Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sagarin more impressed than our own fans

While Sun Devil fans continue to pick apart last night's thrashing of Stanford, including insane criticism of Rudy Carpenter here and here, Jeff Sagarin's latest rankings put us at #8 in the nation.

New uniforms made their appearance for the first road game of the season, and much debate ensued. If you had asked me before tonight, I would have told you I preferred gold pants, but I must admit I thought the new maroon pants, with the interlocking AS logo, looked awesome.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Here comes the blitz

Dan Zeiger of the Trib has a good story about the offensive line and their frustrations with pass blocking. There's a passing mention of Oregon State's defensive game plan, which was to force Rudy Carpenter to throw the ball rather than letting ASU get going with the run.

That might seem a little crazy considering Rudy is No. 14 in the nation in passing efficiency and has 11 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions while averaging about 255 yards per game, but that is a reputation ASU earned in 2006. With almost the exact same personnel in 2007, teams are counting on Carpenter and the receivers to log more miscues than big plays. Carpenter's passer rating dropped from an NCAA-leading 175.0 in 2005 to a more average 133.9. The only thing that changed was personnel.

Oregon State saw that on film before rolling ASU in Corvallis: Don't let Rudy and the offense get into a comfortable run/pass rhythm; force Rudy to make plays rather than operating the offense. Last year the receivers were on a different page and when pressed, ASU couldn't deliver. Oregon came to Tempe and held ASU to 33 yards passing.

This year Carpenter and his receivers have been the breakout story as ASU has dug early holes only to explode on teams to the finish, yet the challenge remains the same as defenses intend to force the Devils' passing game to earn their reputation back each game. The good news is defenses have to do this because ASU's running game is strong enough to strike fear into the hearts of opposing coordinators. They have to pay attention to Ryan Torain, Keegan Herring, and that big offensive line. The better news is Carpenter is back to his 2005 form making plays with his feet and finding receivers who are coming back to the QB when things break down. It has helped tremendously that the receiving crew looks like an old-school ASU receiving crew: speed, size, athleticism, attitude.

So what are defenses showing this year? Oregon State came in with a similar game plan as last year on faith that Rudy would show his 2006 colors.

There're two ways to stop a strong running game:

(1) You start with a strong, quick, disciplined defensive line and occasionally blitz from varied angles;

(2) You send numbers into the box.

Oregon State chose Option No. 1 because they are one of two teams ASU will face this year with a strong defensive line. USC would be the other one. They committed six and seven men to the box on first down and forced ASU into converting long second- and third-down opportunities with the passing game. That also meant being able to include some more exotic blitz packages to help the pass rush, but it wasn't always necessary.

ASU essentially starts four guards and a center. It's a good run blocking line, but it is not particularly adept at picking up speed on the edge. There are no Marvel Smiths or Levi Jones in the program to anchor the tackles on either end. The tackle position will change throughout the game depending on what ASU would like to do. If they're going to run the ball Zach Krula will man the right tackle position. When they want to throw the ball it's more likely Julius Orieukwu will attempt to slow the rush there.

Against Stanford Shawn Lauvao will replace Robert Gustavis at starting left guard, a side of the ball where left tackle Brandon Rodd, another former guard, might possible wish he could switch. It's a move in which coaches are probably expecting to see more of the twists and stunts Oregon State showed (and something virtually guaranteed against USC, which loves to run 4 wickedly athletic lineman while dropping 6 or 7 into coverage).

This line does not lack size or experience, and there's really no reason why they've struggled as much as they have against the pass rush. ASU is tied with UCLA for last in the conference for sacks surrendered with 9. It was especially rough against Oregon State's twisting defensive line, who caught Rudy 4 times and hit him hard many times more. But the line is smart and capable of correcting the mistakes, which would go a long way to giving ASU a real chance to break into the upper echelon of the conference this year.

