Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Georgia a big measuring stick for Arizona State Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State has been utterly dominant while winning its first two games. The Sun Devils' defense is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The offense ranks ninth with 44 points a game.
Now, take that information, crumple it up and throw it out the window. Coach Dennis Erickson knows that pounding on Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe means little.
Matt Kartozian/US Presswire
Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium will be Danny Sullivan's first start on the road.
A trip to No. 17 Georgia on Saturday? That's a bit of an upgrade in competition.
"We'll find out a little bit more about what we are as a team, that's the bottom line," Erickson said. "It doesn't matter who they are or what their rank is. We're [asking] right now, 'where are we at as a football team?'"
Erickson repeated variations of those sentiments to a variety of questions: Georgia will be a measuring stick for the Sun Devils.
If they manage to win, or least keep things competitive into the fourth quarter, they might become a top-half of the Pac-10 team, though the Bulldogs probably aren't in the class of California or USC this season.
If they can't keep up, then Arizona State likely falls in with the gaggle of teams scrapping for six wins and bowl eligibility in the lower-middle, bottom-third of the conference.
Of course, one game, win or lose, doesn't a season make. It's possible the Sun Devils in Athens, Ga., won't be anything like the Sun Devils in November. Still, this is the first chance to evaluate Arizona State against a first-rate BCS conference team.
Georgia opened a can of whup butt on the Sun Devils last year, the 27-10 count not doing justice to the Bulldogs dominance.
Georgia took a 21-3 lead into halftime and mostly coasted home. They outrushed the Sun Devils 176 yards to 4 and outgained them overall 461-212.
"They pretty much dominated us," Erickson said. "We didn't play very well and they played well."
The first question is how Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan will handle his first start on the road in one of the nation's tougher venues -- "Between the Hedges" at Sanford Stadium.
That's impossible to say. Sullivan is a senior, but the last time he faced a fast, elite defense, he crumbled after coming off the bench in 2008 against USC. And that was at home.
While the Georgia defense doesn't compare to USC -- it's given up 34 points per game -- two of those games were on the road, so the home crowd should help.
"Until you go in there and experience it, you just don't know," Erickson said.
On the other hand, this is a different group of Sun Devils. The defense is deeper and faster than last year's and, while there's lots of experience, a youth movement led by tackles Lawrence Guy, a sophomore, and William Sutton and Corey Adams as well as linebacker Vontaze Burfict -- all true freshmen -- is most intriguing.
Yet the biggest difference might be on the offensive line.
In 2008, the Sun Devils started converted defensive lineman Jon Hargis at left tackle and 289-pound redshirt freshman Adam Tello at right tackle. Things didn't go well for either.
A far more experienced Hargis is now the left guard, while Tello is his backup. NFL prospect Shawn Lauvao moved out to left tackle, while guard Matt Hustad and tackle Tom Njunge give the Sun Devils far more athleticism on the right side. Neither was healthy last year.
Is it a great offensive line? No. But last year's unit didn't have a chance -- the Sun Devils ranked 113th in the nation in rushing and surrendered 34 sacks (109th in the nation). This time around, it might.
"We're much more solid, we have more depth," Erickson said. "We're playing a little bit better, technique-wise and so forth. We made some moves to get our best players in the right positions. As we go through the next 10 weeks, if we lose a guy or two, we'll put people out there who play pretty well. I like where we're at. Are we a great offensive line? No, but we're getting better all the time and we're better now than we were at this time last year."
Georgia, meanwhile, entered the season having to replace running back Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matt Stafford, NFL first-round picks who dominated the action in last year's game. The Bulldogs seem to be getting their legs under them after opening with a loss at Oklahoma State. They had just 257 total yards against the Cowboys but piled up 530 yards Saturday in their win over Arkansas.
"Joe Cox is playing extremely well at quarterback," Erickson said. "The last two weeks, I didn't see any drop-off."
A key matchup will be Bulldogs sophomore receiver A.J. Green against the Sun Devils secondary, particularly cornerback Omar Bolden. Last year, Green dominated Bolden, catching eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Erickson's advice to his team on handling the frenzy of a road game in an SEC stadium? Have fun.
"You talk to our players about it and they're excited to go down there and experience [that]," he said. "It's going to be fun; they're looking forward to it."
Sounds like the Sun Devils are eager to find out who they really are in 2009.