Everyone loves a football player with a nastiness to him, a hitter with swagger. And Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict brings just that. a physical presence who loves to get his licks.
Burfict is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound hitting machine who leads ASU in tackles with 42 this season. It's clear the Sun Devils need him on the field. But he's also something of a liability.
In all fairness, Burfict isn't close to being the biggest reason why ASU is 2-3 and has lost two close games. The reasons for the losses come down to mental mistakes in coverages and missed tackles on defense and 13 total turnovers this season, 10 of those interceptions.
Also on offense, the red zone has not been a friendly place for the Devils. Coach Dennis Erickson mentioned a bad snap at the end of the third quarter at Oregon State, which happened on third-and-goal at the OSU 1. Instead of a game-tying touchdown, quarterback Steven Threet lost seven yards on the play and ASU had to settle for a field goal.
On the next ASU possession, Threet was intercepted at the goal line on a second-and-9 play from the OSU 13.
But penalties, of the unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul-late hit variety, are also extending ASU opponents' drives. Burfict is one of the top offenders.
He had two 15-yard personal foul penalties that helped keep Northern Arizona in the game in Week Two. A personal foul just before halftime helped Oregon on a touchdown drive.
"His behavior is under control when he can control it," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said Monday. "He'll go along for 58 minutes and somebody will shove him or pin him from behind or something like that, and he reacts to it. That's the biggest thing he's reacting to, things that aren't important."
Erickson has said, in effect, that he can accept penalties and would rather have an aggressive player get penalized from time to time than have that player dial it down. But he has also said that Burfict won't play if he keeps costing the team yards.
Hard to see that happening with Burfict. The Devils need him, penalties or not. Aside from that, Erickson believes teams know that Burfict is a bit of a hothead, so they bait him.
"Oh, I think he gets baited all the time. I'd bait him, too," Erickson said. "I would. If you know a guy is going to react like that and you can get a 15-yard penalty or you can possibly get him out of the football game, yeah he gets baited all the time...He gets baited more than any player I've ever been around."
That's saying something. Erickson coached some quick-tempered guys at both Miami and Oregon State, among other places.
"I had one who was kind of like that that's played a lot of years, he made it through that," Erickson said, referring to NFL linebacker Ray Lewis, who was at Miami with Erickson.