ASU Football: Discipline More Than Just Penalties; Darby Hopes For Rematch With Ducks

The ASU Sun Devils have a bye week after losing in Oregon and ahead of a home game against a 1-6 Colorado team.

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ASU Football: Midseason Report Card For The Defense

After examining the offense and handing out a mix of flattering and near-failing grades last week, it's now time to focus on the defense.

The unit has been ravaged by key injuries on all three levels, starting with cornerback Omar Bolden in April, then linebacker Brandon Magee was lost shortly before the season before defensive end Junior Onyeali went down earliy against Illinois. 

Add in a season of regression from much-hyped linebacker Vontaze Burfict and fundamentals that seem to change each series, and you have the recipe for a complete disaster.

However, the end result is a defense that more often than not bends but doesn't break. Thanks to a recent explosion in forcing turnovers, the ASU defense is now a playmaking force despite their many challenges.

So how do they grade out at the bye week?  Courtesy of House of Sparky, here now is the full review of the Sun Devil defense.


ASU Football: Midseason Report Card For The Offense

Although Arizona State's bye week falls one week after the technical midpoint of the 2011 season, it still makes for a perfect dividing mark.

In the Sun Devils' rearview mirror is the meat of their schedule, a slate that featured major battles against Missouri, Illinois, USC, Utah and Oregon.  ASU has emerged from that portion at a hearty 5-2, including a key 3-1 conference record that has them in prime position to take home the Pac-12 South title.

The bye week also presents a great opportunity to review and analyze just how the Sun Devils have performed through the first seven weeks. We'll hand out grades for each position, identify the high point and low point, and why there are reasons for both optimism and concern going forward.

Courtesy of House of Sparky, here now is the review of the offense.


Bye Week Comes At A Perfect Time For ASU

For junior quarterback Brock Osweiler and the Arizona State football team, this week's bye couldn't come at a better time. After all, is there a better prescription after a 41-27 nationally televised loss to Oregon than seven days off?

"You need breaks throughout the football season just to stay fresh," Osweiler said. "This week is a big mental week for us."

And by mental, Oz means spending a majority of their time in the film room as the second and third stringers get a majority of the reps in practice. But this "mental week" is doubly beneficial for the Sun Devils as the starters get to rest up for the first time in seven weeks.

"We've being going at it since August 1," Osweiler said. "This is the first significant break we've had."

Head coach Dennis Erickson realizes its importance too.

"It kind of depends on when your bye week is," Erickson said. "This late, you just try to get healthy."

That's exactly why Erickson called this week a "get our legs back" period. Junior running back Cameron Marshall is still nursing an ankle injury after playing at "75-80 percent" during the Oregon game. While he was still able to muster up 97 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, a week off is essential for Marshall as the running game slowly gets back in sync.

And for the first time in seven weeks, Erickson is getting some good injury news. Sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali will "without a doubt" play in next weeks home game against Colorado, cutting almost two weeks off his previous timetable of six weeks after knee surgery. 

Also, while he hasn't put a time table on Omar Bolden's return, the fact that he's back on the practice field is an encouraging sign he might provide a late season spark.

For now though, the backups are getting a hearty serving of reps and that's what matters most.

"We've been beat up a little but it's good for us to get a chance to get a look at our freshmen," Erickson said.

With five games left on the schedule against teams the Devils "should" beat, Erickson isn't using the time off to make any radical changes to the way the team plays. This break is about rest and recuperation. 

Now let's just hope none of the newbies get hurt.


ASU Uses 'Discipline' As Crutch To Generate Confidence

Football is a confidence game and this is especially true with college football where you are dealing with kids barely old enough to legally drink. Arizona State Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson knows that and understands that his team might have to face the Oregon Ducks again in a possible Pac-12 Championship game. So instead of focusing on the talent gap coming out of Saturday's loss in Eugene, the message focused on something fixable.

"I'm disappointed in the outcome. I'm disappoint in some of the penalties we had. I'm not disappointed in the effort and how hard we played. It showed me that we can beat anybody we play if we do the right things," Erickson said after the Sun Devils practice on Tuesday.

It's not as if there weren't plenty of mistakes for Erickson to talk about. The Devils racked up eight flags for 95 yards and they are tied for 117th out of 120 FBS schools with 54 penalties on the season. 

There's no question this is an area of improvement but coming off this game, against this opponent, it also is a convenient message to his team and much better than the alternative.

The ASU defense was beat through the air for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone by a quarterback who only threw for a 101 total yards against the University of Arizona's defense. In the second half with Darron Thomas out due to a knee injury, the defense didn't adjust to back up quarterback Bryan Bennett's ability to run until it was too late and he put 14 quick points on the board.

