Pac-12: Tom Njunge
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State has been utterly dominant while winning its first two games. The Sun Devils' defense is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The offense ranks ninth with 44 points a game.
Now, take that information, crumple it up and throw it out the window. Coach Dennis Erickson knows that pounding on Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe means little.
|Matt Kartozian/US Presswire|
|Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium will be Danny Sullivan's first start on the road.|
A trip to No. 17 Georgia on Saturday? That's a bit of an upgrade in competition.
"We'll find out a little bit more about what we are as a team, that's the bottom line," Erickson said. "It doesn't matter who they are or what their rank is. We're [asking] right now, 'where are we at as a football team?'"
Erickson repeated variations of those sentiments to a variety of questions: Georgia will be a measuring stick for the Sun Devils.
If they manage to win, or least keep things competitive into the fourth quarter, they might become a top-half of the Pac-10 team, though the Bulldogs probably aren't in the class of California or USC this season.
If they can't keep up, then Arizona State likely falls in with the gaggle of teams scrapping for six wins and bowl eligibility in the lower-middle, bottom-third of the conference.
Of course, one game, win or lose, doesn't a season make. It's possible the Sun Devils in Athens, Ga., won't be anything like the Sun Devils in November. Still, this is the first chance to evaluate Arizona State against a first-rate BCS conference team.
Georgia opened a can of whup butt on the Sun Devils last year, the 27-10 count not doing justice to the Bulldogs dominance.
Georgia took a 21-3 lead into halftime and mostly coasted home. They outrushed the Sun Devils 176 yards to 4 and outgained them overall 461-212.
"They pretty much dominated us," Erickson said. "We didn't play very well and they played well."
The first question is how Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan will handle his first start on the road in one of the nation's tougher venues -- "Between the Hedges" at Sanford Stadium.
That's impossible to say. Sullivan is a senior, but the last time he faced a fast, elite defense, he crumbled after coming off the bench in 2008 at USC.
While the Georgia defense doesn't compare to USC -- it's given up 34 points per game -- two of those games were on the road, so the home crowd should help.
"Until you go in there and experience it, you just don't know," Erickson said.
On the other hand, this is a different group of Sun Devils. The defense is deeper and faster than last year's and, while there's lots of experience, a youth movement led by tackles Lawrence Guy, a sophomore, and William Sutton and Corey Adams as well as linebacker Vontaze Burfict -- all true freshmen -- is most intriguing.
Yet the biggest difference might be on the offensive line.
In 2008, the Sun Devils started converted defensive lineman Jon Hargis at left tackle and 289-pound redshirt freshman Adam Tello at right tackle. Things didn't go well for either.
A far more experienced Hargis is now the left guard, while Tello is his backup. NFL prospect Shawn Lauvao moved out to left tackle, while guard Matt Hustad and tackle Tom Njunge give the Sun Devils far more athleticism on the right side. Neither was healthy last year.
Is it a great offensive line? No. But last year's unit didn't have a chance -- the Sun Devils ranked 113th in the nation in rushing and surrendered 34 sacks (109th in the nation). This time around, it might.
"We're much more solid, we have more depth," Erickson said. "We're playing a little bit better, technique-wise and so forth. We made some moves to get our best players in the right positions. As we go through the next 10 weeks, if we lose a guy or two, we'll put people out there who play pretty well. I like where we're at. Are we a great offensive line? No, but we're getting better all the time and we're better now than we were at this time last year."
Georgia, meanwhile, entered the season having to replace running back Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matt Stafford, NFL first-round picks who dominated the action in last year's game. The Bulldogs seem to be getting their legs under them after opening with a loss at Oklahoma State. They had just 257 total yards against the Cowboys but piled up 530 yards Saturday in their win over Arkansas.
"Joe Cox is playing extremely well at quarterback," Erickson said. "The last two weeks, I didn't see any drop-off."
A key matchup will be Bulldogs sophomore receiver A.J. Green against the Sun Devils secondary, particularly cornerback Omar Bolden. Last year, Green dominated Bolden, catching eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Erickson's advice to his team on handling the frenzy of a road game in an SEC stadium? Have fun.
"You talk to our players about it and they're excited to go down there and experience [that]," he said. "It's going to be fun; they're looking forward to it."
Sounds like the Sun Devils are eager to find out who they really are in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
- Greg Hansen breaks down how Arizona will figure out who its starting quarterback should be. This is great: Big men hitting the right note.
- Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan is embracing his opportunity. The crowd may be small on Saturday. Per Jeff Metcalfe: "Coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday that offensive linemen Garth Gerhart and Tom Njunge and tight end Dan Knapp will be healthy enough to play. Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (biceps), offensive lineman Zach Schlink (knee) and linebackers Shelly Lyons (knee) and Oliver Aaron (elbow) are out."
- California running back Jahvid Best is still hearing about that hit he took -- and the technicolor yawn he delivered -- last year at Maryland. It's Kevin Riley's time to step up. Cal's talented defensive ends are different.
- After LeGarrette Blount's meltdown, Oregon has issues at running back. An Oregon-Boise State rematch? Maybe. Ducks can make more money playing Texas A&M, though.
- It's brother against brother in Oregon State's game with Portland State. Damola Adeniji will start for the Beavers, and that's a good story.
