Some other notes and thoughts that I didn't fit into my game recap earlier today...
-ASU finished up their non-conference season with a 1-2 record in 2008. It's the first time since 1999 and only the second time since 1994 that the Sun Devils went under .500 OOC (not including bowl games). In 1999, the Devils lost to New Mexico State and Notre Dame while beating Texas Tech. Since that season through the end of 2007, the Sun Devils had gone 23-4 against non-Pac-10 opponents during the regular season; two of those wins coming over NAU while the losses came at Nebraska and vs. North Carolina (2002), at Iowa (2003) and vs. LSU (2005). That includes a 2002 season where the Devils played five OOC games. Obviously, no one would have ever dreamed that ASU would have lost to UNLV while the loss to Georgia was a bit more "expected," if you will, but OOC losses still matter even if they have no bearing on the race to the Pac-10 title. I'm all about aggressive scheduling and trying to play the best opponents possible, but winning these non-conference games, especially against higher class teams, always serves to boost confidence and national attention. The Devils, for the first time in eight seasons, didn't take care of business before conference play started in full swing.
-One positive from last night is that the ASU offense continues to find ways to work the tight end into the receiving rotation. This is the first season in many years that ASU doesn't have an experienced, proven playmaker at the TE position, but Andrew Pettes, Dan Knapp and Jovon Williams have found ways to move the ball down the field and put the Devils in good positions to succeed. Pettes scored ASU's only touchdown last night on a terrific split-off route and found himself wide open inside the 5 for the easy score.
-The Devils inability to generate turnovers is a major concern, which leads me to actually think that Robert James made everyone on this defense better last season. James was the ad hoc vocal and motivational leader on the field last season and he made players like Troy Nolan, Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon play better around him. I feel like the same players who performed admirably last season are struggling badly and often find themselves in the wrong spot, caught out of position, not picking up zone reads and hot routes and, more than anything, losing track of receivers on quick in routes. The Devils have three interceptions as a defensive unit this season with all three of them coming in the Stanford game. That's not going to cut it.
-ASU cannot convert on third down. This links right back to being opportunistic and making sure the offense makes plays when they have to. Last night, the Devils went 2-11 on third down and the defense bore the brunt of it. Georgia held the ball for six more minutes than ASU did last night and, especially near the end of the 1st half, the Sun Devil defense looked tired and worn out. The Devils inability to sustain drives at least long enough to give the defense a breather made a big difference on the 2nd and 3rd Bulldog touchdown drives, on both of which the line could not get pressure on Matt Stafford and the fresher Dawg receivers were able to blow right by the ASU secondary. It's not a new trend either, the Devils were 2-9 on 3rd against UNLV and 3-12 in the win over NAU. It makes the 7 third down conversions against Stanford look like it was the Cardinal that couldn't stop the Devils rather than ASU being efficient. What might make this worse, in the Georgia game at least, is that we can't tie this trend to running woes; ASU found themselves in a 3rd and +7 yard situation 7 times last night.
-Finally, on a lighter note, I was standing near the north end zone midway through the 2nd quarter last night when I felt something rubbing against my leg. When I looked down, the culprit was none other than Uga VII, sniffing around my feet and then subsequently licking and knawing on the back of my jeans and shoes. Now, when I went to Colorado back in 2006, I didn't get my picture with Ralphie, and the canceled trip to LSU in 2005 killed any chance to spend any quality time with Mike the Tiger, I wasn't missing my chance to hang out with Uga. And from the pictures we saw of him laying in ice down in Athens earlier this year, the Georgia mascot seemed to deal with the desert heat pretty well.