Tuesday, September 22

Get thee behind me, Satan: The Arizona State preview.


OK. I mean, I hope we kick their asses and everything, but still, I kinda like this li'l guy.

Hometown: Tempe, Arizona.

Last season: Opened 2-0 but went over the handlebars at home against UNLV (just in time to make sure Georgia would get minimal credit for winning out in Tempe, naturally). The UNLV loss kicked off a six-game skid that ended only when the Sun Devils had the good fortune of facing the three worst teams in the Pac-10 back-to-back-to-back in November; closed out the season by getting hammered at Arizona and finished 5-7 (4-5 Pac-10) and unranked.

Hate index: Two and a half, down from seven last year. Now that Rudy Carpenter is off inflicting his bitchface on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, I don't really have a problem with the Sun Devils: Their mascot is kind of an awesome little bastard, the hotness of their coed population is nothing short of staggering -- seriously, everything you've heard about them is true, it was like Ole Miss West out there -- and they were, for the most part, super nice to us when we came to their house last fall. Maybe it was the intimidation factor at having been bum-rushed by something on the order of 20,000 barking, red-pants-clad grown men and women in a single weekend, but either way, hats off, ASU.

Associated hottie: Tough call here, for as I've indicated, you can probably yank any random coed off ASU's campus and have a better than three-in-four chance of ending up with someone worthy of inclusion here. But Lauren Thompson, former Arizona State cheerleader and current Phoenix Suns dancer, is pretty much the alumna equivalent of the nuclear option: She ends all debate in one fell swoop.





According to the best estimates, there are currently a little over 3.376 billion female human beings on earth, and looking like that seems downright unfair to at least 3,375,999,947 of them.

What excites me: The bad news is, Arizona State currently ranks first in the nation in total defense, allowing a paltry 149.5 yards per game. Here's the good news: That ranking has been constructed on a résumé consisting only of Idaho State (which isn't even a good team by I-AA standards; they haven't had a winning season since 2003) and Louisiana Monroe (good against Nick Saban, lousy against most other folks; haven't had a winning season since joining I-A in 1994). If the Sun Devils think they're going to stifle an offense for the third straight game, they've got another thing coming. The ASU front seven, which has held opponents under 4.0 yards per carry in each of the last three seasons, appears fairly stout, but the slightly undersized secondary has a pair of new starters at the safety positions who combined for all of 25 tackles last season. Last year's game in Tempe, you'll recall, was A.J. Green's big coming-out party as a superstar receiver (eight catches for 159 yards and a score), and while the Sun Devils will almost certainly be more prepared for him this time around, double-covering A.J. will only open things up for Mike Moore, who's establishing himself as quite a presence in the slot.

ASU's biggest weakness, however, is probably their offensive line; outside of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, I can't think of any coach whose struggles to put together a decent O-line have been more inexplicable than Dennis Erickson's. In his two years in Tempe, the Sun Devils have hung their QBs out for a staggering 89 sacks, third-most in the nation during that span behind only Virginia Tech and Hawaii; no wonder Rudy Carpenter always looked like he was in such a bad mood. The rushing attack has suffered as well, ranking 78th and 114th in the nation in yards per game those two years. Four of five guys come back on the Devils' line this season, and supposedly they've got more linemen on scholarship now than they've had in quite a while; given that and the fact that we only sacked the supposedly Everest-immobile Ryan Mallett twice last week, it probably wouldn't be wise to assume we're going to key in on ASU's Danny Sullivan, even though he's probably no more of a running threat than Mallett was. UL-Monroe, however, did manage to take Sullivan down three times last week (one of those sacks resulting in an intentional-grounding call), and also dropped his backup for a sack. With the Sun Devils' leading rusher, Dimitri Nance, totaling only 113 yards so far and the team as a whole averaging only 4.3 yards per rush despite the weak competition they've faced, I would expect Georgia's stoutness against the run to continue.


Saw a whoooole lot of this in Tempe last year, but that doesn't mean I got tired of it.

