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2008 Arizona State Preview - Offense
Arizona State WR Chris McGaha
Arizona State WR Chris McGaha
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 11, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Offense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2008 - Offense


- 2008 CFN Arizona State Preview | 2008 ASU Offense
- 2008 ASU Defense
| 2008 ASU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Arizona State Preview
| 2006 CFN Arizona State Preview   

What you need to know: QB Rudy Carpenter is adapting nicely to being Dennis Erickson’s latest pupil, planning to make his fourth season as the starter the best one yet. He’ll be surrounded by a deep supporting cast that includes receivers Michael Jones, Chris McGaha, and Kyle Williams, and backs Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance. However, all of that skill position talent might not reach top gear if the offensive line doesn’t get its act together. The Sun Devils yielded a ridiculous 55 sacks a year ago, robbing Carpenter of the time needed to make his reads and forcing the staff to install more simplified blocking schemes. From that leaky unit, three starters must be replaced, including both tackles and First Team All-Pac-10 C Mike Pollak. The front wall will be built around hulking guards Paul Fanaika and Shawn Lauvao, a pair of returning starters and assets to the running game.               

Returning Leaders
Passing: Rudy Carpenter
246-398, 3,202 yds, 25 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Keegan Herring
154 carries, 815 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Chris McGaha
61 catches, 830 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Rudy Carpenter
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Jon Hargis
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Kerry Taylor
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Michael Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carpenter  2) Jones  3) Senior G Paul Fanaika
Strength of the offense: Depth at the skill positions, the passing game
Weakness of the offense: Pass protection, the tackles

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Senior Rudy Carpenter will be looking to break the cycle of up-and-down seasons with a strong finale in Tempe. Under the watchful eyes of new coaches Dennis Erickson and Rich Olson, he rebounded from a sophomore slump to finish No. 2 in Pac-10 passing efficiency, going 246-of-398 for 3,202 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Noticeably more confident and comfortable (and a little too cocky at times), he helped lead the Sun Devils to 10 wins, despite getting pressured relentlessly and sacked more than any quarterback in the country. Of course, he could help the situation by moving a little better in the pocket and making faster reads. At 6-2 and 202 pounds, he may not have a cannon, but he can make all the throws when there’s time to survey the field. A fiery competitor who’ll play through pain, his intensity can be both a blessing and a curse for the offense.   

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Danny Sullivan returns for his third season as Carpenter’s caddy. The biggest of the quarterbacks at 6-5 and 238 pounds, he’s got the big arm and unmistakable pocket presence that conjure up images of former Devil hurler Andrew Walter.  Sullivan logged seven games of experience, going 19-of-29 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and a pick in the Holiday Bowl. 

Their redshirt seasons completed, freshmen Samson Szakacsy and Chasen Stangel are hoping to close the gap on Sullivan. The 6-3, 195-pound Szakacsy is the most athletic of the quarterbacks, but needs work on his passing game. 

At 6-0 and 209 pounds, Stangel lacks ideal size, but is a polished passer and a good fit for the offense. Jack Elway, the son of John Elway, joins the team in the summer.     

Watch Out For… Carpenter to go out with a bang. A second season with Erickson’s coaching staff, a maturing receiving corps, and a less vanilla offense all point to the quarterback’s most productive season yet in Tempe.
Strength: Carpenter. USC aside, no Pac-10 program has a more stable situation at quarterback than Arizona State. If Carpenter can tighten up the little things in his game and get an extra tick or two to throw, he’ll challenge for First Team All-Pac-10 honors.
Weakness: Consistency. Even after three years as the starter, Carpenter isn’t a finished product.  He’s still prone to forcing passes or putting them up for grabs and needs to know when to dial down the intensity a notch or two.
Outlook: Bank on a strong finale from Carpenter, who’ll have a little more zip on his passes after undergoing surgery in April on his right thumb. The receiving corps has grown up over the past year, which will also benefit the quarterback. If the offensive line follows the same trajectory, a number of ASU passing records are going to fall.
Rating: 8.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: A mid-season injury to Ryan Torain forced the Sun Devils to use multiple backs, which will benefit the 2008 squad. Senior Keegan Herring shined in a starting role, dashing for 815 yards and five touchdowns on 154 carries. Even better days may lie ahead for a player who’s persevered through injuries and personal tragedy to finally become the program’s every-down back. At 5-10 and 195 pounds, he’s an exciting and explosive slasher who’s averaged more than five yards a carry in each of his three seasons in Tempe. In anticipation of a busier workload, he’s added 10 pounds of muscle, yet hasn’t lost a step of quickness.      

