December 22, 2008

Season review: Quarterbacks

Quarterback was supposed to be a position of strength for Arizona State in 2008.

The Sun Devils had one of the most experienced signal callers in the entire nation leading their team, and he was coming off a spectacular season.

But Rudy Carpenter did not recapture his 2007 magic this year.

Carpenter posted the worst quarterback rating of his career in his senior season, but perhaps more importantly to the fans, he lost to rival University of Arizona for the first time in his four years at the helm of the ASU football team.

Coming out of fall camp Carpenter appeared to be ready to end his Sun Devil career on a high note.

His mechanics were improved, he was releasing the football quicker, he had put on about 15 pounds of muscle, and ASU was working in more screen passes to keep him from getting knocked down so much.

And through the first two games of the season, all of that translated into success on the football field.

In the season opener Carpenter tied a school record with 13 consecutive completions. Then a week later he set a record for the most passing yards in the first two games of the season with 733, smashing the previous record of 669.

Things were looking up.

But then just a week later everything took a turn for the worst.

In ASU's 23-20 debacle of a loss to UNLV, Carpenter completed just 13 of 23 passes for 242 yards.

While those numbers weren't horrific, Carpenter wouldn't throw for that many yards again the rest of the season.

The quarterback who could seemingly make every throw in the first two games was suddenly missing wide-open receivers and making poor decisions with his passes.

Part of the reason for his lack of success was ASU's anemic rushing attack, which allowed opposing defenses to drop seven or eight men into pass coverage. Also, he was playing behind a sub par offensive line that allowed 34 sacks.

But a big part of the problem was Carpenter himself. He seemed to have lost the ability to improvise and make plays.

In 2007 the quarterback had mastered the art of scrambling out of the pocket and keeping his eyes down field to keep the play alive. In 2008 he seemed uneasy in the backfield and unsure of his own abilities.

Carpenter said he hadn't lost his confidence, but it sure appeared that he had.

Also, he seemed to lack the passion, fire and determination he possessed in 2007.

However, he continued to show his toughness when he started against USC on Oct. 11, despite a severely injured left ankle.

Carpenter started all 12 games for the Sun Devils this season, and ended his career having started 43 consecutive games.

On the year Carpenter threw for 16 touchdowns, which was a career low, nine interceptions and 2,493 yards. He completed 60.7-percent of his passes.

As it has been since he took over in 2005, Carpenter's backup this season was junior Danny Sullivan.

At 6-foot-5, 238 pounds, Sullivan is a very large pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. He has much more velocity on his throws than Carpenter.

At the end of last season, Sullivan played the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl and had a solid outing completing seven-of-14 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. It appeared he would be a very serviceable backup in 2008.

But that was not the case.

Sullivan's first meaningful game action this year came in the second half against USC when Carpenter's injured ankle did not allow him to keep playing, and when Sullivan took the field he looked flustered.

It was obvious that Sullivan had only ever played during garbage time as he looked nervous in the pocket and struggled to read the defense. Also, he had never seen a defense like USC's before.

Another thing that hurt Sullivan was his inability to scramble out of the pocket, a skill any quarterback who lined up behind the Sun Devils' offensive line in 2008 would have needed.

In that USC game Sullivan went an abysmal four-of-17 for 28 yards. He threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.

Although Sullivan has been a three-year backup, coach Dennis Erickson said there will be a competition at the quarterback position this spring.

The guys Sullivan will be competing with are Samson Szakacsy, Chasen Stangel, Jack Elway and Brock Osweiler, who signed scholarship paperwork last Wednesday and will participate in spring practices.

Of that bunch, Szakacsy may be the front-runner.

The redshirt freshman did not see any game action in 2008, but his mobility and accuracy in short to mid-range passing game could earn him the starting job, especially if ASU moves towards more of a spread offense.

When fall camp began Szakacsy was still not 100-percent after having surgery to relieve pressure on his throwing elbow, but he was at full strength for the entire season.

Throughout the year Szakacsy made good reads in practice, but he had issues with ball velocity.

While Szakacsy is the most mobile quarterback ASU has had in years, he sometimes relies on his speed too much and scrambles when he should have waited for routes to develop.

Stangel, another redshirt freshman, may have the best mechanics of any quarterback on the roster, but has been inconsistent with his decisions throwing the football.

Also, at just six-feet tall, Stangel is a little undersized for a quarterback despite having big arm.

Elway spent 2008 on the scout team and looked very unimpressive for the most part.

He arrived at ASU with awkward mechanics, but did make some changes to improve in that area. However, it still takes Elway too long to deliver the football and he needs work on his arm strength.

While he didn't shine on the scout team, he was playing with other scout team members against the first and second-string defense, so he was at a bit of a disadvantage.

While Osweiler is yet to even arrive at ASU, the 6-foot-8 quarterback threw for 2,703 yards and 27 touchdowns for his high school team this year and showed his mobility rushing for 760 yards and 13 scores.

Grade: C Average. That's all Carpenter was in 2008. His passer rating was fifth in the Pac-10 and his yards-per-game average was fourth best in the conference. But when fans expect greatness and all they get is mediocrity, they start calling for change. And that is exactly what happened to Carpenter this year. He was just not the same quarterback he was in 2007. But with Carpenter now gone ASU finds itself tough spot as far as quarterback goes. There is Sullivan who has never impressed in three seasons as a backup and several other players who have never even seen the field in a college game. The battle for the starting quarterback spot will most certainly be the leading story throughout the spring and next fall.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!