Thursday, December 11, 2008

So, what WILL RC's legacy be?

Let's get one thing out of the way here...does that Debacle in the Desert really need to be recapped?


A week of work and having to talk ad nauseum about this game makes me wretch over...and over...and over...

You knew from the start, when Rudy Carpenter sailed a pass about 7 yards too tall for Kyle Williams on the first play of the game, that it wasn't going to be the Devils night.

Either way, the loss to Arizona, their first since the infamous Matt Miller game in 2004, was ugly, heartwrenching and a despicable end to a disappointing and seemingly neverending 2008.

A 2008 that started with sky-high expectations for a repeat 10-win season.

A 2008 that started in the top-25 and picked to be the 2nd best team in the Pac-10.

A 2008 that was supposed to define Rudy Carpenter's legacy at Arizona State University.

That last one certainly happened. And unfortunately for RC, in my mind, it's not a good one.

Rudy put up some tremendously gaudy numbers throughout the first three seasons of his career, especially his freshman and junior seasons in Maroon and Gold. The other two 2006 and 2008...were nothing short of a disappointment. So does that make it any easier to say that Rudy just had an average career?

That's a tough assessment to make based on his numbers...finishing in the top 10 in Pac-10 passing history, buoyed mainly by a pass happy offense (save 2006) and big play receivers (save 2008).

So, the question begs...what is Rudy Carpenter's legacy?

Here's my assesment: Rudy Carpenter will go down in ASU history as the toughest damn quarterback in the history of the football program, but his petulant attitude toward the media and the public, his temper and his failure to perform in the biggest games cements his status as someone who never lived up to whatever potential he had.

Rudy burst onto the scene in 2005 after Sam Keller went down with a busted hand and tore up the nation. We all know that he set an NCAA freshman record in passer rating that season, throwing 17 touchdown passes to only 2 picks; all but two of those touchdown passes coming after the start of that ridiculous game at Stanford where Keller left the game down 45-7 to the the lowly Cardinal and RC nearly bringing the Devils all the way back. He led the Devils to a last-second victory over Arizona to avenge the previous year's defeat and set all kinds of bowl game records in the shootout win over Rutgers in the Insight Bowl.

There was tremendous excitement in Tempe after that. Keller was healthy again and Carpenter was coming off of an unreal end of '05, leading the Devils and Dirk Koetter to what became the most bizarre quarterback controversy in recent memory.

And that's when it all started to unravel. That 24-hour period between the 2006 Friday night Fall Scrimmage and the conclusion of that Saturday's practice became, in retrospect, the biggest red flag about Carpenter's mindset and attitude. We might never know what exactly happened to make Dirk change his mind, prompting Keller to transfer to (and subsequently flounder at) Nebraska.

We've all heard the stories...RC lobbied the team one by one to tell DK to change his mind...Rudy's dad called Dirk to tell him that his son was to start or he'd transfer...the players were all on Rudy's side and mutinized to get Carpenter to start the job...we probably will never know what happened and what the actual true story is. What we do know is that after a strong start against weak opponents, Rudy imploded against Cal, Oregon and USC...throwing four picks against the Golden Bears and putting out the pathetic 33-yard performance against the Ducks.

He had a tremendous game against Arizona that season, throwing three first quarter touchdowns and vaulting the Devils to a 28-14 win over the Wildcats, sending the Devils to a drubbing at the hands of Hawai'i in their bowl game.

Then Dirk was fired. And all the while, there weren't any substantive quarterback recruits rolling into Tempe. Danny Sullivan started hanging around while Derek Shaw and other quarterbacks transfered out. It was pretty set that Rudy was going to be the starter for the long haul and that noone was going to challenge him.

2007 was, undoubtedly, the culmination of a strong running game, a fresh attitude in the locker room and, of course, a perfectly set up schedule. It's just unfortunate that Rudy was on his back for most of it.

Last season was the one that exacerbated Rudy's many glaring issues; his temper, his big mouth and his inability to throw the ball away when he's flushed and out of options. Rudy was sacked 54 times in that 10-3 season, 19 of those sacks coming in the Devils three losses to Oregon, USC and Texas. Even Stanford's pathetic pass rush got to RC 6 times. On so many of those sacks, we were all screaming at Carpenter to throw the ball away...a concept he just never seemed to grasp.

Like it or not, though, the Devils did win 10 games, boosted by tremendous performances by his supporting cast; Mike Jones, Chris McGaha, Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring all played out of their minds all season. However, in the three games the Devils lost, and in only the Oregon game was ASU in any way competitive, Rudy shut down. All the while, Rudy had issues running his mouth off the field. He likes to call it "swagger."

That swagger caught up to him in the Holiday Bowl, where he took every opportunity to rip on the Texas defense in the runup to the game. Then, RC threw for the least yards of any game that season, was sacked four times, threw two picks and was then serenaded by the Longhorns sideline in the waning moments of the loss.

The problems grew worse during that offseason.

During an ASU loss to Washington State at Wells Fargo Arena last January, we all remember Rudy showing up to the arena in a hot pink shirt and just walking around the student section as if he was waiting for someone to acknowledge his presence. He then...allegedly (since I didn't see it first hand)...chased a student down a ramp outside the arena, shouting homophobic slurs and making "WHAT SPORT DO YOU PLAY?" the hot slang term on campus in Tempe.

Then came this past disaster of a football season that we'll look back on and try to forget.

