Erickson: Run, Sun Devils, run!

September, 29, 2008
9/29/08
6:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter watched the Georgia-Alabama game this past weekend and probably had the same reaction you did when the halftime score read 31-zip, Alabama.

"I was in shock," he said.

But Carpenter also was still gnawing on Arizona State's 27-10 loss to the Bulldogs, feeling like he and the Sun Devils didn't show their best for a national TV audience.

"It kind of made me a little upset, too, because I really felt like we were going to be able to do a lot more than what we did in that [ASU's Georgia] game," he said.

Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson also watched the Alabama-Georgia game and it only further validated to him what his team needs to do the rest of the season.

"Against Georgia we didn't run it," he said. "If I had a do-over, if I had a mulligan, I would go in and run it more to give us a chance to run it."

ASU is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry and 89 yards rushing per game, which ranks last in the Pac-10 and 110th in the nation.

While it can be infuriating for most fans (or reporters, see link) to watch their team repeatedly run the ball when it's not working, coaches will tell you that sometimes a team needs to keep running it just for the sake or running it.

That cloud of dust surrounding even 1- and 2-yard thuds often chokes a defense later in a game, and at least keeps it honest.

"It's not how many yards you gain but that you run it and you're physical and those kinds of things," Erickson said. "We made a mistake thinking we couldn't run it against Georgia."

There's probably not a more swashbuckling playmaker in the Pac-10 that Carpenter, but even Carpenter wants to run the ball more.

Carpenter's reasoning is simple -- there's more buckle than swash when a defense can gang up on the run and play a Cover-2 zone that forces an offense to dink and dunk its way down the field.

Carpenter doesn't like dinking and dunking. He wants to attack downfield.

"But those shots aren't going to be there unless we can establish some type of run game," he said. "Play-action fakes don't work. All that stuff is thrown out the window when you don't run it like you should."

The return of speedy starting tailback Keegan Herring should help Saturday at California, though Herring's nagging hamstring injury isn't completely healed.

With or without Herring, it won't be easy to find that elusive run game against Cal, which ranks third in the Pac-10 in run defense (101 yards per game). Opponents, which have included Michigan State Heisman Trophy candidate Javon Ringer (81 yards on 27 carries), are averaging just 2.5 yards per carry against the Bears.

Moreover, Cal is using a new 3-4 look, which showcases its depth at linebacker.

The unusual scheme kept Carpenter in the film room during the bye week instead of looking for ways to distract himself from two consecutive defeats.

He's well aware that a loss at Cal with a visit to USC up next could send the Sun Devils season spiraling into mediocrity.

Carpenter said the Bears typically use an unusual variety of coverages, but he feels fairly confident that they have seen how UNLV and Georgia stymied the Sun Devils with a Cover-2 defense.

"That's what I would do if I were a defense," he said. "I'd play what's been working. The two wins we got, they didn't do that to us. They tried to stop the run and play man-to-man coverage and we took advantage of that."

Last year, the way to stop the Sun Devils was to play man-to-man and blitz Carpenter relentlessly.

This year, it's take away the downfield passing game and challenge ASU to run the football.

It's worked two games in a row. Will the third time be a charm?

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