Spring FB practice is over…how do ASU, UA stack up?

Now that Arizona State has wrapped up spring practice, fans across the state can make some comparisons between the Sun Devils and their rival down in Tucson, since Arizona finished the week before.

The general consensus seems to be…What’s not to like?  And that goes for both schools.

An offensive display by both programs would indicate a high-scoring, exciting brand of football is ahead – and the game between the two teams at the end of the season could be a real barn-burner.

Keeping in mind that the defense had to play a little soft in the final spring games to avoid any early injuries, it was still encouraging to see both teams move the ball so well.

Wildcat fans got a better look at their team under new head coach, Rich Rodriguez.  The Cats went at it for about two hours, while ASU’s new head coach, Todd Graham, limited his ‘game’ to less than half that.

That was probably due, in part, to the weather.  Arizona players got a cold, windy day for their final practice 10 days ago, while the Sun Devils worked under a hot sun and temperatures pushing 100 degrees over the weekend.

But the weather, good or bad, didn’t discourage the fans from turning out.  A few more than 4,000 were estimated in Tucson, while ASU drew a reported 5,142 spectators who wanted to get a sneak peak at what a new approach to discipline is creating.

Both coaches got a chance to look over their stable of quarterback talent.  ASU, frankly, is loaded at that position, with three signal callers that could easily step into the starting role in the fall.  Graham is looking for someone to step up and take the reins and admits he may be looking at going into fall camp with two potential starting quarterbacks.

Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank, and Taylor Kelly all got a good share of time under center, with the 6’5″ Eubank putting up the bigger numbers.  The trio combined for 413 yards passing, with Eubank completing 8-of-15 for 183 yards and three TDs.

Rodriguez, too, got a good look at his four QB hopefuls, but gave the lion’s share of snaps to Matt Scott, who is expected to be the starter next season.  Arizona isn’t as deep at the position as ASU, with Scott, who started a couple of games in 2010 and then redshirted last year, having the only significant college experience at the position.

The Cats have plenty of bodies at the position, just not a lot of game savvy.  In addition to the four in the fold now, there are two high school recruits on the way, as well as another JUCO transfer.  (See 4/16/12 phxfan article)

But the four that played at last week’s wrap-up game combined for 760 yards passing – which is easier to do when you have two hours to get it done.  Scott went 22-for-35 for 315 yards and four touchdowns.

The other three – Richard Morrison, Alex Cappellini, and Tyler D’Amore put up the other 445 yards in the new spread-option offense that Rodriguez brought with him from West Virginia and Michigan.

A couple of those names might ring a bell with the locals.  D’Amore played for Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson before going on to play at College of the Canyons, a community college in California, and Cappellini graduated from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix; he transferred in from Orange Coast CC.

Graham was pleased with what he saw under center:  “I think there’s obviously some great promise that I’ve seen.  I went into the spring thinking that group (of quarterbacks) is a group I can have some confidence in, and I come out of the spring knowing I have confidence in them.”

Jamal Miles was a favorite target, as the senior wide receiver from Peoria High School pulled down seven passes for 101 yards – and then made a bigger statement by returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

James Morrison, another local kid, got the most running opportunities on the day – and delivered.  The senior running back from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix picked up 82 yards on 13 carries.

Although he appeared satisfied, even excited, about what he saw in Saturday’s game, Graham is just cautiously optimistic.  “We have a lot of work to do,” he points out.  “We have a big summer ahead of our program, because every second is big, and this year is going to be the most challenging.”

He’s right about that.  And his biggest challenge is going to be convincing the ASU faithful that the last three years without a winning season is behind them, and better days are ahead.

The 5,000 fans that showed up for the spring game are a good start.  But he has to convert those into ticket sales now – and the only way you do that is by winning.

Both coaches know that.  And they also realize they each have a skeptical fan base to win over – both hires had their share of controversy.

Spring practice is just that – spring practice.  But so far, so good.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)