Pac-12: Danny Sullivan

Don't be surprised if ... Arizona State

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
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Second in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see Arizona State's 2009 prediction here).

Don't be surprised if ... Arizona State's offensive numbers are significantly better in 2010

[+] EnlargeThomas Weber
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireHaving a healthy Thomas Weber all season could make a difference in the Sun Devils' record.
Let's just get this out of the way: Arizona State's offense was terrible last year. It averaged just 18.1 points per game against Pac-10 foes, which ranked ninth in the conference (another moment for a team to say, "Thank God for Washington State").

Oh, and heading into 2010, that unit must replace seven starters, including its quarterback, best lineman, leading rusher and two best receivers.

So how could anyone be optimistic about the Sun Devils' offense?

Start with this factoid: Arizona State scored 34 touchdowns last year. UCLA went to a bowl game despite scoring just 25 in the regular season.

What was the difference between the Bruins and Sun Devils? Field goals. UCLA connected on 28, Arizona State just 11.

The Bruins had All-American Kai Forbath. The Sun Devils had former Lou Groza Award winner Thomas Weber sitting on the bench hurt. Weber kicked five field goals in the opener but was healthy enough to only contribute three more the rest of the way.

The Sun Devils, who finished 4-8, lost four games by a combined 13 points. Think a few more field goals would have helped? How about 51 more points, which is the difference in that department between the Bruins and Sun Devils?

But it's not just about the healthy return of an outstanding kicker. The Sun Devils will be substantially better at quarterback, no matter who wins the competition between Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. While it's an indelicate thing to say, Danny Sullivan was simply not a Pac-10-level QB. Threet and Osweiler both are impressive physical specimens who have talent.

The Sun Devils' receivers and running backs won't wow anyone, but as groups they are reasonably solid. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has skill to work with and he brings a fresh set of eyes and new ideas.

Of course, the offensive line, particularly after the loss of guard Jon Hargis to a knee injury, is a huge question. But if the Sun Devils get lucky with health issues up front going forward -- they certainly are due --then they should be OK.

And OK might be pretty darn good. Combined with a stingy defense, a mediocre offense -- instead of a terrible one -- will get the Sun Devils to a bowl game.

Arizona State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
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Arizona State

2009 overall record: 4-8

2009 conference record: 2-7 (ninth)

Returning starters

Offense: 3, Defense: 4, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: K Thomas Weber, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE James Brooks

Key losses: WR Kyle Williams, WR Chris McGaha, RB Dimitri Nance, OT Shawn Lauvao, DE Dexter Davis, LB Travis Goethel, LB Mike Nixon

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Dimitri Nance (795)
Passing: Danny Sullivan (1,939)
Receiving: Kyle Williams (815)
Tackles: Mike Nixon (73)
Sacks: Lawrence Guy* (4.5)
Interceptions: Mike Nixon, Jarrell Holman, Ryan McFoy (3)

Spring Answers

1. Help at receiver: Even though the Sun Devils lost their top two receivers, Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha, the position appears fairly solid, particularly with Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad, who would have started for the Ducks in 2009, and JC transfer George Bell performing well this spring.

2. Em-Bolden: Cornerback Omar Bolden looked like the budding star he was supposed to be as a true freshman, but he struggled mightily as a sophomore and then missed 2009 with a knee injury. Entering spring, there were questions about whether he could regain a starting spot. No longer. Bolden may have turned in his best work yet this spring and should be a leader in the secondary.

3. For the defense: The Sun Devils lost seven starters from their outstanding 2009 defense, but they may be even better this fall. There's lots of speed and young players who excelled in 2009, most particularly linebacker Vontaze Burfict, had a year of seasoning in which to mature and refine their game.

Fall questions

1. Who's the QB? Before spring, many expected Michigan transfer Steven Threet to win the job. At the end of spring, sophomore Brock Osweiler instead emerged as the leader. In the fall, Samson Szakacsy rejoins the competition after sitting out spring drills, hopefully with a healthy arm. All three are capable, so there may be a few more plot twists before this one is resolved.

2. What about the O-line (again!)? The Sun Devils were already replacing two starters on the O-line when veteran guard Jon Hargis injured his knee, ending his 2010 season before it began, so there are lots of questions. For instance, will Zach Schlink and Matt Hustad be available? Both are talented but have been riddled with knee problems. And: Are JC transfer Brice Schwab and redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg ready for Pac-10 play? Both are slated to start at tackle. It doesn't matter who plays QB if the O-line can't get the job done.

