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October 4, 2009

Notebook: ASU can't dig itself out of early hole

Arizona State (2-2) dug itself a deep hole early Saturday against the Oregon State Beavers (3-2) and could never quite recover as the Sun Devils fell in their Pac-10 opener 28-17.

With the unusual 4 p.m. start time, the Sun Devils seemed unprepared and lacked the focus that had been present the first three games of the season.

ASU struggled in all aspects of the game --offensively, defensively and even special teams.

Starting from their very first offensive series, after the Sun Devils went three and out, ASU lined up in its typical punt formation.

Junior punter Trevor Hankins then proceeded to mishandle the punt, dropping it out of his hand as he went to kick it. Hankins fell on it so it was ruled a turnover on downs in the box score.

The miscue gave the Beavers a short field with 11:21 remaining in the first quarter and two plays later Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers ran in a one yard touchdown, giving him his eighth touchdown this season.

It wasn't long till the Beavers then tacked on another score.

After ASU's consecutive turnover on downs, Oregon State took over on the Sun Devil 41 yard line following a 33-yard punt return by James Rodgers. Two plays later the Sun Devils saw themselves down 14-0 after Jacquizz Rodgers's second rushing touchdown of the game, this one a 32-/.yard scamper.

"Early in the game for whatever reason we weren't ready to play," coach Dennis Erickson said. "We didn't play with enthusiasm and fire that [we've been playing with]. Football is a game of being ready to play and if you aren't ready to play and you get behind the eight-ball you're going to get beat. That's exactly what happened."

The lackadaisical approach to start the game lingered throughout. While the offense out gained their opponent racking up 406 yards of total offense, the Sun Devils could not seem to convert on the plays that mattered most. The ASU offense finished the game going 4-of-18 on third down conversions.

Coming into tonight's game the defense had been the heart and soul of this team holding opponents to just 12.3 points a game. Saturday the ASU defense allowed 21 first half points. The defense only forced one turnover against the Beavers, when before Saturday's the game the Sun Devils owned a plus-10 takeaway ratio, ranking them No. 1 in the Pac-10.

"We needed to come out early and set the tone and we didn't do that," safety Jarrell Holman said. "There was nothing [Oregon State did] that was unexpected. We came out flat and we really got out played tonight."

Sullivan under spotlight

Senior quarterback Danny Sullivan threw for a career high 338 passing yards Saturday night against Oregon State, much of which came in the face of heavy pressure.

With the lingering injuries at offensive line, Sullivan was rushed on his throws and constantly hit being sent to the turf. Sullivan also threw his second interception of the season, when he was picked off early in the second quarter. Sullivan finished the game 32-58, completing 55 percent of his passes.

Sullivan's favorite target of the night was senior wide receiver Chris McGaha who finished with career highs in both catches and yards. McGaha moved to the slot position after wide receiver Kyle Williams injured his right hamstring in practice earlier in the week.

Capitalizing on the position change, McGaha slated his name in the record books, finishing the game with 15 catches for 165 yards.

During the game, Sullivan was constantly reminded of his average performance by the ASU student section. The chants of replacing Sullivan with freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler could be heard as well as the "boo birds" when Sullivan failed to connect multiple times on his deep and intermediate passes as well as crucial third down conversions.

When asked whether he is concerned about keep his starting job Sullivan responded quickly by saying that's something he wasn't interested in discussing.

"I really don't want to speak my mind on that right now," Sullivan said. "There were a couple [big plays] I missed but we still made a lot of big plays. After crossing the 50 [yard line] we couldn't do anything."

Penalty yards prove costly

Not only was ASU set back on a sub-par performance by both the offense and the defense but as a team the Sun Devils committed a total of ten penalties resulting in 80 yards. Credited to two early personal foul calls were freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict and sophomore defensive lineman James Brooks.

Burfict made his first career start as a Sun Devil Saturday while Brooks made his season debut after coming off a suspension which he served the first three games of the season.

"The penalties set us back [especially] the roughing calls," Erickson said. "We were undisciplined and had some penalties which we normally don't have."

Skill positions see personnel changes

The wide receiver and running backs position had some fresh faces out on the field Saturday in ASU's Pac-10 opener.

Sophomore running back Ryan Bass, normally the third string back, saw time as the backup running back, leaping freshman Cameron Marshall. Bass was given his first carry of the game early in the second quarter when he contributed a nine yard run. Bass finished the game with eight rushes for 29 yards.

At wide receiver sophomore T.J. Simpson started out wide for the Sun Devils. Simpson finished the game with one catch for six yards. Sophomore Gerell Robinson also saw an increase in playing time. Throughout the last two games Robinson's role had been very limited however Saturday he caught six passes for 58 yards.


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