ASU football counting on defense, in more ways than one

Looking back on spring football,  the best thing to happen to Arizona State’s offense is probably its defense.

If the Sun Devil offense can move the ball against its defense, which may be one of the best in the country next season, it should be able to play with anyone on its 2010 schedule.  It just has to do a better job at that.

“We have a great defense.  If we’re successful against them, we’ll be successful against a lot of people,” explains junior quarterback transfer Steven Threet, who will be competing with sophomore  Brock Osweiler for the starting job next season.

The Sun Devils just wrapped up their spring work with the annual spring game on Saturday.  The defense won the game, as the offense managed just one score, on a five-yard pass from Osweiler to George Bell.

But Osweiler, who was 17-of-33 for 151 yards, didn’t do much to convince head coach, Dennis Erickson, that the starting job should be his.  He lauded the defense, but also pointed out that they’ve been running the same plays at them for some time, and there was little they hadn’t seen before.

“We have run the same offense since January,” he noted.  “Three, four, five times a week against our defense.  They know exactly what’s about to come.”  But he admitted there was no excuse for the turnovers in a game that saw too many dropped passes and five interceptions.

But an offensive line watered down by injuries was also a critical factor in the inability to put up more than one score in the spring game and accounted for a weak running performance in front of some 6,000 fans that had turned out to see something a little more promising.

Jamal Miles was the leading rusher, gaining 28 yards on 12 attempts, followed by James Morrison, who picked up 26 yards on six carries.

Erickson is working to rebuild an offensive line that was ranked near the bottom of the national rankings in sacks allowed last year and shared responsibility for an offense that ranked 93rd in the nation, allowing 119 yards per game.

He recruited a junior college lineman to give the effort an immediate jump start, bringing in right guard, Brice Schwab, a 6’7″, 345 lb. two-time first-team All Conference player at Palomar College.  Schwab was headed to USC but changed his mind when Pete Carroll left for a gig with the Seattle Seahawks.  Now he may be starting for the Sun Devils next season.

Erickson wasn’t unhappy across the board Saturday.  He was willing to give the defense a little praise, particularly the backfield.  “I thought our safeties played really well,” he offered in analysis.  They’ve done that all spring. They’re playing the run good.”

But the quarterback play Saturday had to be his biggest disappointment.  Neither Osweiler or Threet proved they were ready to start.

However, the fact that the defense was getting used to them undoubtedly had something to do with that.  You can tell it by the numbers.

In a  couple of early spring scrimmages, Osweiler threw three TDs in one and went 18-for-27 in the next.  Threet had a touchdown in one and went 12-of-20 for 161 yards in the other.  Saturday Osweiler was 17-for-33 with an interception and Threet gained just 117 yards in the air and had three passes picked off.

Osweiler is one of three quarterbacks Erickson used last year in compiling a 4-8 record.  He ran the show in six games, finishing with 24 completions for 249 yards.  Threet transferred in from University of Michigan last spring and sat out the fall season to meet NCAA requirements.  While at Michigan, he started eight games and put up decent stats.  He completed 51 percent of his passes and threw for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns.

Little was decided over the 14 or so spring practices and scrimmages, as is always the case this early.  But Erickson is facing a critical time in his tenure at ASU.  After two losing seasons, his seat is getting a little hot.  He is counting big-time on his new offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, and the wide-open, hurry-up offense he is bringing to the program.

And then he has to hope his quarterback can implement it successfully.

Whomever that may be.