. The standout catch of the night though may have been the touchdown grab by Dan Knapp in the side of the end zone. Those two were the best athletes among the tight ends all camp in terms of ability to run routes and make plays downfield so that part of it isn't a surprise. We actually thought the group did a pretty good job at the line of scrimmage on Saturday and Erickson said he was pleased by the overall effort of Knapp in particular. The goal line formation with Wes Evans as a lead blocker still didn't generate the desired result, but we don't think that was really Evans' fault. Given where this group is at, it was actually a pretty solid showing. Grade: B

Offensive Line

ASU was penalized 10 times for 107 yards in this game -- more than you'd like to see, certainly. But the offensive line, which is typically responsible for more penalties than any other position group, again was pretty decent in this area on Saturday. We are not seeing an abundance of holding or false start penalties, which is a critical part of the equation. ASU gave up two sacks, one of them came on an assignment breakdown (not a physical mistake), and though Carpenter was certainly contacted quite a bit (usually at or just after releasing the ball), a lot of that is to be expected when there is the kind of blitz pressure put on by an opponent. In pass protection the left side of the line appears to be holding up better than the right side. Right tackle is the biggest area of concern at this juncture. Run blocking has only been decent thus far, including in this game. A lot of that is the play at center, we believe. The drop down in athleticism there has been noticeable in this regard, but in terms of assignments it's been acceptable, nothing moreGrade: C+

Defensive Line

Overall, ASU's front four at least played Stanford's veteran offensive line to a draw, and perhaps even earned a slight nod. The notion by some in the media that Toby Gerhart would be a big weapon in this game for Stanford never really materialized. Gerhart had a top run of 14 yards and totaled just a 3.5 yard average on his other 15 carries. Stanford's first series was it's only real easy ball movement series of the game. Pressure on Stanford's quarterbacks was decent other than Dexter Davis who picked up another two sacks to match his total from the NAU game. Lawrence Guy had three tackles on the inside that playing there looks like it'll prove to be the right move. We would imagine it's just a matter of time before Guy is starting with that group. He's more dynamic and seems to have a better combination of motor/sustainability than the other options there. ASU still needs a talent infusion at tackle. Grade: B

Linebackers

Though not perfect or even near perfect, this group was a strength for ASU in this game. Playing with a cast on the fingers of his left hand due to a broken pinkie didn't stop Gerald Munns from a standout performance. He was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after a team-leading seven tackles with an interception, a deflection which led to a Troy Nolan interception, and a tackle for loss. Munns said he wished he had done an even better job coming up and being physical against the run but he was pretty good there and we attribute that to his high expectations as much as anything. Mike Nixon started and had a strong performance playing almost the entire game, with six tackles. Travis Goethel had 6.5 tackles. These guys did have some apparent errors with gap assignments but overall played very well. In reserve, Shelly Lyons had four tackles and continued to show that he can be counted on to play with a stellar effort. Grade: A-

Secondary

Stanford picked on Pierre Singfield more than Omar Bolden, especially early, and it was just an average showing from the junior college transfer. Singfield had 5.5 tackles but a lot of that was chasing down guys after the catch. Still, he settled in and didn't given up too much as the game progressed. Bigger tasks are ahead certainly, though. Terell Carr looked pretty good in reserve and got his first career interception. Nolan had the pick generated by Munns , but the safeties had a quiet day, mostly because they just weren't needed to be in on a lot of plays against Stanford, with most everything kept in front of them. Grade: B

Special Teams

Kick coverage was an issue in this game late with several mistakes leading to big run backs. Thomas Weber made his two short field goal attempts and only had one punt in the entire game, a 44-yard effort late in the fourth with the outcome decided. Kyle Williams had three kickoff returns for an average of 22 yards. Grade: B

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