ASU found its D at Georgia, but the O is still MIA

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
6:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Arizona State went looking for itself at Georgia last weekend and it found half a team.

Actually, the Sun Devils might have found more than that after losing a 20-17 heartbreaker on a last-second field goal, but coach Dennis Erickson still isn't sure what he's got this season.

Matt Kartozian/US Presswire
Danny Sullivan, who's completed less than 50 percent of his passes, has had his share of criticism.
The defense, now ranked third in the nation, proved itself a salty crew. The offense hinted at a run game. The passing game was thisclose to making enough plays to win.

But, in the end, the offense only managed to produce 204 yards and score 10 points -- the other touchdown came on an interception return -- against a defense that would be below average in the Pac-10.

"I've got to see how this thing carries out -- we've got nine games left in the Pac-10," coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's really hard to tell where we're at, to be honest."

Erickson said that in response to a question about whether talented true freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler is pushing for playing time behind senior starter Danny Sullivan. He said it immediately after defending Sullivan from some grumbles of criticism among Sun Devils fans.

"He's playing decent," Erickson said of Sullivan.

Sullivan completed 10 of 32 passes for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Bulldogs. He missed some open receivers. And some good passes were dropped.

The struggles in the passing game -- the opportunities were there, just not converted -- certainly covered the long road trip with a what-could-have-been blanket.

"We dropped some [against Georgia], but we made some good catches, too," Erickson said. "We’re not throwing like we want to, but up until then we’ve been throwing it pretty well. We just have to become accountable."

Quarterback may not be the chief concern as the Sun Devils prepare for a visit from Oregon State. The offensive line, which had taken some baby steps forward, has been ravaged by injuries. Guard Matt Hustad won't play against the Beavers because of a knee injury and the top two centers, Garth Gerhart (toe) and Thomas Altieri (knee), are questionable. Guard Jon Hargis is fine as long as he can withstand having his shoulder forced back into joint a few times a game, as was done at Georgia.

Oregon State's defense has struggled against the pass. It's yielded 272 yards per game and eight touchdown passes and has recorded just two sacks. But it's been fairly stout against the run (92 yards per game).

So if the Beavers crowd the line to stop the Sun Devils' running game, which only ranks seventh in the conference in any event, then Sullivan is going to have to make plays.

Or face more criticism.

Erickson doesn't think Sullivan will start pressing because of fan gripes.

“I don’t think that will bother him because he knows that I don’t worry about it," he said. "You can’t play that position and worry about what people say. If you do, you’ve got a problem.

Erickson might not ask his offense to do too much, considering how well his defense is playing. The Sun Devils also get back suspended end James Brooks, which will allow Dexter Davis to move back to the weak side, where he's a better pass-rushing threat -- no tight end to double-team him. While the defense has been strong overall, it's only recorded two sacks so far.

The ASU D has earned a few admirers.

"They have a great-looking defense," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "They gave Georgia fits in every way. Running the ball, short-yardage situations, many times they just stuffed them."

But that's only half a team.

The Sun Devils will face much better defenses than they've seen thus far in the weeks ahead. If they want to push into the top-half of the wide-open conference race, the offense must improve.

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