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|Saturday's Arizona State-Georgia matchup should be a great quarterback duel between Rudy Carpenter and Matthew Stafford.|
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter is a fun guy to interview because he doesn't just spit back rote answers. And if he doesn't like a question, he's incapable of hiding his annoyance.
For example: Rudy, looking at film of No. 3 Georgia, which visits Sun Devil Stadium Saturday, did anything stand out, did they look different than other Pac-10 teams -- faster or bigger or stronger?
"They looked like guys," Carpenter said. "They looked like guys in uniforms."
Fair enough. But surely a senior quarterback as accomplished as Carpenter -- he's made 34 consecutive starts and will surpass 9,000 career passing yards against the Bulldogs -- gets juiced when the opposing quarterback is as celebrated as Georgia junior Matthew Stafford, who might end up being the first quarterback taken this spring if he enters the NFL draft a year early?
"I don't get any juice from knowing he's the No. 1-rated quarterback in the country," Carpenter said. "I get juiced from the fact we have a good team and we're playing Georgia on ESPN. ... I don't care about Matthew Stafford. He's a good player. The No. 1 draft pick? Great. I don't care."
If Carpenter seems a bit testy, he's got good reason. His team fell asleep in the fourth quarter last weekend against UNLV, a 23-point underdog, and let a game that appeared safely in hand slip away in overtime.
"I think they were very angry with themselves," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "I was very angry with myself and how I performed. The bottom line falls on me and I think they felt the same way about themselves as I felt about myself, which was pretty angry, probably as angry as some of our fans are with me."
The shocking defeat on a weekend in which much of the rest of the Pac-10 went belly-up quashed much of the buzz that had been growing since folks started eyeballing the marquee interconference showdown months ago.
Goodbye national ranking. Goodbye potential visit from ESPN's "College GameDay."
It's enough to put a chip on a guy's (or team's) shoulder.
"Maybe everybody realizes we squandered an opportunity and that's not going to happen again," Carpenter said.
Georgia doesn't exactly arrive feeling sky-high. The Bulldogs have dropped two spots from their preseason No. 1 perch after three mostly middling performances, including a lackluster 14-7 win last weekend at South Carolina, a team that lost to Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs only gained 252 total yards and Stafford was sacked four times.
"[South Carolina] was the No. 1 ranked defense in the league," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them No. 1 by the end. We weren't shocked that we struggled."
That sort of thing gets said a lot in the SEC.
Of course, the last time an SEC power visited Arizona State in 2005, LSU won 35-31 but surrendered 560 yards in the process. That Tigers defense finished ranked third in the nation giving up an average of 267 yards.
Georgia's chief issue might not be super-vicious SEC defenses but playing with one of the nation's youngest offensive lines. Richt was exploring a variety of positions shifts this week, but his two-deep depth chart features five sophomores (four redshirts), four freshmen (two redshirts) and a junior.
"We struggled a little bit last week," Stafford said. "They're young. It's going to take them time to grow into a really good offensive line."
While the Sun Devils aren't terribly strong at the defensive tackle, ends Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez form one of the Pac-10's best perimeter pass-rushing combinations.
The ASU defense also will benefit from the return of DE Jamarr Robinson and LB Morris Wooten, both back from suspension, as well as LB Gerald Munns, who sat out last week after surgery on his pinkie finger.
The game's biggest mismatch appears to be the Sun Devils' mix-and-match offensive line vs. Georgia's defensive front. ASU has struggled to run the ball, and Georgia is yielding only 60 rushing yards per game.
That lack of a running attack has killed the Sun Devils in the red zone, where they've scored only six TDs in 13 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line.
It would help if speedy RB Keegan Herring were healthy, but he's questionable with a nagging hamstring injury.
Much has been made of Georgia making its first West Coast trip since a 10-3 defeat to USC in 1960 (notably, the Georgia press release refers to the Trojans as "Southern Cal," an appellation that USC notoriously dislikes and includes a prominent note in its media guide requesting that it not be used. A little SEC vs. USC gamesmanship, perhaps?).
But the Bulldogs have been nothing less than extraordinary on the road under Richt. They are 26-4 overall and 9-2 vs. ranked teams.
And there appears to be little chance Georgia won't be up for its first trip to the desert. While it's mostly fans who debate the relative strength of the various BCS conferences -- often with profane passion -- the players are not unaware of the discussion.
Stafford, for one, admits he cares about the perception of the SEC.
"We do. I think a lot of teams do, whether they say it or not," he said. "You go out of conference and play a team that's a good football team from another conference you want to play well and you definitely want to win."
The same goes for the Sun Devils, who finished 10-3 last year but failed in all three of its matchups with marquee opponents -- Oregon, USC and Texas.
"This is an opportunity for our team to win a big game," Carpenter said. "It's a big opportunity for myself to help our team win a big game, which we haven't been able to do."
Moreover, the Bulldogs are merely the first game of a four-game gauntlet that includes visits to California and USC and a home date with Oregon.
A bad showing Saturday could suddenly plant a huge question mark on the season.