The win over Stanford early on looked promising...but of course, it was the last win we'd see for 2 months. During the Devils six game losing streak this season, RC threw just 6 TD passes against 6 interceptions...his highest yardage total was just 242 (and that was in the UNLV OT loss)...and he failed to even hit 200 yards against the teams that victimized him every year...Cal, USC and Oregon.

On the field, that swagger was gone. He began wearing a mouthpiece again, saying he didn't deserve to be able to talk that much and didn't want to give the younger players a bad impression.

Throughout the season, off the field, Rudy became more combative. He never was a quote machine by any means, but it became increasingly difficult to get fulfilling answers to questions. It came to a head during one press conference when, knowing he'd face a multitude of questions about his injury situation, told all of us that he didn't have any answers to our questions. He stopped doing interviews during the week, only meeting the media on Monday afternoons and after games. During the press conference after the Devils beat UCLA 34-9, with none of the credit due to Rudy's offense, he answered one question, alluding to the fact that his unit should just "punt on 1st down," and left.

Finally, only a few days removed from the biggest game of the year; a "season saver" for many fans and boosters; a game that would give the Devils an extra couple weeks of practice and a program record 5th straight bowl game....and so on....Rudy got himself kicked out of a girls high school basketball game.

Rudy, without any surprise, vehemently denied anything happened. However, who am I supposed to believe? Either:

A) the petulant starting quarterback who's underperformed all year and would deny any wrongdoing anyway...or
B) a respected Valley columnist who I know for a fact would not report anything unless he knew for a fact it was true?

100% of the time, I'm going to go with Dan Bickley.

I don't necessarily agree with Bickley that Rudy should be "at home with his playbook," but let's be realistic here...during UofA week...the last place I want my team's starting quarterback to be is getting himself kicked out of a high school basketball game.

Rudy told Bickley that he was an "innocent bystander" and that he was "tired of defending himself." Sorry, RC, but it's the simple matter of being a public figure and starting quarterback for a big time college program; everything you do will be scrutinzed and picked apart. Why even put yourself in that situation? As someone very smart once told me, "Athletes are never off limits, so be careful with everything you do."

Oh, and you want to play this game professionally? A world where EVERYTHING upon EVERYTHING will be scrutinized? Better get used to it.

After the game was over, three separate people told me on good authority that when he was approached by reporters after the loss in Tucson last week, he apparently shouted that columnists like Bickley and Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune never said anything nice about him.

Ahem. If I may quote.

"Under a backdrop of heightened pressure, ASU's football team responded with its best performance of the season. The defense was stout. The offense was aggressive and dynamic. And the Rudy Carpenter we all remember from last season finally took the reins." -Bickley, 11/12/06

"Rudy Carpenter is stress-free, and it shows. His unbeaten team has moved into college football's high-rent district. He no longer is required to run to the sideline between plays, as he did under the previous regime. Best of all, no one in Tempe is muttering a word about Nebraska or Sam Keller." -Bickley, 10/24/07

"A real football player never acknowledges his own toughness. Pain is simply part of the process, and pushing it aside is part of the warrior code. But in Arizona, we are lucky. These suddenly compelling, possibly exhilarating football seasons wouldn't be possible without the great moxie on display from the Cardinals' Kurt Warner and the Sun Devils' Rudy Carpenter, a pair of ask-no-quarter quarterbacks." -Bickley, 11/21/07

"There is an inordinate number of ASU fans who never have embraced Carpenter. When he threw two interceptions against Texas in the Holiday Bowl last December, and backup Danny Sullivan led ASU to two meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter, there was talk that Sullivan should be the starter this season. The criticism of Carpenter is inexplicable. He started every game last season despite playing with a torn ligament in his thumb and behind an offensive line that allowed 55 sacks." -Bordow, 8/3/08

You know...those sound pretty good to me.

All in all...the best single word I can come up with to describe Rudy's career at ASU is "tumultuous."

But I still have a feeling that we'll all be missing his better days when our new quarterback is struggling to grasp Dennis Erickson's offense.

I guess it all comes down to one of RC's last on-the-record quotes of his career at ASU..."What else am I supposed to do?"

If hindsight is 20/ had a lot of work to do, Rudy.


Nick said...

A fine persepective on the divisive career of one of the strangest careers I have seen. What stook with me the most at the end of this season was how many times he felt the need to assert his statistics and accomplishments during his brief conversations with the media, which, as you suggested, were always without substance. Why at the end of his career did he feel the need to remind people of that? A QB shouldn't be their own stat sheet.

As a football player I think Rudy Carpenter acheived what Rudy Carpenter was capable of acheiving. When looked at next to the likes of the Colt McCoys and the Tim Tebows of the world, though, it is clear RC left ASU fans wanting when it came to other aspects of being a quarterback and team leader.

Anonymous said...

His legacy will be mostly negative. I consider him a below average quarterback. Talk about his gaudy numbers, has anyone checked to see if he has these records---most loses,most fumbles,most interceptions,most sacks? I've see a lot of ASU quarterbacks. I consider all of these better than Rudy---John Torok,Joe Spagnola,Danny White,Dennis Sproul,Mark Malone,Mike Pagel,Jeff Van Raphorst,Paul Justin,Jake Plummer,and Andrew Walter. So that would make Rudy number 11 on my list,and I may have left someone out--Ryan Kealy or Todd Hons.

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