3. What about maturity? Sure, there's loads of talent on defense, but look at the sorts of guys who graduated: end Dexter Davis and linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel. Each were smart, savvy players and strong locker room guys. In other words, leaders. It's unclear who will fill their shoes. Even with those guys, the Sun Devils had over 1,000 yards in penalties last year -- 200 more than any other conference team. Smarter, more disciplined play might make a difference in close games.

QB competition takes center stage for ASU

March, 31, 2010
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- So how did quarterback Steven Threet end up at Arizona State?

"You want the long story or the short story?" Threet replies.

The short story: Threet signed with Georgia Tech out of Adrian (Mich.) High School but opted to transfer to Michigan when the Yellow Jackets changed offensive coordinators. Then the Wolverines changed head coaches and offenses from a pro-style scheme to a spread-option under Rich Rodriguez, which didn't fit the 6-foot-5, 237-pounder's style in the least.

[+] EnlargeSteven Threet
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireSteven Threet hopes to win the Sun Devils' starting quarterback job.
D'oh.

The Sun Devils also have changed offensive coordinators since Threet arrived, but no matter. He's hopeful that three times -- and programs -- is the charm.

"I'm comfortable with this offense," he said.

Threet, now a junior, and true sophomore Brock Osweiler will be competing this spring to take the reins of an offense that can only get better in large part because it was mostly lousy in 2009, averaging just 18 points per game against BCS conference foes.

Osweiler (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) played in six games and started one -- an ill-fated, blowout loss at Oregon -- completing 43.6 percent of his passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Threet started eight games at Michigan in 2008, completing 51 percent of his throws for 1,105 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 201 yards and two scores, so he's not a complete stiff in the pocket.

Both guys have some experience, but neither was anything close to lights out. Both have talent. Both have leadership skills. Both are tall.

And it's a straight-up competition with no leader at this point, at least officially. Coach Dennis Erickson said he flipped a coin to decide who would get the first snaps with the No. 1 offense when spring practices started Tuesday. Threet won the toss, by the way.

"Steven has experience playing in games, and Brock has a lot of physical talent," Erickson said. "So we're going to give them both a fair shot and see what transpires."

Erickson said he's looking for accuracy and good decision making in the Sun Devils' "new" spread offense, which will be run by new coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"New" in quotes mostly means that the scheme looks a lot like what Erickson did in the past when his offenses were humming -- spread the field with four receivers and control the game's tempo.

"The guy who wins the job is the guy who manages what we do offensively," Mazzone said. "You can't be just a flash player and be a good quarterback. The, 'Oh, man, he's got a strong arm -- did you see him throw that one deep?' So what? Can a guy move the football, keep us out of bad situations with down and distance and protect the football?"

(Read full post)

Arizona State season recap

December, 9, 2009
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Arizona State was a lopsided team this year -- good defense, bad offense. And the good wasn't good enough to cover for the bad.

The Sun Devils ranked first or second in the conference in just about every defensive category, while they ranked eighth or worse in just about every offensive category.

Senior quarterback Danny Sullivan fought hard to make things work, but there wasn't enough talent around him to make up for his shortcomings. ASU was a play or two away from winning much of the year, see four losses by five or fewer points.

The end-result was a season ruined for a second year in a row by a six-game losing streak, not to mention a second-consecutive losing season for the program for the first time since 1946-47.

That landed coach Dennis Erickson on the hot seat by season's end, which is probably the reason he fired longtime coaching pal Rich Olson, the beleaguered offensive coordinator.

Offensive MVP -- Receiver Kyle Williams.

Williams caught 57 passes for 815 yards with eight touchdowns. His 48 points led the Sun Devils.

Defensive MVP --Linebacker Mike Nixon.

Nixon not only was the leading tackler for the stout Sun Devils defense, he also was a mature, stabilizing leader on a unit that sometimes showed too much youthful energy (hello, Vontaze Burfict). Nixon finished with 73 tackles. He also had six tackles for a loss, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

Turning point -- Arizona State was fighting all season to find its rhythm, but the game that seemed to ensure it wouldn't be found was the 23-21 loss to California on a last-second field goal on Oct. 31. That was the second and most heartbreaking loss of a six-game losing streak to end the season -- at least until the finale vs. Arizona.