Gaddabout's Grades note

Was checking the conference numbers today and thought these were interesting:

In the Pac-10 this year so far ASU is:

* 3rd in turnover margin at +4, or +1 per game.
* 2nd in 3rd-down conversion at 46.7%, behind USC's 55.3%
* 2nd in defensive 3rd-down conversion at 30.2%, behind UCLA's 28.8%
* 10th in penalties, averaging an even 8 per game

Considering how rough it's been in efficiency, it bodes well all but the last number are well above passing for historically good teams.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Gaddabout's Grades: Oregon State

As badly as ASU played in the 1st quarter, they magically made their inefficiency disappear over the next 3 quarter to turn around a 19-0 deficit into a 44-32 win.

3rd Down Efficiency

Off. 6 of 16, 37.5%; Def. 5 of 13 38.5%: A virtual draw in percentage is never a good sign, but this was flipped dramatically in the second half to balance out the game numbers. The fact that ASU had three more 3rd down opportunities is probably a number we need to look at more closely. OSU actually won the 1st down battle, 28-19, mainly because they were picking up more yards on 1st and 2nd down and their rushing game was in much better shape than ASU's.

Grade: C-


Ratio: +4. This really comes down to 5 interceptions taken by ASU to 1 taken by OSU. Both teams lost one fumble, but ASU actually put the ball on the ground 3 times. Redshirt freshman Sean Canfield wasn't making great decisions, but you never complain about an opponent's young QB having a bad day. ASU was playing good defense in the second half, and that's really what counts, and Robert James continues to do his best Darren Woodson impression.

Grade: A


6 penalties, 60 yards: A dead heat again, but a big improvement over previous games. These pair of eyes saw many penalties that could have been called on both sides, but the crew seemed determine to keep their flags in their pocket. Six flags a game is right about where ASU wants to be, no more. It's historically a good number.

Grade: A-


Overall grade: B+. It's almost impossible to draw any conclusions about this game or even this team so far, but it does seem clear ASU has a focus issue to start the games. They've been down double digits to Colorado and Oregon State, and generally made all of their worst mental mistakes in the first halves of the four first games. I'm guessing this is how the team is responding to the looser atmosphere around the program these days. These are still Koetter's recruits and they're used to being over-prepared and generally uptight in big games. The good news is when they're dialed in (such as on they are on the comeback trail), they can be a very efficient football team. The bad news is the kinds of mistakes they made so far aren't forgivable against the best Pac-10 teams. You never want to put too much emphasis on one aspect of the game, but here's to the coaches figuring out why players aren't coming out of the gate ready to play football.

Monday, September 24, 2007

OSU was better with Erickson

Last Friday, the Oregonian published an interesting column by John Canzano. Talking to Beaver fans, Canzano writes:

You miss the guy. It's OK to admit it, even if your old silver-haired mercenary is coaching on the other sideline now.

I never thought I'd write this, but while the celebrating and gyrating is going down on Saturday, try to keep it together.

The streak must end

Without wishing to re-open old wounds, probably the most disturbing statistic of the Dirk Koetter era was the "0-for-California" streak. It's not like he just lost consistently at USC, he also lost consistently at Cal (less excusable), UCLA (even less excusable) and Stanford (totally inexcusable).

Anyway, all that can end on Saturday night at the farm. With ASU starting the week as two-touchdown favorites, I'd call this game a "must win".

We're number 23, we're number 23

In years to come, hopefully a twenty-third place ranking will not be cause for celebration in Sun Devil nation. However, after the disappointments of recent years, any recognition for ASU is to be welcomed. The AP poll continues to prove its superiority over the Coaches Poll, not just because ASU is ranked higher. I mean, how is Louisville still getting 18 points from the coaches after losing at home to Syracuse? Meanwhile, the Sagarin Ratings continue to love the Devils, who this week are number 11.

Nice to see that the Associated Press article on the new poll featured Dennis Erickson and the Devils. Lots of good pub for ASU in newspapers around the country this morning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gaddabout's Grades

Sometimes resiliency is better than efficiency, and so far the Sun Devils have proven that this season. It was yet another inefficient game and it, once again, kept a Devils' opponent in a game that should not have been so close. It's called playing with fire. It's not something you want to do against a Pac-10 opponent.

