by Dallas Jackson - 12/05/2005
Arizona State: 6-5 (4-4) 4th Pac-10
Rutgers: 7-4 (4-3) 3rd Big East
Tuesday December 27, 2005 8:30pm
When Arizona State has the ball:
The Sun Devils are a typical Pac-10 team. They love to throw the ball and they can run up the score on most teams. This offense scores 36.1 ppg and averages 365 ypg through the air.
The Sun Devils are led into this game by red-shirt freshman quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who took over after a season-ending thumb injury to Sam Keller. Carpenter has performed well this season and is now poised to hold onto the job into next season.
He has completed 69.4 percent of his passes on the season, and many of those balls were caught by senior standout WR Derek Hagan. Hagan, a 6-2 second team all Pac-10 receiver, caught 72 passes for more than 1,100 yards with eight touchdowns this year. The Sun Devils will use two main guys on the ground, with Keegan Herring tallying more than 800-yards and 6 touchdowns and Rudy Burgess averaging 50 ypg.
ASU will also use their versatile RB/WR Rudy Burgess to stretch the defense and dictate mismatches on linebackers who have to try covering the speedster out of the backfield. The offense is predicated on the pass and stopping it has been a daunting task. Carpenter has limited turnovers only throwing two interceptions all season and this will be a key for Rutgers.
Rutgers returned eight defensive starters from last season, and the unit allowed only 23.8 ppg this season. Unfortunately, consistency has not been a strong suit for Rutgers and you never know which version of the defense will show up. The Scarlet Knights held four opponents to less than 10 points this season and they allowed four others to score more than 28.
The Knights strength on defense is their ability to get after the quarterback, as they piled up 46 sacks on the season. Thirty two of the 46 sacks were made by the four defensive lineman, Val Barnaby (10), Ryan Neill (9), Ramel Meekins (9) and Jamaal Westman (4). Those four have also combined for 55 tackles for a loss and they must be accounted for.
If given time, quarterbacks have had success against the Rutgers secondary. This unit has only come up with six interceptions all season and it allows more than 210 ypg through the air. The linebacking corps is a soft spot as well, as they do not swarm to the ball; only one of Rutgers top six tacklers is a linebacker while three are defensive backs.
When Rutgers has the ball:
Rutgers is very experienced on offense and they can score points. Greg Schiano's group returned nine starters from last year, and averaged 27.6 ppg. The Knights are very balanced and effective on both sides of the ball, as they rushed for more than 160 and threw for more than 220 yards per game.
Two of the most important cogs are senior quarterback Ryan Hart and versatile senior FB Brian Leonard. Hart is a four-year starter who holds every major Rutgers passing record and has led Rutgers to their first winning record since 1992 and the first bowl game since 1978. He threw for 1,761 yards with 15 touchdowns and completed over 60 percent of his passes this season. Fellow senior Leonard is a fullback with speed. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, he is a linebacker with ball skills. He was second on the team in rushing with 718 yards and led the team with 10 rushing touchdowns and 49 receptions.
Arizona State is one of the worst defensive units in the Pac-10. They allow 29 ppg, and do not stop either the run or pass well. The Sun Devils returned six starters from last year, but disappointed, allowing 182 yards on the ground and 282 yards through the air per contest. The defense is led by senior strong-side linebacker Dale Robinson who is nicknamed "Manimal" by his teammates. He led the team in tackles (112), tackles for a loss (15) and forced fumbles (3); he also contributed with four sacks and two fumble recoveries.
The Sun Devils are tall and athletic across the defensive line, but do not get much production out of the unit. As a team they recorded only 22 sacks on the year. For the Sun Devils to be productive they will need to shore up the rush defense and make Ryan Hart beat them through the air, where they are much more athletic, with plenty of playmakers at safety and corner.
Arizona State has made 80 percent of their field goals this year (8 of 10), but their longest is just 34 yards and the missed their only attempts over 40. They have not had a miss on extra points hitting all 49.
The punting game for ASU has been a point for concern as they allowed four blocked punts this year, as well as one punt to be returned for a touchdown. Giving up almost 14 yards per return can turn a good punt into good field position for the opposition.
The return game of the Sun Devils is above average. Sophomore Terry Richardson has returned two punts for touchdowns on the season. The kick return game is also performing well, averaging 25.8 yards per return, although none for touchdowns.
Arizona State does cover kicks well, with the opponent's average starting field position being the 21 yard line. The Sun Devils have also tallied an astounding 42 touchbacks on the season.
Rutgers is not afraid to trot out their kicker in any situation. Jeremy Ito has attempted 23 field goals this season, unfortunately, he has only made 16 of those kicks. Five of his misses came in the first week of the season, on the road versus Illinois. Since then he has made 13 of 16 tries, including a 51-yarder versus Syracuse. Ito is 36 for 36 on extra points.
Punter Joe Radigan is not a guy likely to change a game in terms of swapping field positions, his average on the year was only 38.8 yards, with 15 kicks downed inside the 20. He had one kick blocked and had one taken for a touchdown against him.
The Scarlet Knights have made an impact on several games with their return game. Two punt returns and one kick return have gone the distance for Rutgers. Willie Foster has a kick return of 93-yards and punt return of 71-yards both for touchdowns, the other was a 16-yard blocked punt return.
The return coverage is suspect as they allow more than 24 yards per kick return and have had a punt returned for a touchdown against them.
The Sun Devils had high hopes coming into this season. Following a successful 2004 campaign, including a Bowl win over Purdue, Arizona State was predicted to finish second in the Pac-10. This dream season never materialized, as they failed to get a signature win, losing all four games they played against ranked opponents. An invite to Phoenix is not how ASU wanted to end their season, even if it is in victory.
The Scarlet Knights are making a return to the Bowl scene after a 27-year absence, and playing the same team they did all those years ago. A senior laden team has brought respectability back to the State University of New Jersey.
No matter the outcome this was a great season for Rutgers and a wonderful recruitment tool for Coach Schiano. The key will be which version of each team's defense comes to play in this game. Each unit has been a "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" this year completely dominating some opponents and being completely shredded by others. Maybe we'll get lucky and both teams will forget to pack the D-playbook and let this go to a shootout.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.