Sun Devils Heating Up

Arizona State looked very beatable last week.
Unlike Pac-10 power Southern California, the 14th-ranked Sun Devils found a way to remain unbeaten.

ASU's 23-20 victory at Washington State might have been its ugliest game so far. But it left the Sun Devils (6-0, 3-0 Pac-10) tied for first in the Pac-10 with UCLA.

``We didn't play our best game by any means, but then again, that was partly because of them,'' coach Dennis Erickson said Monday at his weekly campus news conference. ``We came out of Pullman with a win, so we're 6-0 and 3-0 in the league, and that's where we wanted to be.''

The Sun Devils have risen in the national rankings without playing a single noteworthy opponent, and that won't change this week, when the Washington Huskies (2-3, 0-2 Pac-10) visit Sun Devil Stadium.
ASU's first four conference opponents - Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State and Washington - are a combined 2-10 in Pac-10 play.

That's why it's hard to tell whether the Sun Devils deserve their lofty ranking, their highest since 1997.

ASU is off to its best start since 1996, when it won its first 11 games. And Erickson is the first ASU coach to win his first six games.

Quarterback Rudy Carpenter credited Erickson and his staff with instilling confidence and poise in the Sun Devils, which helped them overcome a 14-point deficit against Colorado and a 19-point deficit against Oregon State. It also helped them erase a three-point deficit midway through the third quarter at Pullman, one of the Pac-10's tougher venues.

``I think it's a confidence level and a calmness level during the game,'' Carpenter said. ``I don't think there's really any panic at any given time. They just keep trying to execute the game plan and it's going to work eventually.''

The Sun Devils have taken advantage of a relatively weak schedule by running the ball effectively and coming up with big plays on defense.

On Saturday, they managed to win despite being outgained 451-296.

The Huskies don't appear to pose a bigger threat than any of ASU's first six opponents, although they did give USC a scare two weeks ago in Seattle. Washington is led by talented freshman quarterback Jake Locker, who has thrown six touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Against Washington, the Sun Devils hope to work on two problem areas - penalties and sacks

allowed.

So far, the Sun Devils' lack of discipline has not hurt them, but it might against stronger competition. ASU averages 73 penalty yards per game, ninth in the Pac-10.

Against Washington State, ASU was penalized six times for 75 yards, including a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct.

Erickson said he wasn't concerned about the number of penalties at Pullman, although he was upset with cornerback Justin Tryon for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while he returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown. Tryon waved the ball at the Cougars as he ran toward the end zone.

``Sometimes you get excited in games, and that should never happen, but sometimes that happens,'' Erickson said. ``You're playing on the road, you're catching a little flak there, and he makes a play, and he's pretty excited about it. But it's inexcusable because it hurt our team.''

Another concern is the offensive line, which was seen as a strength entering the season, has given up 17 sacks, an average of 3.67 per game. Only seven major-college teams have allowed more sacks per game.

``We're not frustrated, but we've got to get it fixed,'' Erickson said. ``If we want to win our seventh game, we've got to get better at it, and it's not like we haven't spent a lot of hours looking to solve the problem.''

by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us

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