Rudy Carpenter set the tone early in Arizona State’s 54-20 loss to Oregon on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, that tone was the lifeless squeal of a dysfunctional and vanishing offense.
After recovering an Oregon fumble at the 8-yard line in the first quarter, the Sun Devil offense looked poised to tie the game at 7-7.
Then, on third down from the shotgun, Carpenter stepped up and threw to Mike Jones who was straddling the goal line. The pass was high. Jones bobbled the ball. Oregon defensive back Walter Thurmond came down with it.
In the first three drives, Carpenter completed two of six passes for five yards and threw two interceptions inside Oregon territory. Carpenter went on to complete 17 of 33 passes for just 146 yards, a touchdown.
Coach Dennis Erickson said the plan entering the game was to the throw the ball down field.
“We didn’t make plays,” he said. “We talk about making plays all the time. We tried to throw the ball up the football field, and we had some guys out there that just didn’t make plays, and then we end up turning it over.”
In make-or-break situations Carpenter struggled all night. Trailing 13-0 in the second-quarter on fourth-and-one at midfield, Erickson decided to go for it.
Carpenter faked the hand-off but as he stepped back in the pocket he tripped, fell and fumbled the football.
The ball was turned over on downs and Oregon capitalized with a touchdown on the ensuing drive, just four players later.
“I’d do the same thing again,” Erickson said after the game. “We had two guys open and we trip and fall, so you’re trying to change the momentum of the game and something like that happens.”
On the very next possession Carpenter and Keegan Herring made a broken play out of a simple halfback dive. On third-and-one they bumped into each other during the ball exchange. Herring gained no yards and the Sun Devils were forced to punt.
“When we had big plays called, we just didn’t step up to make them like we were supposed to,” ASU wide receiver Mike Jones said.
Down 47-13 in the fourth-quarter, Erickson replaced Carpenter with backup J.T. Sullivan for the second game in a row.
“It had nothing to do with anything,” Erickson said after the game.
Carpenter broke a “nonweight bearing” bone in his ankle against California earlier this month. Erickson said that he pulled Carpenter to reduce the chances of injuring his quarterback.
“I’m note sure if he re-injured it (tonight),” Erickson said. “It’s something he continues to have trouble with.”
The same can be said of Oregon. Carpenter has an eerie history against the Ducks.
In 2006, a 48-13 loss to Oregon, he only mustered 33 passing yards.
Last season in Eugene, the fourth-ranked Ducks sacked Carpenter nine times on their way to a 35-17 victory.
The defeat was especially painful for Carpenter and the Sun Devils because it halted their undefeated season dead in its tracks.
Friday’s defeat was equally disappointing but for much more basic reasons.
It marks the team’s fifth straight loss in what was supposed to be a successful senior season. The losses have overshadowed some of Carpenter’s recent accomplishments.
During Friday’s game he surpassed Jake Plummer and now sits at No. 2 on ASU’s career passing attempts list.
Carpenter is just one career win shy of 24. With his next win, Carter will tie Plummer at No.3 on that liston.
He is also the Pac-10 leader among active quarterbacks for passing touchdowns, yards, and completions.
But following Friday's effort, Carpenter was nowhere to be seen or heard.