What's next -- The Sun Devils need to get better on offense -- duh -- and that starts on the offensive line and then moves on to what figures to be a spirited quarterback competition this spring between Brock Osweiler, Samson Szakacsy and Michigan transfer Steven Threet, who may be the frontrunner. Erickson figures to start next season on the hot seat, so the Sun Devils may need to get to a bowl game to keep him secure.

Pac-10 helmet stickers, Week 13

November, 29, 2009
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Who stood out in week 13?

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: Toby Heisman ran for 205 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns in the Cardinal's 45-38 win over Notre Dame. He also threw an 18-yard touchdown pass and caught a pass for 33 yards. He ranks second in the nation in rushing with 144.67 yards per game and his 26 rushing touchdowns leads the nation -- only one other player has more than 20. And he's piled up his numbers against probably the toughest schedule of all the major candidates.

Danny Sullivan, QB, Arizona State: Not every college player gets his fairytale ending. But, Danny, would you settle for respect? The maligned Sullivan, in his final college game, came off the bench and led an impressive Sun Devils comeback from a a 14-0 deficit against Arizona, tying the score at 17 with 2:02 remaining on a beautiful fourth-and-12 pass from the Wildcats 14-yard line to a diving Kyle Williams. Sullivan completed 14 of 28 passes for 168 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And, even though Arizona State ended up a 20-17 loser, Sullivan should walk away feeling redeemed.

Washington's defense: Quarterback Jake Locker was his spectacular self, but the Huskies defense deserves credit for pitching the first Apple Cup shutout in 45 years. The Huskies yielded just 163 total yards to Washington State in their 30-0 victory.

Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Smith not only returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown in the Trojans 28-7 win over rival UCLA, he also recorded a game-high 15 tackles -- the next highest for either team was nine -- with 1.5 tackles for a loss. Guess the shoulder is feeling better.

Heartbreak for Williams, Arizona State

November, 28, 2009
11/28/09
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Senior Kyle Williams transformed from hero to goat for Arizona State in what might be the most excruciating second of his life.

Williams, just over a minute after hauling in a diving touchdown reception that tied the Sun Devils with arch-rival Arizona late in the fourth quarter, muffed a fair catch on a punt, which set up the Wildcats game-winning field goal.

Arizona won 20-17 on a 32-yard chip shot from Alex Zendejas as time expired, but even the last-second finish failed to encompass the emotions of this one.

Start with Williams, who caught nine passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. For much of the day, he was the best player on the field.

Then there's maligned ASU senior quarterback Danny Sullivan, who came off the bench and completed 14 of 28 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He and Williams did nearly all their damage in the second half, when Arizona State charged back from a 14-0 halftime deficit.

After the Sun Devils tied the score with 2:09 left, they forced Arizona to go three and out. All the momentum was in their favor with just over a minute remaining.

On the ensuing punt, Williams signaled for a fair catch. He could have let the ball hit the ground. But he tried to catch it in the face of charging tacklers. The ball tipped off his fingers and was recovered on the first bounce by reserve cornerback Mike Turner on the Sun Devils 22-yard line.

The Wildcats ran three plays. And then kicked the field goal.

Williams was inconsolable. Bet there are even a few Wildcats fans who can feel for the guy.

And Sullivan was denied a chance at redemption. He's been booed and benched and doubted, yet he nearly created magic in the last football game of his career.

Nearly.

It's been a tough year in Tempe.

Arizona State, which finishes 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-10, dominated the second half. But it lost.

Arizona improves to 7-4 and 5-3. The Wildcats can finished tied for second in the conference if they win at USC next weekend.

Arizona State closes gap to 14-10

November, 28, 2009
11/28/09
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A 96-yard touchdown drive for Arizona State has changed the feeling of this game.

Arizona State's maligned senior quarterback, Danny Sullivan, tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Williams to close the gap with Arizona to 14-10 with just under 12 minutes left.

It might have been the Sun Devils' best drive of the season.

Arizona has been sort of sitting back, apparently thinking the Sun Devils didn't have a comeback in them.

It appears the Wildcats were wrong.

So will Nick Foles and company answer?

Arizona State is fighting back

November, 28, 2009
11/28/09
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Arizona State found some offense in the third quarter, but Arizona leads 14-3 heading into the fourth quarter.

