I can't tell you exactly why, but I didn't walk away from last night's win over Stanford with a tremendous sense of happiness.
Maybe because it was 106 degrees at kickoff.
Maybe it was because the Sun Devils displayed the worst time-out management of any team I've watched so far this season.
Maybe it was because Keegan Herring was out on the field with 3:30 left in the 4th quarter and ended up getting helped off the field.
Or maybe it was because someone at Chick-fil-A decided to make "BRING ON GEORGIA" signs and our student section wasn't smart enough to not hold them up and chant that phrase.
Any way you shake it, it was still a 41-17 win to open the Pac-10 for the Sun Devils, but I'm pretty unsettled.
Don't get me wrong, there was plenty to be happy about. Rudy Carpenter was still 27/36 and his receivers made him look better than he was. Rudy is clearly still getting used to throwing on the run but hes getting more accurate as games have gone along. Last night, when he was off, he was leading receivers off to the left or right and threw behind receivers on a few incompletions. You can't pin all of that on RC; sometimes it's a matter of a receiver getting off their route, which happened; but it's something to watch out for.
It goes beyond words when talking about the emotional boost this team got with Keegan Herring, Shaun DeWitty and Mike Jones ALL playing last night. Keegan looked exactly like who he's been throughout his career, especially on that 2nd half run where he went right, cut back to the left, got a tremendous block and sprang another trademark improbable run. DeWitty looked great in pass blocking situations (as he should) and pleasantly surprised me with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and get yards after the catch.
The crowd and the sideline went nuts when Keegan rumbled for 20 yards to set up the Carpenter to Mike Jones touchdown on the very next play. That tells you something about just how much having Keegan on the field means to everyone surrounding this squad.
The offensive line wasn't great...they weren't bad...but they weren't great. I must say though, it was nice to have not given up five first half sacks like they did last season against the Cardinal. Stanford, as expected, blitzed on nearly every other down, but the line picked it up nicely and gave Carpenter time to think and at least time to set up a scramble. Having DeWitty back helped a ton in giving RC more room to move.
The defense made a few pretty bonehead mistakes last night but overall, I thought they were pretty stout. Luis Vasquez was all over the place, picking up another sack and helping to limit Toby Gerhart to just 67 yards rushing, essentially making him a non-factor in setting up drives. He scored both of Stanford's touchdowns but the Devils were able to neutralize him in terms of being a ball-moving threat.
Gerald Munns was clearly the defensive MVP. His pick completely swung the momentum of the game and Troy Nolan wouldn't have had his interception had Munns not gotten his hands on it to send the defense into a tip drill. After the game, though, he disclosed to the East Valley Tribune that he'll have minor surgery to insert pins in a broken pinky finger. He played with a cast on last night, making his performance that much more impressive. He should be back for the Georgia game.
On the other hand, Pierre Singfield was less effective than he was against NAU. He still clearly deserves to be the starter, but as all freshmen do, he made mistakes. The most glaring one didn't hurt the team though; with Stanford deep and threatening late in the 3rd, Tavita Pritchard rolled out on a bootleg and Singfield lost his receiver, Richard Sherman, leaving him wide open in the back of the end zone. Luckily, Tavita overthrew Sherman, but they was no reason for him to be standing in the end zone completely uncovered.
ASU burned all three of their first half time outs early, but none of the instances involved the new play clock rules. That's settling and unsettling at the same time, especially late in the 2nd quarter when Rudy clearly needed a timeout, started walking to the sideline and his teammates had to scream at him to get back to the line. It was an eyebrow raiser; the Devils have never tended to have problems managing time outs, but last night they had to use them early and often.
Overall, I'm not overly satisfied with the blowout win, but I'm pretty hard to impress anyway. Frankly, the thing I'm happiest about is the fact that under Dennis Erickson, ASU is finally doing what they're supposed to do. They're beating the teams they are supposed to beat, and they did that last night when his team blew out Stanford. UNLV is next...they lost handily to Utah this past week, and they definitely have some kinks to work out before September 20.
Photo Credit: ESPN.com