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October 25, 2009

Focus should be on future following thrashing

You didn't need to have had a 4.0 GPA out of high school, a perfect score on the SAT, or even a degree from Stanford to be cognizant of two things Saturday night: this woefully inexperienced Arizona State team is not ready to produce consistent performances on a weekly basis, and Danny Sullivan is not a Pac-10 caliber quarterback.

Coming off a promising performance last Saturday against Washington, ASU was looking for its third straight victory, but was outclassed in every facet of the game by a seemingly much superior Cardinal team. Missed tackles, blown assignments, and atrocious offensive possessions were almost as prevalent tonight for ASU as the empty seats in new Stanford Stadium -- which were several.

Much like the team as a whole, Sullivan looked to build off his impressive performance against the Huskies in his first start in Palo Alto -- just a 25 mile drive from his hometown of Los Gatos, Calif.

In front of nearly 200 supporters (more than he may have in Tempe at the game's conclusion), Sullivan probably wished he could have disappeared into the misty Bay Area fog. He began the night with a short hop and three overthrows that even the receivers standing on the sideline would have had a hard time coming down with.

It didn't get much better from there; although he finished with two touchdown passes and no interceptions, it was hardly a solid performance.

The night for Sullivan consisted of numerous grossly under thrown and wayward passes, incessant miscommunications with receivers, and a downright embarrassing third-down run where -- while gazing directly down at the turf the entire time -- he dove a yard short of a first down with no defenders within a three yard radius.

Sullivan's homecoming culminated with a 4th quarter knee tweak that leaves his status for next week's game against California uncertain, but it's probably time for ASU to move in a different direction at the position anyway.

The fact that running back Toby Gerhart, quarterback Andrew Luck, and a remarkable performance from the Stanford offensive line shredded the lauded Sun Devil defense for nearly for 500 yards of total offense shouldn't come as that great of a surprise to many who follow the team closely.

The ineptness of the final two recruiting classes by Dirk Koetter has manifested itself on a regular basis over the majority of the last two seasons, and tonight was no exception.

Two more crucial, careless penalties by true freshman Vontaze Burfict, Dexter Davis's bimonthly disappearing act in full display, and routes causing safeties Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy to look behind themselves more often than witness-protection program members were just a few of many ASU's downfalls on this night, mired in large part also due to the lack of game experience for the bulk of the defense.

Nine players who are in their first two years of collegiate football see significant action on the defensive side of the ball for the Devils (many of whom play out of necessity), and the majority of them are simply not ready to carry that much of a load.

Different problems (apart from Sullivan) are apparent on offense, where, for whatever reason -- surely it isn't his 5.8 career yards-per-carry average -- head coach Dennis Erickson refuses to play the offense's most dynamic player, sophomore running back Ryan Bass. All Bass did tonight was carry the ball four times…for 30 yards. Bass's pass blocking has been brought into question over recent weeks, but Sullivan has had little to no downfield passing success thus far anyway.

Similarly talented-but-raw players Jamal Miles (who has averaged nearly 10 yards a play since his redshirt was pulled last week), Cameron Marshall (a freakish athlete who has already flashed big-play ability with a 78 yard run), and Gerell Robinson (finally starting to show signs that made him Arizona's top recruit in 08) also seem to get fewer touches than their natural ability would suggest prudent.

It would be hard to presume Erickson prefers upperclassmen, since he already established an ASU record for true freshmen used in a season in 2008, so this issue is puzzling to say the least.

What seems like a very discouraging night for Sun Devil fans needs to be infused with some perspective. Although Erickson's recruiting efforts have been nothing short of brilliant on most areas of the field, consistent success will take time to accumulate. With five games left in the season, ASU would do well to see what they have in their young players (and yes, this includes benching Sullivan permanently).

Comparable performances are almost assuredly imminent regardless, but it could mean more victories next year, and it will certainly entail a more exciting brand of football. Although many fans will refuse to concede, I don't feel you need a Rhodes Scholarship to be qualified in saying that the most important trait to have right now as an ASU supporter is patience: better days are ahead.


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