July 13, 2006
By Brian Hardy
Brian is an assistant editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular basis.
Boasting one of the nation's top offenses last season, Arizona State approaches the 2006 season with high expectations, returning 15 starters from last year. Once again the Sun Devils figure to display an explosive offense led by what many consider to be the best quarterback tandem in the country: senior Sam Keller and sophomore Rudy Carpenter.
What some teams would call a dilemma the Sun Devils call an advantage. When you have the nation's passing efficiency leader as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, you know you're solid at quarterback.
"They're both outstanding players that have played extremely well for us,"
Last season, Keller started the first seven games of the Sun Devils' season before suffering a season-ending thumb injury, and he turned in quite a season - albeit a short one. Keller threw for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing 58.7 percent of his passes. His 20 TD's were the sixth-highest single-season total in program history.
After Keller went down with an injury, Carpenter stepped right in and seemed to pick up where Keller left off. The then-freshman quarterback ended up finishing the year first in the nation in passing efficiency with a 175.01 rating. He also finished third in the nation in completion percentage (68.4), threw for a freshman record 2,273 yards, and led the nation with a team record-low interception percentage, after throwing just two picks in 228 total passing attempts.
Carpenter then went on to lead the Sun Devils to a 45-40 victory over Rutgers in the Insight Bowl, where he earned Offensive Player of the Game honors after completing 23 of his passes for 467 yards and throwing four touchdowns: all
"People like to say, `It's difficult. How are you going to play both of them?' But the bottom line is it's a healthy situation. Not only are they both good football players, but they're outstanding young men," Wittke said. "They are both team players and both want nothing but the best for our team and having competition at that position, as well as having depth at that position, is something that we feel is a big positive and will give us the opportunity to win a lot of football games."
The offense was clearly the fuel behind
"I think one thing we have going for us is experience at critical positions and we have experience at quarterback and on the offensive line," Wittke said. "I know from an offensive standpoint that those two things have always been critical factors in anyone's success."
As it stands now, Keller is the starter heading into camp, as ASU head coach Dirk Koetter will not allow a player to lose his spot on the depth chart because of an injury. With that said, though, all options remain open, including playing both in certain situations.
"Sam does come into fall camp as the returning starter," Wittke said. "But we're going to do what's best for our team, what's best for our offense, and what gives us the best opportunity to win football games. And if that's playing two, that's playing two. If it's playing one, it's playing one."
If history repeats itself, then both Keller and Carpenter should both see playing time this year, as ASU has had to use more than one quarterback the last two seasons.
"The bottom line is we've needed more than one [quarterback] the last two years to get a bowl victory, with Sam getting the win in the Sun Bowl (two seasons ago) and Rudy coming in an finishing the season last year. So, people who say that having two is a problem just need to go back and look at what's happened over the last two years."
While the quarterbacks will be leading the show, the Sun Devils are bringing back experience in other areas which should give this team an opportunity to compete for a Pac-10 title.
The offensive line is on the top of that list, returning five starters that have combined for 86 starts, making them the fifth-most experienced o-line in the nation entering the 2006 season.
"Those guys are so important to your success," Wittke said. "When you have an offensive line that can control the line of scrimmage for you, you give yourself an opportunity to do what you want to do and set the tempo and create the pace of the game you want. There's no question in my mind that unit is going to be a real strength for us."
The running game looks to be in good hands as well, with sophomore tailback Keegan Herring returning from a freshman season where he rushed for a school rookie record 870 yards. In addition, sophomore Shaun DeWitty is coming off a strong spring according to Wittke and junior Preston Jones will look to be in the mix as well.
"We've had a lot of success throwing the football, and the emphasis on our pass game and being successful in that part of the game isn't going to change," Wittke said. "But, we all understand as an offensive staff that in order to win football games and control football games, we're going to have to be able to run the ball successfully."
The receivers "may hold the biggest question mark" for the Sun Devils according to Wittke, as the question becomes who will replace Derek Hagan - the Pac-10's all-time leading receiver - as well as Matt Miller and Moey Mutz.
"We may not have that one outstanding player, but I think we have a chance to have a real strong, unique group," Wittke said.
At tight end, junior Zach Miller, whose 94 catches the past two seasons are more than any other tight end in the nation, returns to be a guy Wittke says the Sun Devils will try to get the ball to as much as possible.
Another big question for
"If we can be strong up front, it's going to allow the younger linebackers to take some pressure off them and allow them to make some progress and gain experience where we don't have to put as much pressure on that group," Wittke said.
"This team showed it's capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the best people in the country," Wittke said. "We need to win games like that. We feel that's been a focus of our thoughts in the offseason and I think this group is poised to do that."
And as they did last season, the Sun Devils will look to their quarterback for leadership; whether it be Keller or Carpenter.