October 4, 2008
ASU's lost its swagger
The Arizona State football team had no chance to win Saturday's game at Cal. At least it didn't appear to believe so on the field.
The Sun Devils came out uninspired, emotionless and without any swagger, but most importantly they didn't seem to have any confidence.
So when the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium read 0:00 and Cal had beat ASU 24-14, there shouldn't have been too much surprise among the Sun Devil faithful.
In the two weeks leading up to the game, the players said all the right things.
They promised they weren't fazed coming off of two consecutive losses. They were confident the team would be able to bounce back.
ASU has even practiced well since its last loss.
Practices were intense and physical; the players seemed to backing up all their talk.
But from the opening kickoff Saturday afternoon, all that hard work seemingly went for nothing.
ASU is now 2-3 and 1-1 in the Pac-10; this isn't how the year was supposed to go.
Coming into the season everyone knew the schedule was tough, but still there were high expectations for the 2008 team.
In early August, ASU was picked to finish second in the conference and there was even some talk about earning a BCS berth.
Now ASU will have to fight just to make a bowl game.
The 23-20 overtime loss to UNLV on Sept. 13 did more damage to ASU more than that mid-August storm did to the practice bubble.
Not even the $1 million that is about to be spent to fix the bubble could pump life back into this team now.
Since the UNLV game, ASU has tried everything to regain its confidence and swagger.
It has replaced five starters since then, but nothing has changed.
Saturday, it almost seemed like those guys had spent more energy in practice earning their starting spots than they did on the field.
But a lot of the swagger issues begin with the player who has been starting for the past 36 games, not the new guys.
A season ago, quarterback Rudy Carpenter had everything going his way.
He seemingly did whatever he wanted on the football field, and he always let the defense know about it.
That's his style.
He's was very confident, dangerously close to cocky, but that's what ASU needed. It set the tone.
He jawed opponents all the way to a 10-win season.
When Carpenter got knocked down in 2007 - and it happened a lot - you better believe he was going to have some words for the defense when he stood back up.
And when he completed a long or difficult pass, the whole opposing sideline knew about it.
That's how he showed his confidence.
Carpenter took a lot of criticism for his on-field antics throughout the 2007 campaign, but he didn't change what he was doing.
ASU was winning and that's all that mattered.
This season has been a different story.
The senior signal caller has been emotionless on the field and ASU is below .500 for the first time in three years.
You don't see Carpenter mixing it up with the opposing defense this season.
It's almost like he lost his swagger and his performance has suffered.
Carpenter has been missing some easy passes, not finding open wide receivers and not making the big-time plays he did a year ago.
On a play at Sun Devil Stadium last season, Carpenter fumbled the ball, picked it up, and completed a big pass down the field. Then he let the defense know about it.
At one point Saturday, he was flushed out of the pocket, ran around for a while in the backfield, and threw the ball too late and too short in the direction of Kyle Williams. The pass that potentially could have earned ASU six points was intercepted.
Those two plays are a microcosm of ASU's past two seasons.
In 2007, everything went right. In 2008 everything has gone wrong.
And it's not only Carpenter who doesn't seem to be playing with the same fire that he did a year ago.
The crowd at the Masters is rowdier than the ASU sideline during games.
Nobody is hyped up. Nobody is cheering for their teammates the way they should be.
When Williams made a 30-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to bring ASU within 10 points at the time, there didn't appear to be much celebration.
His teammates didn't mob him in the end zone. Williams simply set the ball down and headed back to the sideline.
It was like the Sun Devils already knew how the game would turn out.
And that lack of swagger, confidence and excitement extends to the coaching staff too.
Coach Dennis Erickson keeps saying that you have to run the ball to be successful, but obviously that isn't working.
Erickson wants his team to be physical and pound it down the opponents' throat, but there's no Ryan Torain on this team.
It became even more obvious Saturday that Keegan Herring is ASU's best running back, and he is all about finesse.
He shines outside the tackles and in the open field, not up the middle.
After the Georgia game, Carpenter said many of his short passes were more like runs, but at least they were effective.
If the Sun Devils keep checking the ball down, defenses will have to put more men in the box which will open up the long passes.
Something has to change for ASU to salvage this season.
The Sun Devils have to remember that they have the talent to compete with anyone in the conference and start playing like it.
ASU needs to find whatever it had last year quickly, because if not things could get real ugly real fast.
ASU plays USC next weekend then following a bye it faces Oregon.
2-5 is a real possibility and if that happens, who knows how the season will end up.
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