The Devils have also struggled on special teams the last couple years, ranking 71st in the nation last year in kickoff-return yardage allowed and 67th on punts. Whether they kick it short to prevent a big runback, like Arkansas did, or gamble and kick it deep, we should enjoy fairly decent field position for most of the night.

What worries me: ASU may have had more than their fair share of trouble with pass protection and the running game over the past couple seasons, but after the last two games, is anyone on the Georgia side prepared to state unequivocally that we're not going to wind up in another shootout? The Sun Devils' receiving corps is neither notably large nor especially experienced (last year's leading receiver, Michael Jones, has graduated), but if we leave them as wide-open as we left the Arkansas receivers, there's no telling what they'll be able to do.

And here's the biggest (and most unsettling) discrepancy you're likely to see amongst any of the statistical comparisons between the Dawgs and Devils: Georgia is 116th in the country in turnover margin at -7; the best team in I-A is . . . Arizona State, who's averaging +4 per game. Three-quarters of those takeaways have been interceptions thrown by QBs who were a) trying to pass their way out of deep deficits and b) probably not real good to begin with, but trust me, I'm not about to get cocky here: Most of our giveaways have been of the silver-platter variety, so I'm not convinced the Devils will even have to work all that hard to force them in the first place. I'd love to give you some tangible, practical reasons why I don't think Georgia will cough up the ball all over the place in the first quarter and enter the second facing a 10-point deficit, but I don't have any to give.

Finally, Arizona State should be able to go toe-to-toe with us on special-teams returns -- Kyle Williams was fourth in the nation in punt returns last year and managed a respectable 23.3 yards per kickoff return; this year the Sun Devils are first in the nation with a staggering 50.75 yards per return on KOs. Again, weak competition and all that, but this is another one of those categories in which Georgia (108th nationally in KO coverage) really doesn't have any claim to superiority.

Player who needs to have a big game: CB Prince Miller. It does not make me a master of gridiron insight to suggest that Georgia's pass defense has been the most glaringly deficient unit over the past couple weeks, and if Willie Martinez isn't going to change anything about this situation, maybe Miller, the most experienced player in our secondary, is going to have to. Time to show some leadership and show those young'uns how it's done, Prince. Making sure you're within, oh, five yards of a receiver when the ball is released would probably help.

What does it all mean? If the sheer mystery of the relatively untested Arkansas squad had you popping Tums last week all the way up to midnight Saturday, guess what: You're not done with the antacids yet, because Arizona State is every bit as untested and unknown as the Razorbacks were going into Saturday night. Danny Sullivan might be a huge dropoff from Rudy Carpenter, or he might be OK. The offensive line may have improved, or they might be every bit as godawful as the past couple years. Their pass defense might be cringing in fear of having to face A.J. Green again, or maybe they're going to man up and be on our receivers like a Snuggie all night. With Idaho State and ULM their only tests so far, it's pretty much impossible to say anything conclusive at this point.

While the Sun Devils may be an enigma, though, Georgia has been establishing some patterns, a lot of them negative. And it doesn't matter whether ASU is a secret Pac-10 sleeper or another mediocre also-ran, we've proven ourselves quite capable of dropping a fat early lead right into their hands via turnovers. Do you realize that without the 10 free points we handed South Carolina in the first quarter, we would've been leading the Gamecocks 31-13 at halftime and could've spent the rest of the night keying in on that passing game that gave us such fits? Or that without that pair of one-play touchdown drives Arkansas got thanks to our turnovers, we could've won 52-27 and made Joe Cox the story of the game rather than Ryan Mallett? Instead, we did everything in our power to make manageable games more difficult, handing our opponents free points at a time when our defense is already under the gun. Between that and the penalties we've started incurring -- shades of last year's frustrations -- we're nowhere near disciplined enough right now to be assuming a win over the Sun Devils.


Yeah, Arkansas went 5-7 last year, too -- didn't stop them from scaring the feces out of us.