3rd Down Efficiency

Off. 4 of 9, 44.4%; Def. 6-of-18 33.3%: It was actually not as good as it looks, because San Diego State was 2-for-2 on 4th down, but the numbers on third down are exactly where they need to be. One can only cross their fingers that these numbers hold up over the course of the season.

Grade: B-


Ratio: Net zero. What can be said? One more strange pass into no man's land for Carpenter that, for all intents and purposes, was easily forgettable considering the game he had. But the fumbles aren't a promising trend for the future. Nolan picked up an INT for the Devils to even things out. Otherwise, no fumbles. That's progress.

Grade: C


8 penalties, 73 yards: I suppose we should be celebrating here because ASU only had one personal foul. The primary offender was the offensive line with four holds and an illegal block, but watching the game I have to agree with Erickson that this referee staff was calling it differently than the first two games. You just don't see holding called that often when the linemen's hands stay inside the shoulders. ASU had an illegal block, but the refs missed a big chop block on SDSU that I think was the play that put Gerald Munns out for three weeks with a Grade 3 knee ligament sprain. It was a pretty nasty block. Not intentional, but I was aghast no flag was thrown.

Grade: C-


Overall grade: C. Better than the Colorado game, but it was still sort of typical of the kind of carelessness we've seen in the out of conference schedule. I'm not expecting this team to set records with efficiency, but these numbers have to improve if they plan on collecting 5 or more wins in the conference. They need to sustain what they're doing on 3rd down and, at the very least, win the turnover battle in a few games without totally blowing it in the rest of the games. I'm going to concede this team -- as with most Erickson teams -- are just going to draw a lot of yellow laundry. You live with it as long as (a) it's not the nasty 15-yard variety and (b) the aggressiveness is also producing the positive kinds of plays that keep spirits high and momentum in maroon and gold.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Winning ugly

With Keegan Herring leading the way, ASU never really looked to be in any trouble versus San Diego State, but it was not an impressive performance. The Aztec offense was clearly the best we've faced so far this season, but the ASU defense struggled more than it should have. Meanwhile, the offense looked great at times, but failed to click for a full 60 minutes.

As Scott Bordow points out, this is the third time in four years that ASU has started 3-0, and we haven't seen enough yet to know what it means for the season.

Meanwhile, there was a bad development in the south. UNRB lost to New Mexico. While any au loss always bring pleasure to this Devil, this loss will surely seal Stoopid's fate. I was hoping he'd win just enough games to keep him around for another few years.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Gaddabout's Grades: Colorado

Gaddabout's Grades is an on-going experiment measuring ASU's efficiency stats in comparison to success on the field. The author believes any earnest study of modern college football history reveals successful teams are efficient teams.

It's almost impossible to pick a spot to begin in a game in which ASU commits seven personal fouls, and 12 total penalties for over 100 yards. The first quarter alone was enough to quarantine the game film and only bring it out as punishment to anyone who thinks reckless abandon is the best and only way to play a game.

In the interest of consistency, I will continue the endeavor:

3rd Down Efficiency

Off. 5-of-18, 27.7%; Def. 4-of-18 22.2%: There's not much to explain here. Defense, good. Offense, disappointing rushing game. With Ryan Torain nursing an ankle injury, there were first-half moments where ASU actually failed to advance the ball an inch on 3rd-and-short. That won't cut it against a Pac-10 team.

If you're looking for the hidden stat here, it's fourth down conversion. ASU was 2/3 and Colorado was 0/4. When combined with 3rd down conversion, ASU was actually at 33 percent while Colorado was at a miserable 18 percent.

Grade: D


-2: Carpenter made one bad throw in this game. No one seemed to be communicating to Tyrice Thompson where he was in relation to the punted ball. Brent Miller makes a good catch downfield only to get a helmet square on the ball. It was a strange game, and one I don't think will be repeated. The only turnover I found disconcerting was the one ASU didn't lose -- Herring's fumble out of bounds that could have really changed the momentum of the game for good.

