We're counting up in the top 25. Today's preview of #16 Arizona State is from Mark Rafferty of Pitchfork Nation. In addition to his preview he takes an early run at breaking down the Arizona State-Georgia intersectional tussle. Enjoy. Much has been said of the Arizona State Sun Devils and their Sept. 20 match-up with the Puppy Dawgs from Georgia. The problem is that it is too early to give a full preview without knowing what players for Georgia will be on the field and which ones will be getting jazzed up for their booking photos. In the Tempe area, the buzz is that this game is going to mirror the '96 Nebraska game where the goalposts were carried down to Mill Avenue after a 19-0 victory over the #1 Huskers. There are some similarities to '96 (like a Summer Olympics preceding the game and an aging war veteran running for commander-in-chief). That's where the similarities end though. Taking down Nebraska in '96 was epic with the Sun Devils ended a potential dynasty that night behind Derrick Rodgers' monster performance, setting the course for their doomed national title run. A big win against Georgia will just heat up the debate of "which conference is better, the Pac-10 or the SEC", even though the Big 12 probably has the best talent this season. Don't get me wrong, I want us to beat Georgia. LSU came into our house in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September of '05 and inexplicably came out with a victory, considering Early Doucet was out of bounds on that 4th down throw from Jamarcus Russell. Nothing would be sweeter than to see ASU beat the #1 team in the nation and notch a victory for the Pac-10. In the back of my mind though, I know Georgia IS returning 18 starters (well maybe 3 by gametime, stay tuned) including Mel Kiper's wet dream at QB and ESPN the Mag and Sporting News coverboy Knowshon Moreno in the backfield. The fans stormed the field rather prematurely in wins over Cal and Arizona (games we should have won anyways), so hopefully we can do it for a worthy cause on September 20th. Our 10-3 record was somewhat of a surprise last season. The 2007 Sun Devils were known to get off to late starts, including early deficits to Colorado and Oregon State only to come back and win big. But whenever ASU played a team with any real talent they floundered. They got it handed to them up at Autzen Stadium, where Omar Bolden tore Dennis Dixon's ACL about 2 quarters too late. USC came down on Thanksgiving and showed us what a real defense was (thanks Rey Maualuga). After another Territorial Cup victory, ASU had high hopes going into the Holiday Bowl against Texas, only to have our QB write checks his ass couldn't cash.
Georgia fits right into this mold of upper-tier teams that ASU thinks they have a shot at. Recent history is working against the Devils, and there's no guarantee that this season's offensive line (0 career starts) will be any better than last year's joke of a protection unit (55 sacks). Here's what to look for in the Sun Devils version 2008. What's a Given: - Mark May giving us the dreaded vote of confidence. - Capitalizing off mistakes. This is how they turned those deficits into big victories in 2007. Even though it wasn't in a winning cause, after Mack Brown's stepson touched that ball in the infamous Holiday Bowl incident, Chris McGaha scored his only TD of the season and the Sun Devils were momentarily back in business. - Keegan Herring turning nothing into something at least once a game - Rudy Carpenter talking too much, yelling at his wide receivers after they mess up on routes, and being praised by analysts as being "tough, gritty and resilient." He's an easy target in more ways than one, especially when you don pink instead of school colors at a home basketball game when it isn't benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation. - Backup QB Danny Sullivan's face to turning to ghostly white when Rudy Carpenter takes too long to get up. - Thomas Weber sealing up another Groza award. He won the award last season with the second worst offensive line in the country (thanks, Notre Dame) protecting him. - Willie Tuitama going 0-4 against ASU, taking his big arm to the wide open spaces of the CFL. What To Watch For: - The use of 5-wide formations, giving Rudy Carpenter the chance to break every major Pac-10 record while padding his stats for the next level. -Stanford in Week 2. With all eyes on September 20th, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to get a scare from the Cardinal, who are looking to avenge the beatdown we gave them in Palo Alto last season. - If we're down a score at USC with the clock winding down, Dennis Erickson will not punt. - Speed - after getting burned by USC, Oregon, and Texas a year ago - look for the Devils to up the tempo on both sides of the ball - Grades - almost everyone qualified academically! This is a new Dennis Erickson! - Teams looking to exploit our secondary with big targets. Considering our linebackers and line are actually pretty solid against the run, watch for Georgia to exploit our small and weak tackling secondary through the use of Mohamed Massaquoi, Kenneth Harris and 6'6 tight end Tripp Chandler. Fred Davis can attribute at least one extra 0 in his signing bonus to our inability to cover the big target. - Even though WR Mike Jones was a late pick in the MLB draft by the Yankees, you may hear Roger Goodell call his name come April. The guy is incredible to watch in person. - Chris McGaha is single-handedly making the White receiver matter again. His only TD was in the Holiday Bowl, but he usually set up most of ASU's goal line situations with big catches.
Key Players - Offense - Dmitri Nance - The thunder to Keegan Herring's lightning - Nance must produce in short yardage and red zone situations to keep defenses guessing at all times. Defense - Terrell Carr - Omar Bolden owns one side of the field - JUCO transfer Terrell Carr will be the CB opposite of Bolden and trying to mark his ownership on the other side of the field. If Carr can turn into a playmaker, he can seal up an ASU secondary that showed flashes of brilliance in 2007. Breakout Players - Offense - Kerry Taylor - A sure-handed sophomore, Taylor will reap the benefits of opponents double covering Mike Jones and Chris McGaha. Defense - Tank English - A massive human being and a brick wall on the D-Line, English can wreak havoc and stuff the run game by himself.