Which is a shame, because we've shown impressive proficiency in a lot of the areas, particularly on offense, in which we had the biggest question marks coming into this season; on paper, I think we are more talented, top to bottom, than ASU. Protect the ball and restrain ourselves from false-starting all over creation, and we'd be a good bet to cover the twelve-and-a-half-point spread that looked so inflated to me when I first saw it the other day. ASU couldn't cover A.J. Green to save their lives last year, and it's not going to be any easier now that they also have to worry about Mike Moore (and Aron White or Orson Charles on top of that); the biggest thing keeping the running game from jumping off right now is our unwillingness to stick with it long enough to let it get into a rhythm.

But I think we've got a fistful of dumbass penalties in store for Saturday night and a couple more turnovers of the inexplicable-brain-fart variety, and here's why: We're a banged-up team right now, and more to the point, a none-too-fresh one. We've played three games, two of them a thousand miles from home, two of them grueling affairs that went nearly four hours. Not the kind of circumstances that make for a particularly focused or disciplined team. The Sun Devils have been hit with nearly as many penalties per game as we have, and this time they're the ones having to travel across the continent for a game, so I guess we can always hope they'll match us dumb mental error for dumb mental error. Regardless, though, I'm steeling myself for at least one turnover gift-wrapped and presented to the Sun Devils deep in our own territory, complemented by a handful of blown coverages that allow Sullivan to look far more heroic than he otherwise should.

Final score? If we only have a couple turnovers and/or keep the margin even, we beat the Sun Devils again, though still not by twelve and a half -- probably a single touchdown, for which we should be grateful. But if our luck reservoir has run dry -- and let nobody forget just how very lucky we've been to overcome early double-digit deficits two weeks in a row -- Arizona State will have every opportunity to win this game, don't think that they won't. We can either buckle down and play like we know we're capable of or create another situation where we have to move heaven and earth (and work poor Joe Cox to death) to pull out a win, it's our choice.

If you're trash-talking: "Scoreboard," obvs. There's also the line from the "Pray Anything" episode of "The Simpsons" in which Ned Flanders observes that "Heaven's easier to get into than Arizona State." And unless I miss my guess, come 3 in the afternoon on Saturday you'll be able to point and laugh at all the Arizonans you see staggering through downtown Athens, soaked to the bone in sweat, begging for a quick, painless death simply to be relieved from the 90-percent humidity.

And should you ever begin to feel guilty at taking so much pleasure in any other fan base's misery, remember they're the same school that produced these jagoffs.

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I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment wearing nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions if: Georgia manages to end the night with a win and an even or positive turnover margin. Last week I set zero turnovers as a condition of the bet, and more than one of my Twitter followers suggested I was deliberately setting the bar too high just so I wouldn't have to do a flag run. Rest assured, I have way too big an exhibitionist streak to be all that cowed about showing my bare ass in public, but just to allay anyone's fears about me having gone all prude on you, I'll settle for the Dawgs even managing to break even in TOs for the first time all season. YOU HAPPY NOW??

4 comments:

Stretchdavis said...

Larry Munson, move over. Kyle at Dawgsports claims that he's become depressive Kyle, but you're leaving him in the dust, too. The turnovers and pass coverage are awful, I grant you, but we've been blessed with two of the most exciting games I have ever seen in the past two weeks. I hope the funeral march on this blog comes to an end after your first flag run. Still amusing, and we readers appreciate your thoroughness. I just hope you take as much joy in the positives as you do misery in the negatives.

Seth said...

I can see that you are a student of the Lou Holtz School of Poormouthing. As am I. Great preview. We could either lose this game by 3-10 points, or blow the doors off them by 21. Yes, the past two games have been exciting, but my heart(as well as my wife and kids) is having a hard time with this roller coaster. Is it to much to ask for one coasting victory before Nov. 7?

Universal Remonster said...

Nicely done. And I was also going to make a comment regarding the high bar you had been setting for your flag run... methinks this could be the weekend you will finally find your loins flapping in the breeze.

Erik said...

You miss your guess, Doug. You've not been to AZ when it's hot. I've done various hellish parts of Florida, Louisiana, Texas... I'll take whatever 99deg/99%-like weather you care to name over straight-up 120F.