It's an ugly number, but I don't think it's as bad as it looks. Maybe ASU got this type of game out of the way so they won't have it against the better conference teams. Fingers crossed, anyone?

Grade: C-


12-for-136: Of the 12 penalties, 11 of them were the kinds of mental mistakes directly related to coaching. Erickson said he doesn't see those kinds of mistakes on the practice field. Well, now you've got a whole film of them, coach. Time to get to work.

With the halo rule gone, timing the punt coverage to arrive at the returner at the same time of the ball is now an important skill. Regardless of the rule chance, you STILL CAN'T HIT THE RETURNER BEFORE THE BALL GETS THERE. I'm glad we've got that covered and we can get on with the season without seeing another mental mistake like that one.

Grade: F-


This happens every year. A team defies the efficiency stats and wins a game in spite of eye-popping inefficiency. What I can guarantee you is the never goes on for an entire season. If ASU is in double digits in penalties, upside down in turnover margin, and less than at least 35 percent on offensive 3rd-down conversion, it will not be playing beyond the UA game. That's a college football certainty.

So why did ASU win? Defense has a lot to do with it. Any team that holds an opponent's offense to less than 20 percent third-down conversion will win most of the team. ASU was just that much better than Colorado.

Don't count on surviving a game like this against a ranked opponent, though.

Grade: D-

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The nerds love the Sun Devils

In my humble opinion, the Sagarin ratings published in USA Today is the best of the computer ranking systems. This week, ASU is ranked #12, ahead of Penn State and Ohio State, to name just two. We'll suffer from the weak first-half schedule, but assuming we continue to win, we should stay in the second ten.

I think it's going to be a couple more weeks before the human voters start taking notice. It won't be until the Cal game on October 27 that anyone pays any real attention to us, but if we get to 4-0 we should creep into the top 25.

The curse of Oz

Is Tom Osborne still coaching special teams? On an evening where the defense played (mostly) great and the offense took time to get going, but once it did became unstoppable, it was special teams woes that will cause most unrest in Sun Devil Nation this morning. Fumbles, 15-yard penalties, even a leaping flag for goodness sake.

Oh well, at least it gives us something to gripe about for the next week!

(PS why is Osborne's bio still up on

Update: Give Em Hell Trav posted a nice summary of the personal foul calls.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

SJSU highlights

Thanks to Sun Devil Jon for this recap!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pigskin Pick'em

Have some fun this NFL season. Join the Wired Devils Pigskin Pick'em group by Thursday and get your Week 1 entries in. It's a free contest (for bragging rights only) where you simply pick each NFL game straight up (no spread) each week.

We're No. 40?

The voter polls are out and ASU has gained 3 votes in the USA Today Coaches' poll -- the one that counts towards BCS ratings. They gained 2 votes, up from 17, in the Week 1 AP poll, but since AP has pulled its support of BCS, it's just about pride.

BCS rankings don't come out until the end of Week 8, but in case you're wondering, here's the BCS rankings formula:

Team percentages are derived by dividing a team's actual voting points by a maximum 2850 possible points in the Harris Interactive Poll and 1575 possible points in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Six computer rankings calculated in inverse points order (25 for #1, 24 for #2, etc.) are used to determine the overall computer component. The best and worst ranking for each team is dropped, and the remaining four are added and divided by 100 (the maximum possible points) to produce a Computer Rankings Percentage. The six computer ranking providers are Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin, and Peter Wolfe. Each computer ranking accounts for schedule strength in its formula.

The BCS Average is calculated by averaging the percent totals of the Harris Interactive, USA Today Coaches and Computer polls.

The computers seem to like ASU better than the voters so far. After Week 1 Sagarain has ASU at No. 22 with an 83.11 rating, a hair more than 10 points off leader LSU.

