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.