Thursday, July 26, 2007

Football Position Preview Part I: Quarterback and Receiving Corps

by Justin Karp, Host of Sun Devil Power Hour on The Fan AM 1060.

Arguably, the 2006 season for Arizona State was over before it began.

You could plausibly say that on the night former head coach Dirk Koetter told the assembled media at the Kajikawa Practice Field that he was reversing course. He was going with junior Rudy Carpenter over senior Sam Keller as the starting quarterback, exactly 48 hours after declaring Keller the starter.

All of a sudden, ASU had gone from having the top quarterback tandem in the nation to having their offense descend into disarray. The offense never fully clicked last year thanks to miscommunication, questionable play calling and a slough of injuries and off-field issues. By the end of the season at the Hawaii Bowl, the Sun Devils top two receiving targets were true freshmen.

This season’s offense will be a little different than what Sun Devil fans are used to, including more two tight end sets, quick passing and the shotgun.

In this edition of the 2007 Preview, we’ll take a look at the quarterback and receiving corps.


With no quarterback controversy in sight, the incumbent starter is red-shirt junior Rudy Carpenter. Carpenter, who took over and kept the starting job after Sam Keller was injured in a 2005 home loss to Oregon, was the nation’s most efficient passer that season. He completed 68% of his passes and held an outstanding 8.5/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (17 touchdowns to 2 interceptions).

However, Rudy took a step back in 2006, throwing 14 interceptions, four of those coming in a season-changing loss at California. He also had a disastrous and confidence shattering performance against Oregon the next week, throwing for just 33 yards. Rudy didn’t seem to be his gun-slinging self over the final weeks of the season, going up and down in effectiveness on a week-by-week basis. He seemed to be missing receivers both wide and high when things weren’t going his way; a sign of frustration. It didn’t help, either, that his offensive line was decimated, leaving him to run for his life at points.

Despite his struggles last season, 2007 can and should be a big year out for Carpenter. Rudy will be encouraged to scramble and move out of the pocket more, a perk that ASU hasn’t really had since Jake Plummer led the 1996 team to the Rose Bowl. He’s also got his top target, Rudy Burgess, back on offense this season. The young receivers around him have a year under their belts and he worked very well with them during Spring ball.

In terms of depth, there are three QB’s under Carpenter that merit mentioning. Last year, Danny Sullivan was expected to redshirt and learn the college game behind the Keller/Carpenter tandem. With Keller’s demotion and subsequent transfer to Nebraska, Sullivan was thrust into the backup role as a true freshman. Sullivan didn’t get any meaningful playing time, only throwing the ball 15 times.

Head coach Dennis Erickson also signed two notable prep quarterbacks to his first recruiting class in Tempe. 6’4 freshman Samson Szakacsy is described as having one of the strongest and most accurate arms in California and was ranked as the #24 prep quarterback in the nation by SuperPrep. Mobile and quick on his feet, Szakacsy is considered to be a better fit in Erickson’s offense than his other major QB recruit, Chasen Stangel. Stangel, a Cal-Hi Sports All-State first team selection, has better pocket presence and field vision than Szakaczy. Expect at least one of them to be redshrited.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

It’s widely said that a quarterback is only as good as the guys who are catching his passes. Last year, Rudy Carpenter didn’t have much help in that department. ASU’s leading receiver in 2006 only had 484 yards, and he will provide no help to the Sun Devils this season, seeing as that he’s now helping the Oakland Raiders cause.

On paper, ASU’s losses in this group look strong, but in reality, both Terry Richardson and Jamaal Lewis made little to no contribution to the team on the field last year, both running into injury and, in Lewis’ case, legal problems. Zach Miller’s departure is a major blow, but there is more than enough young talent left in Tempe that can develop into a fast and dangerous staff.

At points last year, all of ASU’s top three returning wide receivers were out with significant injuries. Mike Jones, Nate Kimbrough and Rudy Burgess all missed time, leaving players such as Chris McGaha and Brandon Smith to pick up the slack. Even Kyle Williams, a highly touted and quick receiver/kick returner, had his redshirt taken off before a game at Oregon State because there was simply no one left to play the position.

This year, Rudy Burgess is back on offense full time after a stint at cornerback. The team needs Burgess to come through in a big way this year, especially after having time to concentrate on being a top wideout. Don’t forget that Burgess spent the majority of 2005 as the team’s featured running back and, as mentioned earlier, he was injured and used on defense last season. This year, he’s going to be a receiver all year and will be Carpenter’s main target.

Returning from last season will be Mike Jones, a solid pass-catcher, Chris McGaha, who’s big and agile but suffered from a case of the dropsies all year, and Nate Kimbrough, who missed the majority of the second half of last season due to a non-contact ACL tear in the Oregon State game but showed flashes of brilliance during the non-conference season. Look for Kyle Williams to see some spot duty at WR but more time as a kick returner and Brandon Smith in five-wide and spread sets.

The Devils are left without a marquee tight end after Zach Miller’s departure, but his brother Brent is still around and figures to step into the 1st string tight end role. He’s a better pass blocker than his little brother but not as good of a route runner or pass catcher. However, he did prove midway through last season that he can catch in the clutch, as proved by his performance against Washington. If Miller cannot pick up the slack, look for Florida junior transfer Dane Guthrie to step in.

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