Offensively, the Sun Devils scored 17 points in the first half and 7 more points on the first drive of the second half. For there they only managed three more points against an Oregon defense that will give up numbers and in a game where they had seven possessions in the second half alone.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler talked about discipline as well but it wasn't just about penalties.

"I thought we were undisciplined in certain areas trying to break out of things we would normally do and kind of do something on your own and that's what hurt us," Owieler said. "If we just do what we're taught to do and coached to do and run our offense, we're the only people that can truly stop us."

Erickson specifically cited the penalties in the first half , "You can go through four or five different scenarios that hurt us. I think it was more the amount than it was one individual thing and they were all pretty much made in the first half." 

Three critical penalties stand out in the first half and none lead directly to a touchdown without several other factors coming into play.

1st - The Ducks started with great field position on the ASU 47 after a 23-yard punt return. Vontaze Burfict was flagged for 15 yards for a late hit on a questionable call that moved the ball from the ASU 31 to the ASU 16. The Ducks ran it in on the next play. If the Sun Devils cover the punt better or do a better job in the red zone the penalty is not nearly so costly.

2nd - Roughing the passer called on Bo Moos on 3rd and 12 with the ball on the Oregon 12. That kept the drive alive but the Ducks scored with a 45 yard pass and then a 28 yard touchdown pass. The penalty hurt but the defense still allowed two big pass plays after the flag.

3rd - At the end of the first half, ASU was up 17-14 and driving for another score. They completed a pass to the Oregon 22 but Gerrell Robinson was flagged for a personal foul after he kicked the defender after the play. That turned a 1st and 10 into a 1st and 25 and Osweiler ended up throwing an interception that was returned to the 50.

With under a minute on the clock, the Ducks scored on three plays with three passes for 11, 27 and 12 yards. That turned a 17-14 ASU lead with a chance to score into a 21-17 lead for the Ducks. The Robinson foul, the Owseiler interception and the Ducks quick score was the key sequence in the game.

Burfict had another personal foul for a late hit in the first half but the Sun Devils intercepted the ball on the next play which negated that mistake.

Those were big plays but good teams overcome those kinds of mistakes. Oregon had their share as well in the first half.

Late in the first quarter the Ducks had a 59-yard touchdown run negated by a penalty and ended up turning the ball over on downs. They also had a 15-yard person foul on ASU's first touchdown drive and another personal foul late in the half. Down 17-14 in the second quarter, the Ducks had a drive stalled by a personal foul that turned a 1st and 10 into a 1st and 25 which resulted in a punt.

In his half time interview with ESPN, coach Chip Kelly pointed out these mistakes, "We've got to play with poise and play with emotion but don't let emotion play with us. That stuff's not part of football."

ASU had five first half penalties with three being critical. Oregon had four first half penalties with three being critical.

The mistakes hurt the Sun Devils but only because they couldn't defend against Thomas through the air in the first half, couldn't stop the run in the second half when the Ducks back-up QB wasn't a threat to throw, and because they scored just 10 points on seven possessions in the second half. 

Erickson's message about discipline and mistakes is important but it's also useful cover for the talent gap between these two teams that might face each other again this season.


ASU Football: Erickson On Ducks - "No Question In My Mind, We Can Beat Them"

Arizona State football coach Dennis Erickson was on with Gambo and Burns early this afternoon, and the two KTAR-AM hosts reviewed Saturday’s loss to Oregon with Erickson.

"There’s no question in my mind, we can beat them," Erickson said when asked if he learned enough about the Ducks to correct the mistakes that cost the Devils, and beat them next time.

"But we had our opportunity. Who knows what’s going to happen in the next six weeks? But we’ll see. I think we learned a lot from that game. I think we felt like we had a chance to win and we were positioned to win."

There may not be a next time this year. Oregon must go to Stanford in a battle of what figures to be top-10 teams later this season and win, and before that beat a very much improved Washington team on the road in Seattle before earning a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.

ASU is in grand position to represent the Pac-12 South in that title game.

The Devils clearly caved in to the magnitude of the game and were affected by mental mistakes and key penalties, with the atmosphere at Autzen Stadium also more than they could handle, apparently.

"You get in a game like that, nobody has penalties on purpose," Erickson said. "We will talk about that (Tuesday) when we have our team meeting."

The good news is DE Junior Onyeali will be back for the Colorado game on Oct. 29, a game that means a lot to the sophomore from Denver. It’s a game the Devils should win handily the way the Buffaloes (1-6) have played this season.

Regarding the Oregon game, Erickson isn’t into moral victories. "We could have won the football game had we did some things right that we didn’t do… we didn’t do the little things that we needed to to win."

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