ASU, UA football off to 3-1 start…but hold the celebration

Arizona and Arizona State football are both off to an impressive 3-1 start to the season.  But is that a good omen… or are their fans being set up for disappointment again?

What comes to mind is a picture of Lucie holding the football for a Charlie Brown kick, only to pull it away at the last moment and put the hapless Charlie on his butt – a recurring scenario in the Peanuts comic strip at the start of the football season.  Chuck was always such a sucker for trick plays.

So here’s something to keep in mind:

Dennis Erickson began last season with a 6-2 start.  The Sun Devils then lost five of the final six and the head coach was fired at the end of the season.

Mike Stoops got off to a sizzling 7-1 start in 2010, which earned the Cats a No. 9 national ranking, but then lost his last five games.  The Wildcats head coach was fired six games into the next season.

OK, that’s not going to happen this season because both new head coaches will be given a chance to prove themselves.  But it shows how fleeting early success can be.

Rich Rodriguez, in his first year at the controls of the Wildcat program, beat a ranked team, then-No. 18 Oklahoma State, to go 3-0.  And then Oregon, ranked No. 3 at the time, took them to the woodshed in a 49-0 thrashing.

ASU, under its new coach Todd Graham, hasn’t been tested against any ranked teams, but has been pretty steady game-to-game.  The one they lost was a close one, going down 24-20 against Missouri.

But the Sun Devils haven’t had to play a team like Oregon, so comparisons between the two Arizona Pac-12 rivals are hard to make at this point.

Tomorrow, the Sun Devils will try to beat California in their house, something they haven’t been able to do in the last 15 years.  The Golden Bears have won seven of the last eight games and beat ASU in Tempe last year in a 47-38  offensive display by both teams.

Cal is a quirky team this year, so ASU probably isn’t sure what to expect in their second road game of the season.  The Golden Bears have won just one game so far, but they came up just a TD short of beating Ohio State a couple of weeks ago, and played USC tough in a 27-9 loss last week.

ASU is an explosive team, generally putting away opponents early.  The Devils scored on six of its first seven possessions against Northern Arizona, four of its first five against Illinois, and last week against Utah found the end zone on its first five possessions.

And it has a defense that is active and downright stingy late in the game.  ASU has recorded eight interceptions in four games, which leads the nation, and has rung up 39 tackles for loss, which ties for tops in the country.

Once they get to the fourth quarter, they really put the hammer down.  The Devils haven’t allowed a single point in the fourth quarter through its four games.

Their performance in the conference opener against the Utes last week was one of dominance and will give them some real momentum rolling into Memorial Coliseum tomorrow.

Arizona, on the other hand, has to try to rebound from a disastrous mistake-filled performance against Oregon in which six trips to the red zone came up empty and the Cats left Eugene with their tails tucked between their legs.

Now they face another ranked opponent in No. 18 Oregon State in a home contest tomorrow and will need to bring their ‘A’ game this time to keep from beginning a slide that could put their confidence in a tailspin.  Arizona was ranked No. 22 last week, but the Ducks dropped them from the ranks of the ranked.

It’s hard to say just what happened to the Cats last week to bump their fast-moving train off the tracks – other than admitting they ran into a defense that was too much for them, and an offense they couldn’t hold down.

Before that conference opener against Oregon, now the No. 2 team in the country, they were averaging 46 points and more than 600 yards of offense per game.

But the focus now turns to the Beavers and the Cats will attempt to avenge last year’s 37-27 loss at Oregon State.  They face a ranked team that also has just one loss and is coming off a 27-20 win against the No. 19 UCLA Bruins, ranked second nationally in total offense going into that game.

OSU quarterback, Sean Mannion, is a third-year sophomore who has passed for 200 or more yards in 13 straight games and directed Mike Riley’s pro-style offense to 501 total yards against UCLA.

The Beaver defense gets the job done, too.  Last week it held the country’s leading rusher to just 45 yards on 12 carries.  Johnathan Franklin has been churning out an average of 180 yards a game for the Bruins.

This will be the game that the Wildcats debut their new copper-colored helmets, added to the blue, red, and white helmet rotation this season to honor Arizona’s history of copper mining.

Or maybe they’re just hoping the strange new helmets will help fans forget they are the same team that was embarrassed by the Ducks last week.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)