September 4, 2008

Sun Devils ready to air out new philosophy

The 2008 version of the Sun Devils may prove to be quite a bit different stylistically than the team that last year finished third in the nation in time of possession and second in the Pac-10 in rushing attempts according to coach Dennis Erickson.

ASU called 18 run plays against Northern Arizona on Saturday despite leading big throughout the game, largely due to the Lumberjacks' decision to pack the tackle box with eight and nine defensive players a majority of the time.

It was in stark contrast to the start of the 2007 season, when ASU called 46 run plays in its win over San Jose State. In fact, it was fewer than any regular season game last season by 11 carries.

"Our football team, right now philosophically is we're going to come out flaming," Erickson said following practice Wednesday. "If they kick people out of [the box] and stop it then we'll run. It's a little different that what we were a year ago where we ran it and when they brought guys down in [the box] then we threw it. We're a little different philosophically this year."

NAU's unique defensive style -- playing its linebackers tight to the defensive line and in the traditional running gaps -- may have exaggerated ASU's approach somewhat, but there is no doubt the Sun Devils were able to easily take advantage of the one-on-one opportunities afforded to quarterback Rudy Carpenter and his receivers.

Senior Mike Jones had six catches for 162 yards, sophomore Kerry Taylor had four catches for 93 yards and one touchdown and six Sun Devils had more than one reception. Carpenter tied a school-record with 13 consecutive completions and had 388 passing yards in two-and-a-half quarters.

Stanford may provide a better defensive test than the Lumberjacks, but that remains to be seen. Even though the Cardinal return anywhere between nine to 11 defensive starters (depending on whom you ask and how you calculate it), they finished dead last in pass defense in the Pac-10 last season, giving up 266.2 yards per game in the air.

Still, Erickson said on Wednesday that Stanford is a formidable opponent, coming off an opening game win against Oregon State on Saturday.

"Stanford to me is the most improved football team in our league that I've seen," Erickson said. "I'm not just talking about what happened [against] Oregon State. I'm talking about as your track them back through last year, I've watched every tape on them last year and this game (and) the improvement that they've made, how they play physically, the attitude under coach (Jim) Harbaugh is an unbelievable improvement.

"From winning the big game (against USC) to beating Oregon State, they've got a lot of momentum going and they deserve it because they're playing real physical on both sides of the ball. With Gerhart running it, their offensive front's back, they're very physical. To me, looking at time, we're going to have to play our rear ends off."

Walking wounded

Jones left practice early on Tuesday following a "freak incident" throwing the football around with teammates and had an MRI on Wednesday which revealed a slightly sprained Achilles Heel. Though he was not dressed out fully, Jones worked on the side.

"He ran pretty good today," Erickson said. "I would be surprised if he didn't play" against Stanford.

Senior running back Keegan Herring again missed practice due to a sore right hamstring, though he appeared to be moving around better than on Tuesday. Herring will be a game time decision, Erickson said.

Fellow running back Shaun DeWitty appears close to 100 percent as he returns from his own hamstring strain. He could be used in certain situations on Saturday as long as he doesn't have a set back between now and then.

The team's top tackler from the NAU game, linebacker Mike Nixon was out Wednesday with strep throat but Erickson said he expected Nixon to play against Stanford.

Defensive shift

ASU's second-team defensive line will have a different look on Saturday. True freshman Lawrence Guy has been moved from left end to left tackle. Classmate Jamaar Jarrett is set to play at right end while redshirt freshman James Brooks has shifted back to left end.

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