No one ever said Dennis Erickson couldn’t recruit anymore.
Coaching 'em up? That’s where the problems started. After taking Dirk Koetters' players to the Holiday Bowl in 2007, watching talented but undisciplined players fail to blossom under Erickson became a right of fall in Tempe.
Watching Sun Devil football became more than frustrating, it became painful. And eventually, as TV ratings and turnstile counts will attest, it became impossible. Losing is one thing for a fan. Losing and uncomfortably apologizing for your team’s behavior as it happens is another.
And while many of the questions surrounding the direction of this program couldn’t be answered on Thursday, the 63-6 win over Northern Arizona in Todd Graham’s coaching debut did show signs that — win or lose, when the schedule thickens and the path to the end zone actually requires more than a straight line — some of the pain might be behind the maroon and gold faithful.
Forget about the points, the 554 yards of offense and all the other big numbers against a Lumberjack program that has plenty of problems of its own. The Devils had their share of blowout wins against inferior opponents under Erickson. Augusts and Septembers were the best of times.
For the real differences in 2012, all you had to do was watch the game.
The Sun Devils are a fast team, thanks largely to Erickson. Now they play fast. That is fun to watch at any level.
ASU appears to have the kind of running game and depth that allows for game management and a defense that can do more than the “bend-but-don’t-break” units of the recent past. That takes pressure off young quarterbacks and allows for the kind of efficiency that could keep the Devils close in games – even against better foes.
Those of us around here long enough to remember when two 1,000-yard ASU running backs wasn’t out of the question and quarterbacks weren’t asked to win the game all by themselves enjoyed the show.
The Devils committed four penalties all night, all of them on offense. There was a good level of competitive enthusiasm, and there was no spearing, no taunting, no hits out of bounds, after the whistle, after the first penalty or any of the other foolishness that was par for the course during the Erickson era.
The Devils had one turnover while forcing several and were the aggressor from the first snap to the last. They tackled — technical, body-on-body, wrap-up, take-the-man-down tackles. Not many “Here’s my shoulder, I hope it’s enough to knock you down” hits.
Nothing the Devils did on Saturday will be cause for pause in Troy or Eugene, and next Saturday’s game against Illinois is a significant step up in class. And it did feel like they showed quite a bit for opposing minds to break down on film
But the program needed a night like this, Everything Graham could have done to create a positive atmosphere and frame of mind after one game was accomplished.
Somebody Had to Win
It says something when the Cardinals had their smoothest offensive start out of five preseason games on Thursday — with both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton watching from the sidelines. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has announced that Skelton has won the starting quarterback assignment against Seattle, but there is no doubt that both guys will see extended playing time — perhaps sooner than later.
Whisenhunt has the pulse of the Big Red locker room and must have felt a better vibe for Skelton. Coming off the 6-2 run to end last season, public sentiment is also in Skelton’s corner. And Kolb certainly didn’t do enough to win the job on his own in the preseason.
I would have gone the other way. This is another blow to Kolb’s confidence, while Skelton would have been OK in either case. Kolb played more with this latest offensive line grouping.
Usually the most popular guy among the fans is the backup quarterback. It’s hard to imagine the legion of fans that appear to have soured on Kolb irreparably elevating him to that level.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.