Instant Analysis: Holiday Bowl

Staff Columnist
Posted Dec 28, 2007

Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter talked smack in the days leading up to Thursday night's Holiday Bowl against Texas. The Longhorns responded by smacking the signal caller in the mouth.

In bowl games, motivation level counts for a lot more than pad level. A high-profile matchup turned into a rout for the Burnt Orange Bevo Boys not because of X-and-O adjustments, but because a cocky quarterback let his mouth, and not his right arm, do the talking.

The dominant storyline of this game was impossible to deny: a Texas defense that faltered for much of the 2007 regular season suddenly came alive against Arizona State. A secondary that had been routinely victimized in Big 12 Conference action turned into a ballhawking unit in San Diego against a Pac-10 foe. The abrupt transformation on the Texas sideline was partly fueled by Longhorn coach Mack Brown's get-tough attitude, but the main source of this inspired performance was the fact that a mouthy ASU quarterback lit a fire under some fannies in the Lone Star State.

Carpenter, the hard-nosed quarterback who was largely responsible for ASU's stellar 10-2 regular season, said during Holiday Bowl functions that he wasn't very impressed with Texas's defense. After an Autumn in which he walked the walk for himself and his teammates, Carpenter decided to talk some tough talk. That proved to be a huge mistake. From start to finish, Carpenter—the Arizona State quarterback—figured prominently in this contest for a slew of reasons, all of them bad.

Throughout the first three quarters, Carpenter made several plays that destroyed his team's chances of winning. The Sun Devils repeatedly enjoyed drive starts in Texas territory, but because of both crippling interceptions and damaging misses from Carpenter, Dennis Erickson's team failed to crack the end zone… except when Brown's stepson, Chris Jesse, wasn't illegally touching a ball to resuscitate a Sun Devil drive.

Carpenter's inability to hit his wide-open tight end, Brent Miller, on 4th and 2 killed one promising ASU march. Other misfires to open receivers on a number of third-and-long situations brought about Sun Devil punts. And on a few other occasions, interceptions and intentional grounding penalties by Carpenter put the brakes on ASU drives precisely when momentum was within the grasp of the second-place team in the Pac-10. Consistently under pressure from a roused Texas defense, a shaky Carpenter failed to set his feet all night long. His throws fluttered and floated, rarely reaching their intended destination on time and with sufficient zip. It was a classic case of one team shoving smack talk in the face of the offender on the other sideline. Texas certainly enjoyed the running exploits of quarterback Colt McCoy and running back Jamaal Charles, who lit up the scoreboard against ASU's defense, but the runaway win began and ended with an angry Texas defense gaining sweet vindication by making Rudy Carpenter eat his very costly words.

It was hardly a coincidence that once Carpenter exited stage right in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Danny Sullivan—who had thrown all of 15 passes during the regular season—led Arizona State to two quick touchdowns. Yes, even when he was out of the game, Carpenter figured prominently in this game; his absence from the huddle was worth more to Arizona State than his on-field presence. Sullivan's late touchdowns—even if they were tallied in garbage time—surely indicated that Carpenter acquired unusually and disproportionately significant amounts of attention, both psychological and tactical, from everyone in Burnt Orange.

In the immediate aftermath of this bowl game beatdown, it's impossible to deny that Arizona State's quarterback became a marked man, received an angry Texas effort, and crumbled under the pressure. Yes, Texas did score more than 50 points, but when you consider ASU's abundance of great drive starts (on the Texas side of the field) and the turnovers Colt McCoy handed the Sun Devils on the night, it was the orange-shirted UT defense that won this game. The Longhorns ultimately gave Brown, their coach, a seventh-straight 10-win season because they repeatedly hammered a nail… a nail named Carpenter… into complete submission. A humbled quarterback will have all offseason to wonder why he awakened a slumbering Texas defense that came out of the shadows to throw one very big and bold Holiday bash in San Diego.

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