Projected Top Reserves: Competing with Herring for playing time is 5-10, 220-pound junior Dmitri Nance, a compact, powerful runner who cranked out 500 yards and seven touchdowns on 133 carries. The Sun Devils’ best option in short yardage, he’s also a solid pass protector and pass catcher, two can’t-miss ways to get more playing time in this offense. 

Battling for the No. 3 slot on the depth chart are juniors Jarell Woods and Shaun DeWitty.  A former junior college transfer, Woods sat out most of the regular season recovering from an injury. Now healthy, the 5-10, 212-pounder was able to turn heads throughout the spring session. 

At 6-2 and 227 pounds, DeWitty has a tantalizing combination of power, quickness, and soft hands, but has had trouble getting on the field. He redshirted last season, earning Scout Team Player of the Year honors.     

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Ryan Bass. Even in a deep and veteran backfield, it might be hard to keep Bass out of the huddle. One of the nation’s most coveted all-purpose backs, he has breakaway speed and outstanding vision in the open field.
Strength: Depth. Sure, Torain will be missed, but in his wake, the Sun Devils have a pair of backs with starting experience and a couple of juniors capable of giving them frequent breathers.  Torain’s injury forced Herring and Nance to log more than 100 carries in 2007, an unexpected bonus for the 2008 squad.
Weakness: Pass protection. In light of the beating QB Rudy Carpenter endured a year ago, all of the backs are being challenged to improve their blocking skills.  On obvious throwing downs, it’s incumbent upon the backs to act as a sixth linemen and get a hat on one the hard-charging defenders.
Outlook: Provided health problems don’t crop up, Arizona State is in good shape in the backfield, flashing a good blend of shifty gamebreakers and 220-pound pile-drivers. Now that he’s finally the feature back, Herring is poised for an All-Pac-10 season that captures the attention of NFL scouts.
Rating: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: The Sun Devils lost little from a receiving corps that’s in far better shape today than it was last summer. Led by junior Chris McGaha and senior Michael Jones, three of last year’s top four pass catchers are back. 

McGaha is the team’s Z receiver, a 6-1, 193-pounder who gets the most looks from Rudy Carpenter on third down. A terrific route runner with great hands and the wheels to get behind the secondary, he led the Devils with 61 receptions for 830 yards and a touchdown. 

Jones is the team’s best deep threat, a 6-4, 203-pound rising star who averaged almost 17 yards a catch in his second season as a starter. A two-sport athlete who also plays centerfield on the baseball team, he had 46 catches for 769 catches and 10 touchdowns from the X position, often beating opposing defensive backs with his blend of size, speed, and leaping ability.        

Now that Arizona State has run out of Millers to play tight end, senior Dane Guthrie is poised to take over the position. A former Florida transfer who played defensive end a year ago, he has the 6-3, 275-pound size to contribute as a receiver and as a drive blocker in the running game.           

Projected Top Reserves: The Devils’ top reserve and most lethal option from the slot is 5-10, 185-pound junior Kyle Williams. Difficult to contain in the open field, he broke through as a sophomore with 29 catches for 360 yards and six touchdowns. 

As valuable as Williams was last season, he’s getting pushed hard for playing time by sophomore Kerry Taylor, an emerging talent who was considered too gifted to redshirt in 2007. Polished beyond his years at the little things, such as getting separation and running routes, he’s prepared to blow past last year’s eight catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. 

Although he’s struggled with injuries throughout much of his career, 6-1, 208-pound senior Nate Kimbrough brings a veteran presence and good speed to the passing game. He caught just five passes in 10 games last fall, pushing his career totals to 27 catches for 367 yards and two scores. 

Battling for playing time at the X is junior Brandon Smith, a raw pass-catcher who might have the best combination of size and speed. At 6-2 and 213 pounds with tremendous wheels, he has a unique blend that’ll be hard for the coaching staff to ignore.

