PASADENA, Calif. - Arizona State receiver Nate Kimbrough was heading toward the locker room after the Sun Devils’ 24-20 victory over UCLA Saturday when he spotted quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
Kimbrough bent down to give Carpenter a low-five.
Carpenter pulled his right hand away.
The moment said a lot, and so did a conversation with Carpenter a few minutes later:
“Did you more seriously injure your (sprained) thumb, Rudy?”
“I really can’t talk about it.”
“You don’t know or you can’t talk about it?”
“I can’t talk about it.”
There is much to celebrate this morning if you’re an ASU fan.
The Sun Devils are 9-1.
They didn’t suffer a post-Oregon hangover.
More importantly: If ASU wins its final two games and Oregon doesn’t stumble in its final three contests, the Ducks likely will play in the BCS Championship game and the Sun Devils will return here six weeks from now to play in the Rose Bowl.
“That would be a dream of mine,” Carpenter said.
Hopefully, Carpenter’s thumb will allow him to live the dream.
Officially, there was no new news regarding the thumb, which Carpenter initially hurt when he bumped into running back Keegan Herring during ASU’s win over California two weeks ago.
But Carpenter was unusually somber following the win. And he told me the thumb “popped.”
“It hurts like hell right now,” Carpenter said. “It doesn’t feel good.”
Offensive coordinator Rich Olson said Carpenter will have to be evaluated by the ASU medical staff before it can be determined whether the thumb is injured more severely. Even if that diagnosis is made, it’s uncertain whether Carpenter would miss any time.
One thing is for sure: Carpenter had to sit out a series midway through the fourth quarter after his thumb was hit on third down of ASU’s previous possession.
Frustrated, he slammed his helmet to the ground.
He returned for the Sun Devils’ final series but didn’t throw a pass.
“I couldn’t grip the ball so there was no reason to go in until I could,” said
Carpenter, who had the thumb encased in ice as he walked toward the team bus following the game.
“I needed a little time for it to calm down. …
“I probably shouldn’t have thrown my helmet, but it’s good to take out my frustration on something.”
In many ways, Carpenter symbolizes this ASU team. He’s not the most talented quarterback in the Pac-10, much less the country, but it’s hard to imagine many QBs who are tougher.
He was sacked five times by the Bruins and has been dumped 42 times this season. He spent much of Saturday grabbing his thumb in pain and shaking it in an attempt to get some feeling back.
Yet he somehow managed to complete 16 of 31 passes for 200 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions.
“Rudy is a soldier, man,” wide receiver Chris McGaha said. “He gets smacked back there but he comes back and makes plays.”
One of the biggest plays Carpenter made was with his feet rather than his arm. ASU faced a third-and-6 from its 24-yard line with less than four minutes remaining.
Carpenter was flushed out of the pocket but rolled left and scrambled for a 7-yard gain.
By the time UCLA got the ball back, 41 seconds were left in the game.
“To me, that defines Rudy Carpenter,” coach Dennis Erickson said. “He finds a way to get things done.”
It would be a shame if Carpenter’s thumb is injured to the extent that he might miss any of ASU’s remaining games. The Sun Devils are having a wondrous, magical season, and he’s a big reason.
But to see the solemn look on his face Saturday and to hear him talk was to fear the worst.
ASU has 10 days off before it faces USC on Thanksgiving night.
Let’s hope that, as it pertains to football, Carpenter has something to be thankful for.