With ASU's homecoming week underway, the current Sun Devils should look to legends past for help in fixing 2011's biggest problems.
Beyond the parades, parties and events surrounding Arizona State's homecoming week, there is a lot to look forward to surrounding the Sun Devil football team.
Coming off their bye week, the Devils are 5-2 overall and their 3-1 conference mark gives them complete control over their destiny as they move closer a South division title. Their offense possesses an abundance of explosive playmakers and their defense has a complete addiction to turnovers. Their star defensive end Junior Onyeali will be returning and cornerback Omar Bolden was just medically cleared. Even their kicker, recently an ulcer-inducer with his shanks, has connected on his last four field goals.
Topping off the feel-good sundae with an optimism cherry is a remaining schedule that should feature the Sun Devils as heavy favorites in every game, including a 31-point spread for this week's game against Colorado.
Yet all that glitters is not maroon-and-gold.
There are several areas of deficiency surrounding this Sun Devil team, and these issues, if they remain unchecked, could derail a season that seems destined for great things.
Which brings us back to homecoming.
It is a time when the legends of the program make their return to reminisce in their former glory. The current Devils could take a lesson or two from some of these icons of the past to help solidify a glorious future.
Let's examine the current problematic areas and which Sun Devil great over the last 30 years should be emulated to remedy the solution.
Backup Running Back: Terry Battle
The preseason shooting that ultimately shelved Deantre Lewis for the entire season put a dent in ASU's backfield, but with Cameron Marshall, Kyle Middlebrooks and some doses of Jamal Miles, the depth was expected to remain solid.
Thus far, it has not.
Marshall has been mostly terrific so far this season, rushing for 518 yards and a Pac-12 leading nine rushing touchdowns. He's shown a dynamic blend of power and speed throughout the season, but has been bothered by injured ankles over the last several weeks that have limited his burst and cutting.
However, behind him the results have been disappointing. Middlebrooks has been ineffective, tallying just 86 yards on his 26 carries (a bad 3.3 average) and has only two carries over the last two games. Miles has been solid in spot duty, but has spent most of his time at wide receiver, where his 33 catches leads the team. In fact, taking away sack yardage, quarterback Brock Osweiler is second on the team in rushing with 195 yards.
The lack of a productive backup to Marshall, combined with lingering injury concerns, makes this a potentially troublesome area.
The Rose Bowl-bound 1996 team had no such problems.
When starting running back Michael Martin went down with a season-ending injury, his backup Terry Battle was ready to step up. But he did much more than just step up.
Battle rushed for 1,077 yards and scored a combined 20 touchdowns in a historic season that earned him second-team All-American honors from The Sporting News.
Kicking Consistency: Luis Zendejas
You can forgive Sun Devil faithful for being mighty sensitive to the kicking game after last season.
Normally reliable kicker Thomas Weber-the 2007 Lou Groza Award winner-became a model of maddening inconsistency, missing seven field goals on the year before ending his career with a five-for five performance against Arizona.
This year has seen a new kicker but the same old worries.
Alex Garoutte had, by all accounts, a bad fall camp, so when he lined up for a 49-yard field goal against UC Davis, most fans had their hands over their faces. Yet to his credit, the redshirt freshman connected, and later hit a chip shot 25-yarder.
However, the lingering fears re-materialized, as Garoutte missed three of his next four, including a 32-yarder in the Sun Devils' 17-14 loss at Illinois.
Continuing on the placekicking roller coaster, he's made his last four, although none have been longer than 37-yards.
Garoutte should consult Luis Zendejas, currently an executive with the Arizona Cardinals.
He owns the kicking section of ASU's record book, including career points (380), field goals made in a season (28) and career (81). He had four games with four or more made field goals and when he graduated, his 380 points were the most in NCAA history (since eclipsed).
Defensive Line Production: Terrell Suggs
The Sun Devils' defensive line has had to deal with it's share of adversity, starting with the offseason departures of Lawrence Guy and James Brooks and then the injury to Junior Onyeali in Week 3 that sidelined him for six weeks.
Despite those hardships, the line has had some positive moments, most notably the pressure they generated against USC's Matt Barkley and Jamarr Jarrett's domination against Oregon State.
However, they have been plagued by uneven performances in which they were gashed on the ground for big yardage, failed to apply a sustained pass rush and their lack of depth was clearly evident against Oregon, when the Ducks ran for 296 yards in the second half.
Thus far, the principle starters of Onyeali, Jarrett, Davon Coleman, Will Sutton and Bo Moos have combined for 17 tackles-for-loss and six sacks, numbers that aren't terrible but certainly not excellent by any stretch.
Bring in Terrell Suggs.
The current Baltimore Raven was the author of perhaps the most dominant single season from any position in Sun Devil history in 2002.
From his defensive end position, he set the NCAA single season sack record with 24, notched 31.5 tackles-for-loss and forced six fumbles. In the process, he won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Award, Hendricks Award and Lombardi Award, in addition to placement on every conceivable All-American team.
Playing Smart: Mike Nixon
If there has been one consistent trait among Dennis Erickson coached teams, it has been a systemic lack of discipline resulting in stupid penalties and avoidable mistakes.
Starting in 2008, ASU has ranked-among 120 FBS teams-108th, 120th, 114th and so far this year 119th in penalty yards per game.
Most any fan can probably cite several huge penalties called on the Devils that have devastated them in games in recent years. In fact, in their most recent game against Oregon, the first three Duck touchdowns all shortly followed an ASU personal foul.
Mike Nixon to the rescue!
The heady linebacker was a reliable force for the Sun Devils from 2006 to 2009. As a starter during his final two seasons, he totaled 163 tackles and eight interceptions, making several lower-level All-Pac 10 teams in the process.
However, it was his intelligence both on and off the field that set him apart. While not the most talented player, Nixon exceeded his physical talent by playing smart and always doing his job as he was coached. He also was a two time member of the First Team Academic All-Pac-10 squad.
Fix the Offensive Line: Juan Roque and Randall McDaniel
With all eight players who made starts last season set to return, there were hefty expectations for the offensive line.
It hasn't exactly worked out like that.
The run blocking has been nothing short of awful. In four of their six games against FBS schools, ASU has posted a team per-carry average of under 3.5 yards, lowlighted by a pitiful 1.9 against Utah. If you subtract the season's two big runs-Cameron Marshall's 70-yard run against USC and Jamal Miles' 51-yarder against Oregon-the team's season average of 3.8 per carry drops to a pathetic 3.3.
The returns have been only mildly better in pass protection. In each of the losses, quarterback Brock Osweiler was under constant pressure, being sacked 10 total times and being hit and harried on most every dropback.
Who better to emulate than a pair of consensus All-Americans?
Randall McDaniel was a dominant guard for ASU from 1984-1987 and a member of the 1986 Rose Bowl championship team before getting the All-American recognition a season later. Like McDaniel Juan Roque earned the consensus First Team All-American honors as a senior, as he was the star left tackle on the 1996 Pac-10 championship team.
If the current line can muster up a fraction of that pair's performance, then the immediate future for Arizona State is very bright.