ASU football fun to watch, but it’s not about TV ratings

Arizona State football still has its doubters after a 2-2 start.  But the Sun Devils’ new brand of fast-moving, fast-scoring offense hasn’t lost its appeal to the fans.

Last Saturday’s televised match-up with then-No.5 Oregon turned out to be the highest-rated program in the Phoenix market that day.  The 37-24 loss drew 126,182 households for a 7.0 rating.

And Oregon moved up to No. 4 on the strength of that win.

Those who tuned in were treated to an ASU offense that ran up 597 yards trying to score more points than Oregon’s high-octane offense that produced 405 yards of its own.

And both teams went with spread offenses that wasted no time between huddles, giving fans the kind of pace they get from a good tennis match.

That helped make it the highest-rated ASU game on Fox Sports Arizona since another match-up with the Ducks in 2007, when the Devils were ranked No. 4 and played No. 5 Oregon.  That game drew a 10.4 rating.

And the fans will probably tune in again tomorrow afternoon when unranked ASU is in Corvallis to take on unranked Oregon State, which beat the Devils in Tempe last year, 28-17.

But their attention span isn’t likely to continue much longer.  The Sun Devils need this win to keep the band wagon rolling.  A .500 record is being tolerated, but a 2-3 mark will only energize the doubters and put the team, and its fan base, in a three-straight-loss funk that gets harder and harder to overcome.

It was the same way last year.  The Beavers came into Tempe with a 2-2 record and the Devils were sporting a 2-1 start.  It was a critical game because each team was trying to build some momentum.

ASU lost that game and never fully recovered, winning just two more games the rest of the season.  The Sun Devils can’t take a chance on fumbling away this opportunity to get back into the win column, and set the mood for navigating the rest of the way through the Pac-10 schedule.

Fortunately, they know what they have to do to get past the Beavers.  And it’s totally within their control.

All they really need to do is keep from beating themselves.

They could have won last week against Oregon, and should have won the week before against No. 11 Wisconsin.  But mistakes and missed opportunities left them with a pair of heartbreaking losses instead.

Against Wisconsin, they had a penalty on a punt return that negated a score, came a couple of yards short of another score on a kickoff return as the first half closed, and then let the Badger defense block a point-after to seal the 20-19 Wisconsin win.

Against Oregon, the Ducks scored on a fumbled ASU lateral and then the Devils fumbled away another scoring opportunity when the ball came loose from the grip of sophomore running back, Cameron Marshall, inside the five.  And those were just two of seven turnovers on the day.

And it didn’t help that quarterback Steven Threet was intercepted three times to kill consecutive drives late in the game.  He had four INTs on the day.

His 387 yards passing was marred by the mistakes.  Just as the 597 total yards of offense didn’t get it done.  There were just too many mistakes, both mental and physical, which resulted in too many missed opportunities.

But OSU is dealing with the same issues.

The Beavers had an opportunity to upset then-No. 4 Texas Christian in their opening game, but a series of errors led to a 30-21 loss.  And last week against No. 3 Boise State, they missed opportunities that could have led to an upset, including a missed field goal and the inability to hold the Broncos down while mounting an attack; twice in the third quarter alone, OSU was within a touchdown of catching up to the Broncos, but couldn’t get over the hump and lost by 13.

This week, OSU is going to be faced with the same kind of scoring threat.  And they lost their only returning linebacker, Dwight Roberson, who suffered a sprained knee against Boise State and isn’t expected to play.  The Beavers have not been especially effective against the run, and now will play without the team’s leading tackler.

On the other side, ASU’s middle linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, is one of the best in the country.  He had 10 tackles against a very fast and very talented Oregon offense.  And he will be on the field tomorrow.

The Beavers will use their three-headed monster to get their points.

Quarterback Ryan Katz runs a very controlled offensive system.  OSU has not turned the ball over so far this season, and Katz is the only QB in the Pac-10 who has not had an interception.  And the Rodgers brothers make up the rest of the trio.

Jacquizz Rodgers is just 5’7″ tall, but terribly quick and explosive.  The junior running back is averaging just 84.3 yards per game, down from his 100+ average last year, but he finds the end zone.  Two of his 21 TDs last season came in the meeting with ASU.  So the Devil defense will be keying on him.

James Rodgers is the primary receiver, and one of the best in the conference.  The senior set a school record for receptions last year with 91, and also played a major role in the Devils’ loss to OSU last year as he pulled in 10 catches for 119 yards.

Brother James suffered a concussion in last week’s game and, according to reports from the OSU side, is questionable for tomorrow’s tilt.  However, ASU head coach Dennis Erickson is convinced he will be on the field for the game.

And Erickson announced this week that he is making a significant offensive change.  He will be starting freshman running back, Deantre Lewis, who ran up 127 yards against Oregon last week for his second straight 100-yard performance.

This trip to Corvallis is the beginning of a long, punishing road trip that will include games against Washington and California.  That’s 34 days between home games.

All the more reason the Devils need a win against OSU, and at least one more on the road.  That brings them back home with a winning record and a chance to keep the fans tuned in and turned on.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)