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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Arizona State

Georgia is just two days away from taking on the Arizona State Sun Devils in Sanford Stadium, and since Dawgs fans don't get to see too much of the Pac-10 foe, I figured we'd better get some firsthand info from someone who knows the team inside and out. So, I traded some emails with Arizona Republic beat writer Jeff Metcalfe, who was kind enough to share his insight on this week's game...

David Hale: In two games since the Rudy Carpenter era, Arizona State's offense has looked pretty impressive. The opposition, however, was hardly top-notch. So... what do we really know about Danny Sullivan and how good is the Sun Devils' offense really?

Jeff Metcalfe: Sullivan, a first-year starter as a senior, is proving to be a capable game manager, which is what is being asked of him. He has no interceptions in two games and is throwing the ball away when necessary to help a still young/developing offensive line. He is not mobile but playing mostly out of the shotgun in ASU's new spread offense is limiting his negative plays. In the big picture, much still needs to be learned about the offense, but there seems little doubt that it's improved from a year ago.

DH: Georgia was burned badly by the deep ball against Arkansas a week ago. Has Dennis Erickson been drooling over the film, and what are the odds the Sun Devils try to air it out early and often this week?

JM: ASU's offense is designed to get the ball into the hands of playmakers underneath and on slants more than to stretch the field. I don't expect that to change against Georgia. It makes the most sense for ASU to play ball control/field possession, rely on its defense and not get into a shootout, which it almost certainly would lose.

DH: The offensive line has been an ongoing problem for ASU for a couple of years, and now two of the starters are battling injuries. What is the status of Zach Schlink and Garth Gerhart for this game, and how do you think the line might fare against Georgia's big defensive tackles?

JM: Gerhart (turf toe) is expected to play against Georgia but probably will continue as the backup center to Thomas Altieri. Schlink remains out due to his latest knee surgery. The left side of ASU's line -- tackle Shawn Lauvao and guard Jon Hargis -- is the strength although out of the spread the tailbacks seems to be finding a variety of holes. It will be a major challenge to step up to the likes of Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens and could require ASU to play some double tight end, which it really doesn't want to do.

DH: Most people know Dexter Davis at this point, but who are a few of the other playmakers to watch on Arizona State's defense? The Sun Devils kept the game relatively low scoring a year ago. Do you think they can do the same this season against Georgia's apparently explosive offense?

JM: ASU probably has its best defense since the Pat Tillman era (1996-97). DT Lawrence Guy was a Freshman All-America; the linebacker corps is talented and deep with seniors Mike Nixon, Gerald Munns and Travis Goethel backed by Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons and Vontaze Burfict, the latter trio from Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School. Burfict is the highest rated recruit ever to sign with ASU (No. 9 overall, Rivals). Nixon led the Pac-10 in interceptions last year and is No. 2 nationally this season. With improved speed, ASU is able to blitz more and play more nickel coverage. The secondary is the most vulnerable area, clearly a concern against Joe Cox, and ASU must keep pressure up front to help the back.

DH: Arkansas' DBs talked a little smack about A.J. Green before last week's game, and he responded with a 137-yard, two-touchdown performance. Any bulletin board material coming out of Tempe? Who gets the task of trying to stop Green this week, and how's he planning to do it?

JM: I don't know of anything flames coming from ASU, and most players know they have no room to talk even if so inclined. Last year was humbling, and they were very focused on not tripping up last week against Louisiana-Monroe like they did last year against UNLV before Georgia. No one here is fooling themselves into believing they proved much of anything in the first two games other than taking care of immediate business. ASU will try to play zone coverage in the secondary and stay out of man as much as possible. Omar Bolden is the most experienced corner and had an interception on the 1-yard line last week to stop a likely score. The safeties are new although the starters are seniors and untested at this level.

DH: Arizona State's All-America kicker missed last week's game. What are the odds he's back in time for the game against Georgia, and what do we know about the walk-on who might take his place?

JM: After a MRI, Thomas Weber is out for five or six games with a groin injury. That's a monster loss since he scored a school record 20 points including five field goals in the season opener. True freshman Bobby Wenzig made a short field goal and five extra points against Monroe but was short on kickoffs. He has 47-yard range. Nixon, who kicked in high school, could be called on for kickoffs against Georgia. Losing Weber for half a season is a major blow to a team that relies on its defensive/kicking game.

Big thanks to Jeff for his help. You can read his work at the Arizona Republic HERE or check out his blog HERE for all the latest news.


stuart said...

Great post. I am looking forward to this game!

Phil said...


I'm glad we have something else to focus on other than ourselves now. I was perusing the ASU message boards earlier and they seem to think that they have a really, really, very, very outstandingly good D (sarcasm intended). Any truth to this at all or are they just talking some noise?

David Hale said...

Well the numbers say they have a good D, but that'll happen when you don't play anyone of substance and you have an off week to prepare for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

I will say though, they played UGA tough defensively last year when the Dawgs had Stafford and Moreno (although they couldn't stop AJ at all) so there may be some merit to that.

I just don't think that ASU is anywhere near as good as UGA, but we've seen that work against the Dawgs before.