By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: After a lackluster 2008 season, the Sun Devils came into the 2009 campaign looking for improvement, but Dennis Erickson's squad was unable to step up to the task.
The season did kick off on the right foot however, with victories over Idaho
State and UL-Monroe, but the Sun Devils quickly fell to 2-2 on the year with
losses to Georgia and Oregon State. Arizona State rebounded with wins over
Washington State (27-14) and Washington (24-17), but after defeating the
Huskies, things fell apart. Following a 33-14 setback to Stanford on the road,
ASU suffered back-to-back tough losses to California and USC, dropping
those matchups by a combined seven points. The losing did not stop there, as
the Sun Devils dropped their last three games, including a heartbreaking 20-17
last-second setback to rival Arizona to close out the season with a 4-8 record
and a six-game losing skid.
OFFENSE: Arizona State finished eighth in the conference with just 22.3 ppg a
year ago and with only three starters returning, none of which were the team's
key players last season, it could be another long year for ASU's offense.
First and foremost the Sun Devils will need to find a quarterback that can
lead this unit, and as of now the competition is between Steven Threet, a
transfer from Michigan, and Brock Osweiler, who showed he can handle the
pressure under center in minimal time in 2009.
"We have two quarterbacks who competed in the spring," said coach Erickson.
"Brock Osweiler is probably as talented as I've had at that position. Steven
Threet played in big games when he was at Michigan. Those two are competing.
Both are good football players. I haven't made a decision on what we're going
to do yet."
Whoever is taking snaps for coach Erickson this season will not have many
options at their disposal since the team had to replace its top three
receivers. Gerell Robinson hauled in 26 passes a year ago, but senior Kerry
Taylor could be the top target in Tempe this season. The ground game, which
was also inconsistent a year ago, will have to find a new running back for the
season as well. As of now Cameron Marshall will be the main ball carrier, but
also look for fellow sophomore James Morrison to earn some playing time.
What will determine the success of the rushing attack is the offensive line,
which returns only one starter in center Garth Gerhart.
"He would've been our starter last year," said coach Erickson about Gerhart.
"He would've been our starter actually since Pollack left. But probably
because of injuries and having to move him to guard, just to have enough guys
to play, really took away from the kind of center that he is. Then he got hurt
early last year at camp. I believe he?s one of the better centers in our
league. Very smart, comes from a football family, knows the calls, been
around, which at that position you need to know what you're doing there too."
DEFENSE: Last year the defense for Arizona State had to carry the team, and
that will likely be the case once again this season. In terms of overall
defense, the Sun Devils are as good as it gets, and are coming off a year in
which they finished 13th in the nation in total yards allowed per game at
Coach Erickson has the luxury of boasting possibly the top defensive line in
the conference, thanks in large part to the return of defensive tackles
Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola. With the speedy and aggressive James Brooks
coming off the end, the Sun Devils have plenty of talent up front.
What is even more impressive for ASU is that the linebackers are just as
talented, if not more so. Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will play the outside
positions, while sophomore Vontaze Burfict will try to build off his
sensational freshman campaign in the middle. However, if Burfict is unable to
duplicate his performance or elevate it to the next level it is likely Gerald
Munns could see some time in the middle. Regardless of who is on the field,
the Sun Devils are riddled with talent at that position.
"I would say they have the most depth," said Erickson, "but I would say if you
were going categorize it like that, probably the front seven is a real
The biggest question mark is in the defensive backfield, with the loss of both
starting safeties. Keelan Johnson and Clint Floyd will probably take over for
coach Erickson at safety, but the biggest player in the secondary could be
junior Omar Bolden, who will man one of the corner spots. Bolden was injured
last year, but when healthy, is one of the top cover corners in the Pac-10.
SPECIAL TEAMS: After winning the Lou Groza Award in 2007, kicker Thomas Weber
suffered through some tough injuries, including a hip issue that hampered his
production for most of last season. Although getting through that injury was
hard, the senior is fully healthy and waiting for the new season.
"It was really hard," said Weber. "Seeing the opportunities we had to pass up
because I wasn't healthy and knowing if I was healthy, I would at lease be out
there attempting those and giving us a chance to put points on the board."
Another bonus for this unit is sophomore Jamal Miles, who along with
contributing to the rushing and passing attack, will also showcase his
explosive speed in the return game.
OUTLOOK: Arizona State is coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first
time since 1946-47 and the 15 setbacks over the past two campaigns is the most
in ASU history over a two-year span. With that said things might not get much
better this year with all the new blood on offense, and if the Sun Devils can
not turn their fortunes around coach Erickson could be on his way out in
"Not my first time. I've been on the hot seat a lot," said coach Erickson. "I
don't pay any attention to that. If I'm a fan, and I see two season of where
we're at, I wouldn't be very happy with me either. I'd put something on my
seat, that?s for sure. Not sure what. I'm here to build a program. We've got a
lot of young guys that have played now, and this year and the next year we
have to win games. Get things going where they need to be. The hot seat is the
hot seat. When my wife is home, that?s when I'm really on the hot seat."
Winning games will not be easy for the Sun Devils this year, especially since
the team's road slate is extremely tough. ASU's first road game will be at
Wisconsin and it does not get easier after that as the Sun Devils will have to
battle conference opponents Oregon State, Washington, California, USC and
rival Arizona away from home. Regardless of how good the defense is this year,
look for another sub .500 campaign in Tempe.