December 4, 2007

Part II: UA Report Card

The No. 11 ranked ASU football team earned its 10th victory of the regular season for the first time since 1996 with a 20-17 victory over the University of Arizona in front of a sold out crowd at Sun Devil Stadium. After falling behind early to an opponent for the seventh consecutive game, the Sun Devils took over in the second half with stellar play from both sides of the ball. It was a complete team effort on senior night, and all 27 were sent out the right way.

Special Teams

"I was so impressed by [Senior defensive tackle Mike Marquardt]. That was a big arm. It was like a big bear claw that took the ball out of the air." -- ASU senior tight end Tyrice Thompson.

Marquardt blocked a field goal which proved to be the difference in the game. It was the third blocked kick of the season for ASU. Redshirt freshman Thomas Weber connected on two field goals from 19 and 21 yards out and earned Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week. Weber is now tied for the Pac-10 record for most field goals made by a freshman (22). While the offense sputtered in the red zone, Weber again proved to be reliable. Throw in a blocked kick that impacted the game early, and the special teams will earn a A.

Standout Peformer: Weber. How clutch has Weber been this year? He is sixth on ASU's all-time single-season scoring list with 108 points.

Defensive Line

"In the trenches, there are a lot of things that take place that a lot of you guys don't know about. It is scary place. There are a lot of words and cheap shots. I have to hand it to our guys who played in the trenches this game. A lot of the plays were carried on their shoulders." -- Marquardt.

The Ben Goo award winner for Territorial Cup MVP, Marquardt made several key plays in the victory over UA. He blocked a field goal and recovered a fumble. Also impacting the game, sophomore defensive end Dexter Davis finished the game with two sacks. Perhaps even more important than pressuring UA quarterback Willie Tuitama, the defensive line played a large role in holding UA to 44 net yards rushing. Because they were able to control the line of scrimmage, the defensive line earned a B.

Standout Performer: Davis. Late in the game with UA looking to cut into ASU's 10-point lead, Davis sacked Tuitama in the red zone, which caused UA to ultimately not score on the drive.

Linebacker

"We kept things underneath us, for the most part. They got one there at the end, but we kept everything underneath us. I thought we tackled well." -- ASU head coach Dennis Erickson.

Against a team that likes to throw horizontally, the ASU linebackers had a nice game making tackles in space. Sophomore inside linebacker Mike Nixon led the Sun Devils with seven tackles. Fellow sophomore Travis Goethel had a monster game. Goethel also finished with seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

The linebackers did a nice job of tackling, especially after their forgettable performance on Thanksgiving against USC. Because they rebounded nicely, the group earned a B+.

Standout Performer: Goethel. Largely overshadowed by senior outside linebacker Robert James throughout the season, Goethel had a big game by leading the team in tackles.

Secondary

"Justin Tryon did a great job. Omar [Bolden] did a good job too, but JT was the guy. He was in [UA receiver Mike Thomas'] face, so they had to make perfect throws. During the game there, a lot of times the ball was a little overthrown or underthrown, or thrown out of bounds. That's because he was covering him so well. We were playing a little bit of man and some zone, and he ended up holding the ball some and we ended up getting sacks. JT, he had a great game." --Erickson.

Thanks to the tight coverage of Tryon and Bolden, UA was unable to get their high-powered pass offense on track. The Wildcats tried several times to throw deep on ASU's corners, but were unable to complete the long attempts. Tryon tied for the team lead with seven tackles, and had four pass-breakups. The safety duo of senior Rodney Cox and junior Troy Nolan each intercepted a pass, with Cox's coming on a Tryon deflection. Against an offense that came into the game averaging 29 points per game, the ASU defense held UA to 17. The secondary had arguably their best performance of the year and earned an A-.

Coaching Staff

"We had a plan of what we had to do in the off-season and a plan of what we needed to do in the spring, and they followed the plan. They did exactly what we wanted them to do. They gave great effort. They did things that we asked them to do. Then we started winning some games, and they started to believe that the gray-haired old man had a little bit of knowledge about what was going on. But they bought in, and they just believe. They believe in each other; they believe in the coaching staff and it's made a big difference. Obviously we've won a lot of close games at the end, and that says a lot for their character." -- Erickson

"I'm just so proud of what they've done since I came here December 18 or 19, whenever I took this job. For them to do what we ask and to end up 10-2, sharing the Pac-10 championship, it's an amazing accomplishment by my coaches and my players. " -- Erickson.

What a remarkable first year for that gray-haired old man. The modest but experienced head coach has brought much more than improved X's and O's to Tempe. He brought confidence and swagger. The 2007 ASU Sun Devils may not go down in history as the most talented team in the Pac-10, but they believed that they could make plays. And more importantly, they never became a victim of a nasty upset like most of the nation did at some point.

Red zone play-calling was a bit suspect in this game, as two trips inside the UA 20-yard line resulted in two Thomas Weber field goals. Other than the lack of execution near the goal line, the coaching staff did a nice job in preparing their squad. Facing a rival school, playing with nothing to lose is certainly not an easy task. It look like the experience of Dennis Erickson has paid off yet again -- this time in the form of having experience in rivalry games. Because they handled business with class, the coaching staff earned an A-.

Standout Performer: Erickson. The gray-haired old man has been a class act. His decision to thank the media for a having a great working relationship after his press conference was a nice touch.


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