- Checking in with Jonathan Martin, one of Stanford's young but talented offensive linemen.
- Ten UCLA players will make their college debut against San Diego State.
- USC's youngsters are ready to go -- and Aaron Corp is available, if needed. The NCAA clears USC. At least of this. Wes Horton will start at defensive end. Matt Barkley's faith gives him poise.
- Has Washington found a playmaker at receiver? The Huskies only chance on defense is to outsmart LSU's speed. Jake Locker's wait is over. This Husky is a success even if he doesn't know it.
- There's a youth movement at Washington State. Center Kenny Alfred is one cool Coug. Be patient with freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Based on news reports and this this useful Web site: The latest on injuries heading into week one.
TE Rob Gronkowski, back, questionable
OG Vaughn Dotsy, finger, probable
WR Delashaun Dean, hamstring, probable
OT Tom Njunge, biceps, questionable
C Garth Gerhart, toe, questionable
C Thomas Altieri, concussion, probable
OG Zach Schlink, knee, out
DT Lawrence Guy, biceps, probable
DE James Brooks, suspension, out
RB Jahvid Best, toe, probable
TE Tad Smith, knee, out
OT Mitchell Schwartz, leg, probable
S Marcus Ezeff, ankle, questionable
WR Michael Calvin, knee, probable
LB Robert Mullins, knee, out
TE Skylar Curran, ankle, probable
WR Rory Cavaille, shoulder, out,
OT Bo Thran, knee, questionable
WR Darrell Catchings, wrist, out
WR Markus Wheaton, NCAA Clearinghouse, questionable
WR Geno Munoz, abdominal, questionable
QB Lyle Moevao, shoulder, out
RB Ryan McCants, knee, out
CB Brandon Hardin, leg, out
OT Timi Oshinowo, knee, out
LB Tony Wilson, knee, out
S Josh LaGrone, knee, out
S Lance Mitchell, hamstring, probable
OT Allen Smith, knee, out
S Taylor Skaufel, knee, out
OT Chris Marinelli, shoulder, probable
LB Alex Debniak, knee, out
OG Micah Kia, knee, out
OL Nick Ekbatani, knee, out
DE Reginald Stokes, knee, out
DT Jess Ward, knee, doubtful
RB Christian Ramirez, ankle, questionable
DE Chinonso Anyanwu, hip, out
WR Gavin Ketchum, hamstring, questionable
OG Stanley Hasiak, stinger, probable
FB Chane Moline, hip, probable
CB Shareece Wright, knee, academics, questionable
WR Ronald Johnson, collarbone, out
DE Armond Armstead, foot, out
C Kristofer O'Dowd, knee, doubtful
DT Averell Spicer, ankle, questionable
OG Nick Howell, ankle, questionable
LB Luthur Brown, academics, out
TE Blake Ayles, heart condition, probable
QB Aaron Corp, leg, questionable
QB Mitch Mustain, illness, probable
CB Patrick Hall, knee, out
CB Justin Glenn, knee, questionable
DT Cameron Elisara, shoulder, probable
RB Johri Fogerson, ankle, probable
RB Chris Polk, concussion, probable
WR James Johnson, ankle, probable
DE Darrion Jones, illness, probable
TE Kavario Middleton, hamstring, probable
DE Everrette Thompson, ankle, questionable
S Jason Wells, Achilles, doubtful
WR Jeshua Anderson, hamstring, probable
RB James Montgomery, knee, probable
CB Brandon Jones, ankle, probable
WR Jeffrey Solomon, ankle, probable
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, foot, questionable
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
While quarterback uncertainty is the focal point for most Arizona State fans -- is senior Danny Sullivan up to the job? -- it won't matter who plays quarterback if the Sun Devils stink up front again.
Coach Dennis Erickson believes things might turn around because his linemen are healthier, more experienced and have "a chip on their shoulder."
Why a chip? "They can read," he said.
Here's something to read: There's reason for hope. The depth chart looks nothing like last year.
Shawn Lauvao, the Sun Devils' best lineman, has moved from guard to left tackle. Garth Gerhart has passed Thomas Altieri at center. Jon Hargis has moved from left tackle to left guard. Adam Tello, who was overwhelmed as a redshirt freshman while starting the first four games at right tackle, is a reserve guard.
The only departed starter is right guard Paul Fanaika. Zach Schlink is the front-runner there ahead of Mike Marcisz, though both were out with injuries Thursday.
A guy to watch is Matt Hustad, a talented sophomore who missed all of last year with a knee injury. He could challenge Tom Njunge, who started four games in 2008, at right tackle or move inside to guard.
"I feel like if I stay healthy anything is possible," Hustad said. "I'm real confident in my skills."
"Healthy" is the operative word. Hustad, Schlink, Tello, Marcisz and Altieri each missed all or some of spring practices.
"I got to be pretty good friends with all the guys who were injured but other than that, it's no fun to sit out while you see all your friends are there getting better," Hustad said. "Since I've been injured, I've kind of been missing the whole 'team' mentality."
So far so good with Hustad.
The lack of depth last year had Tello starting on the edge at less than 290 pounds. This year, there's an extra year of maturity for all and the new depth means competition.
But only if folks stay healthy.