Do the Sun Devils have 12 points in them? Based on what we've seen thus far, the answer is no.

But running back Dimitri Nance found some holes in the Wildcats defense in the third -- 50 of his 72 yards came in the quarter.

Arizona led Oregon by 10 in the fourth and lost in double overtime, but that was a completely different offense. The Sun Devils will be forced to throw in the fourth, and that raises a question that has riddled them all season: Can they get good quarterback play?

It appears this is senior Danny Sullivan's game to win or lose. He entered in the second quarter and will be the quarterback of record in the final football game of his career.

Sullivan is a stand-up guy. He got his big moment this season when a late bomb beat Washington.

Does he have some magic left?

Halftime: Arizona 14, Arizona State 0

November, 28, 2009
11/28/09
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Arizona State's defense is doing its part, but, boy, the Sun Devils' offense looks terrible.

Arizona, which seems to have bounced back well from last week's double-overtime loss to Oregon, leads 14-0 at the break, and 14 points feels like a huge lead in this one.

The Sun Devils have 78 total yards, and 44 of that came on a single pass play on their opening drive.

Samson Szakacsy started at quarterback, but Dennis Erickson inserted senior Danny Sullivan in the middle of the second quarter. It didn't help.

How are things going for the Sun Devils?

Erickson, trying to spark his team, went for a fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard line. Wow.

And his anemic offense converted with a Dimitri Nance run.

And then they didn't do anything. On fourth-and-6, they tried to punt, but Arizona's Orlando Vargas blocked the punt and returned it 23 yards for a TD and a 14-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Arizona's defense is in complete control, which is making it easy for an uneven offense.

If the Wildcats hold on, this will be a big win for the program, which was in the dumps last week. It proves Mike Stoops' program is resilient, and it also keeps hopes alive for a second-place finish in the Pac-10.

Szakacsy may get the start for Arizona State

November, 17, 2009
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While Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson wasn't ready to name a starting quarterback for the visit to UCLA on Saturday, it's clear that Samson Szakacsy made an impression with his performance at Oregon.

Szakacsy came off the bench and completed 13 of 22 passes for 113 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in the 44-21 defeat. He also ran for a touchdown and used to his speed to elude heavy pressure from the Ducks.

"He'll get the most reps with the ones this week," Erickson said.

True freshman Brock Osweiler made his first career start against the Ducks, but was knocked out off the game with a shoulder injury. He had replaced senior senior Danny Sullivan, who was nursing a biceps injury. Both are expected to be available Saturday, but it appears that Erickson wants a closer look at Szakacsy, an athletic sophomore who's battled a nagging elbow problem since he arrived in Tempe.

"We've just never have seen him because he's been hurt all the time," Erickson said. "So we're going to let him take that first group quite a bit in the next few days and see where he's at."

If Szakacsy plays well, it could lead to an interesting spring. Osweiler was thought to be the quarterback of the future, but Szakacsy could make a challenge. And there's also Michigan transfer Steven Threet, who started eight games for the Wolverines in 2008 but opted to transfer because he wasn't a good fit for Rich Rodriguez' new spread-system.

"It will be interesting to see what happens in the spring with the three of them -- there will be great competition," Erickson said.

Who's Arizona State's quarterback?

November, 16, 2009
11/16/09
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Which Arizona State quarterback starts at UCLA on Saturday?

There are three candidates, and it doesn't appear that coach Dennis Erickson is ready to make a call -- consider this from the Arizona Republic:

[Erickson] expects senior Danny Sullivan, who started the first nine games before missing the Oregon game because of a right-biceps injury, and true freshman Brock Osweiler, who started against Oregon but left in the second quarter because of a left-shoulder injury, to be available.

Sophomore Samson Szakacsy now is a legitimate part of the conversation after throwing for 113 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another score in the first extensive playing time of his career.

Szakacsy gave the offense a spark with his running ability in the 44-21 loss at Oregon. What had been holding him back was a lingering elbow problem that had limited his arm strength, but most of his throws seemed to arrive with enough velocity.

The game is big for both teams. The Sun Devils need to win their final two games to become bowl eligible. UCLA needs to win one of two, but probably likes its chances better at home vs. ASU than on the road at USC.