A perfect weekend

There's nothing quite as satisfying as a Devil victory coming on the same day as a Cat defeat. First, the good guys: how nice to beat an outmatched opponent the way you are supposed to. This wasn't a Utah State or NAU effort, this was a complete demolition. Sure, there were things to improve on, but it was the right way to start a season.

Since the Devils were not televised, I spent a few minutes on Saturday (once I found Versus on my cable system!) enjoying BYU's slapdown of the Rats. I hope au manages a few wins this year so that Stoopid keeps his job; while he is in charge we have no worries about a threat from the South.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Gaddabout's Grades

Long-timers at The Ranch will remember the origination of Gaddabout's Grades a few years ago: We were trying to determine if there was true forward motion in the program. More than a few years back I did a little study of modern-era college football teams, and the teams that were consistently ranked tended to do well in efficiency categories. It was not 100 percent accurate every year, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a team that had extended success that didn't do well in efficiency categories.

Since the advent of the Top 25 (as opposed to the original Top 20), ranked teams tended to have the following qualities: better than 38 percent offensive 3rd-down conversion; less than 38 percent defensive 3rd-down conversion; 6.5 penalties a game or less; a season's turnover margin better than approximately +8. ASU consistently failed in Gaddabout's Grades under Koetter, and actually regressed the last two seasons. The penalty situation was exacerbated by the kind of penalties ASU received -- the kind of 10 yards or more. It is no stretch to state that Koetter's unemotional approach to game prep had no impact on ASU's execution during the game. In fact, it was some of ASU's least efficient years in memory.

I did not expect ASU to make any dramatic improvements in these categories under Erickson. His teams tend to draw a lot of penalties from aggressive play. I did expect improvement in 3rd down efficiency on both sides of the ball. I think turnovers always will depend on the strength of the running game and experience at quarterback.

3rd Down Efficiency

Off. 13-of-17, 76.4%; Def. 28.5%: Total domination by ASU in this category. This is a direct relationship to ASU's line play. When it counted -- in the first half -- ASU was 6-of-7 to SJSU's 3-of-7.

Maybe ASU didn't get a lot of pressure on the QB, but the line held their gaps. On the other side, this is the product of strong running and a line blowing holes open. When you're constantly facing 3rd-and-short on offense, you tend to score more touchdowns and attempt less field goals. It's a sign of many other things going right.

Grade: A


+1: Nothing dynamite here, but ASU got two interceptions by forcing SJSU to do what it didn't want to do -- throw the ball. I'm giving a little extra credit here because the fumble came from Brent Miller, a typically reliable tight end, rather than from a quarterback or running back. Danny Sullivan also fumbled but got it back -- and credit to him for not losing his head in what was a very efficient game for him.

Grade: B


5-for-40: Not bad. The intensity was high as it should be in the season opener. I would have been forgiving if ASU picked up a few more considering the intensity and a coach who lets his teams have fun on the field, but 5 penalties a game for the season is conference champion-type numbers. Both USC and Cal have averaged about 5.5 penalties a game the past 5 seasons.

What was also interesting was SJSU's 3 penalties. Not only was ASU heavily penalized last year, they seemed to draw the other team into drawing a lot of penalties, too. The number of the opponent usually does drop when the better team executes well. It tends to raise the level of execution for both teams. I suspect that's what we saw here.

Grade: A-


I cannot imagine the season starting better for ASU. They didn't just destroy the opponent, they avoided the kinds of execution pitfalls that suggested red flags for the future. For now I will ring this up as what we should have expected from a mostly veteran staff who knows how to get a team ready for a season opener.

The greater challenge is maintaining this kind of execution throughout the season. One cannot expect ASU to maintain a 75% third-down conversion percentage for an entire season, but 60+% for the month of September would be reason to get excited for this team heading into conference play. It would be much better if ASU clocked a +2 or better in turnovers, but if the 3rd-down conversion ratios remain strong and penalties continue to stay at a minimum, ASU won't need to collect so many turnovers to beat good teams. They will, however, need to hold on to the ball.

Overall grade: A-