Watch Out For… more use of four-wide receiver sets.  The Sun Devils are looking to open things up on offense, and now have the depth at receiver to unlock a few new areas of the playbook.  The spread will be making its way to Tempe, with Jones, McGaha, Williams, and Taylor getting on the field at the same time.
Strength: Athleticism. The corps is comprised of a bunch of terrific athletes who can stretch a secondary with its speed and can get elevation to make acrobatic grabs. Purely in terms of athletic ability, they receivers are among the most gifted in the Pac-10.
Weakness: Lack of a physical presence. The Sun Devils are brimming with finesse, but don’t have any physical receivers capable of bullying opposing secondaries. That could change, however, with the arrival of Gerell Robinson, the 6-4, 210-pound recruit who fielded offers from major schools from coast-to-coast.
Outlook: Carpenter will have no shortage of reliable targets to work with. Jones and McGaha both have All-Pac-10 potential, while Taylor is an emerging talent who’ll demand more looks as he matures. If Robinson proves to be a quick learn, the Sun Devils will go three-deep with playmaking receivers who can pick up big chunks of yards after the catch.
Rating: 8

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: No unit on Arizona State needs to step it up more than the offensive line, which allowed more sacks than all but one team in the country and will be replacing three senior starters. The most experienced starter is massive senior Paul Fanaika, who’ll be back at right guard for a third straight year. A former walk-on, the 6-6, 336-pounder is a devastating run blocker who has earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention the last two seasons. 

At left guard will be 6-4, 300-pound junior Shawn Lauvao, who fought his way into the lineup and started nine games a year ago. A solid run blocker with great upper body strength, he also brings a lot of emotion and intensity to the Sun Devil interior.   

The biggest loss will be felt at center, where the program needs to replace current Indianapolis Colt Mike Pollak. Heading into the summer, 6-2, 300-pound junior Thomas Altieri holds a slight edge over 6-0, 305-pound redshirt freshman Garth Gerhart. Highly regarded coming out of high school, he’s a no-nonsense lineman who took the majority of the snaps with the first team in the spring. Gerhart, however, has not folded, staying within range of the top spot with a great work ethic and a willingness to learn the position. 

After 19 games of experience as a reserve, junior Richard Tuitu’u is preparing to take over the starting job at right tackle. A 6-4, 353-pound behemoth, he’ll hold his own at the point of attack, but needs to prove he has the footwork and the mechanics to seal off rushers trying to get their mitts on the quarterback.

At left tackle, all eyes will be on Jon Hargis, who’s attempting to make the transition from defensive tackle to one of the most important spots on the offense. While there’ll be a natural learning curve for the 6-4, 310-pound sophomore, he showed the strength and whistle-to-whistle intensity that bodes well for his future. 

Projected Top Reserves: Trying to keep Hargis out of the starting lineup will be junior Tom Njunge, a 6-5, 280-pound transfer from Pasadena City College. Coveted for his ability to prevent sacks, he’s a good fit for a program that’s desperate for quality pass protectors. 

Redshirt freshman Matt Hustad spent much of April solidifying his spot as the Sun Devils’ best option off the bench at guard. At 6-4 and 275, he needs to add more weight, but is considered one of the most fluid athletes among the offensive linemen.  

Watch Out For… Arizona State to use more screens and simplified schemes to keep Carpenter on his feet. The offense will have to get creative to compensate for the rebuilt line, which will also mean quicker drops and forcing Carpenter to release the ball with a greater sense of urgency.
Strength: The guards. Fanaika and Lauvao are a couple of formidable building blocks who are experienced and capable of creating for running room for the Sun Devils’ stable of backs.
Weakness: The tackles. Potentially the weakest link on the team, Arizona State has had problems protecting the passer over the past few seasons. Now, it’ll try to improve with two new starters, one who played on the other side of the ball as a freshman. Watch your back, Rudy.
Outlook: The Sun Devils have tinkered with their offense in the offseason in an effort to reduce the number of hits Carpenter takes. That’s a sign the coaching staff has no confidence putting the offensive line in a conventional setting. The guards will be fine, but Pollak’s departure from the pivot will be felt, and the tackles will be liabilities against the league’s better pass rushers.
Rating: 6