Regardless who Erickson starts Saturday, it now seems like there will be genuine competition this spring between Szakacsy and Osweiler, who's generally been anointed as the program's quarterback of the future.

Oregon alone atop Pac-10 after win

November, 15, 2009
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No LeGarrette Blount. And it wasn't terribly pretty. But Oregon took care of business against Arizona State, 44-21.

Blount didn't play after being reinstated after his suspension, but a good reason why was on display as LaMichael James rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns against one of the nation's top run defenses.

Oregon visits Arizona on Saturday in a critical game in the Pac-10 race. Both teams control their own conference destiny. So winning that one will be key -- that whole destiny thing.

Arizona State may have an interesting quarterback situation this year, and going forward. With senior Danny Sullivan out with an injury, and true freshman Brock Osweiler knocked out in the first half, sophomore Samson Szakacsy came off the bench and threw for a touchdown and ran for another, transforming a blowout -- it was 31-7 at the half -- into a game.

Which guy will play next week at UCLA and who's the guy in 2010?

Pac-10 lunch links: Gerhart has special motivation vs. USC

November, 13, 2009
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See I am Wonder Mike and I'd like to say hello,
To the black, to the white, the red, and the brown, the purple and yellow
but first I gotta bang-bang the boogie to the boogie
say up jump the boogie to the bang-bang boogie
let's rock, you don't stop
rock the riddle that will make your body rock.
  • This is unexplored territory for Arizona -- ranked and in position to play in the program's first Rose Bowl.
  • Arizona State might slow it down in order to keep up with Oregon's offense. And in the "be careful what you wish for category" -- Danny Sullivan won't be available at Oregon. And are too many Sun Devils getting into trouble?
  • California will get an offensive lineman back, but not its starting noseguard. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory on Arizona.
  • This brainy Oregon receiver is making an impact. That cool shirt Oregon fans wore on Halloween night against USC? Cha-ching.
  • Oregon State's Sean Canfield is philosophical about his success this season.
  • Can Stanford make the next step in the deep Pac-10? Owen Marecic won't be going both ways vs. USC. By the way, the Trojans didn't think Toby Gerhart would be a good running back.
  • Freshman offensive lineman Stanley Hasiak is back with UCLA after leaving the team this week over personal issues.
  • More shuffling, this time on the defensive line, for USC because of injuries.
  • Washington safety Jason Wells has been through a lot.
  • Washington State's Myron Beck is a man of many positions.

Osweiler will start at quarterback for Arizona State

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
8:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona State's true freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler will make his first career start in a difficult place even for a veteran quarterback to succeed: Oregon's Autzen Stadium.

Though coach Dennis Erickson said there would be open competition at the position this week, Osweiler may have eclipsed senior Danny Sullivan by default. The Arizona Republic reported that Sullivan didn't practice Wednesday because of an injury to his right biceps.

Osweiler, who has seen significant action this season, replaced Sullivan in the third quarter of the Sun Devils' 14-9 loss to USC and he led the offense on an 80-yard scoring drive, which he capped with a 23-yard touchdown pass.

The Sun Devils (4-5, 2-4) have lost three in a row and need two victories in their final three games to earn bowl eligibility.

Pac-10 lunch links: Touted frosh lineman leaves UCLA

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
2:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.
  • Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore has found himself this season.
  • Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan, who is fighting for his job, is now injured.
  • More on Jahvid Best and California's other injured players.
  • Oregon's LeGarrette Blount has been working out his life skills. The Ducks defense is ready for redemption against Arizona State.
  • Oregon State isn't taking Washington lightly, even though they've dominated the rivalry of late, which has become more spirited in recent years.
  • Making a strong case for Stanford running back Toby Gerhart's Heisman Trophy candidacy. Stanford-USC has high stakes, so the coaches are playing nice.
  • Touted UCLA freshman offensive lineman Stanley Hasiak has left the team to deal with "personal" issues.
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley, no longer the Pac-10's premier freshman quarterback, blames himself for the offense's recent woes.
  • Looking at head coaches who are their own coordinators, starting with Washington's Steve Sarkisian. The numbers aren't there for defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, but the effort clearly is.
  • This receiver, Jared Karstetter, has broken through for Washington State.
  • Bud Withers and Chris Dufresne both wonder whether the Pac-10 should dump the nine-game round-robin schedule and go back to eight conference games.

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