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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Midseason review: Arizona State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Record: 5-1, 3-0

Arizona State began the season with high hopes that wins would end hot-seat talk for coach Dennis Erickson. Despite epidemic injuries, that's exactly what has happened.

The Sun Devils whipped UC Davis in the opener, which set up a showdown with No. 19 Missouri. It was the sort of nonconference matchup at home that could awaken a skeptical fan base. And everything was going great as the Sun Devils jumped ahead 30-16 early in the fourth quarter. But then things got sloppy -- surprise! -- and the Tigers stormed back to tie the game and could have won it in regulation if kicker Grant Ressel had made a 48-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

But the Sun Devils prevailed in overtime. That victory was a coming out party for quarterback Brock Osweiler, who passed for 353 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in OT, and rushed for 34 yards and a score.

But the Sun Devils let the momentum slip away at Illinois. Osweiler and his offensive line struggled, and the overall performance was sloppy in a 17-14 loss, which came despite the Sun Devils outgaining the Illini 362 yards to 240. That raised the old bugaboo: Would the Sun Devils continue to be sloppy and inconsistent?

But they bounced back at home with a strong performance in a 43-22 win over No. 23 USC. Running back Cameron Marshall, who was expected to sit out with a sprained ankle, ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns to help Arizona State end an 11-game losing streak to the Trojans.

The Sun Devils overcame a slow start to whip Oregon State 35-20 the next week. Then they visited Utah in a key South Division clash. But this time it was the Utes who were sloppy, as a flurry of turnovers turned a tight game into a 35-14 blowout.

The Sun Devils, who've seen seven starters miss games due to injury, will take a No. 18 national ranking to Oregon on Saturday in a clash that could be a preview of the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2. That's a much more pleasant topic to discuss than Erickson's job security.

Offensive MVP: QB Brock Osweiler. Osweiler has been the centerpiece of the Sun Devils' resurgence, both on the field and as a leader. He's completed 67 percent of his passes and averaged 280 yards per game with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's also rushed for 100 yards and two scores.

Defensive MVP: LB Colin Parker. Parker isn't the best known player on the Sun Devils' defense -- that's Vontaze Burfict -- but Parker leads the team with 40 tackles and has been a consistent presence for a unit that has played well despite injuries.