QB questions surround Erickson's 3rd season at ASU

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Coach Dennis Erickson got off to a great start at Arizona State in 2007, going 10-3 with a Pac-10 co-championship. Year two was another story.

The Sun Devils were upset by UNLV in the third game of the season, triggering a six-game losing streak. Arizona State finished 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the Pac-10.

"Sometimes you get a wake-up call," Erickson said.

Now Erickson, entering his 21st season as a major-college coach, must get his program back on track despite a big question mark at quarterback specifically and on the offense in general.

He never has had consecutive losing seasons in all his years at Idaho, Washington State, Miami, Oregon State and now Arizona State.

Erickson will call the plays this year, saying he will spend 90 percent of his time dealing with the offense. He plans to return to a scheme that he's more comfortable with, using three wide receivers "probably 90 percent of the time," taking advantage of a talented receiver corps that includes Chris McGaha, Kyle Williams, Kerry Taylor and Gerell Robinson.

The question is: Who will get them the football?

Rudy Carpenter, who had started every game at quarterback since October 2005, is gone.

Longtime backup Danny Sullivan, a senior, is No. 1 at that spot, with speedy sophomore Samson Szakacsy his backup. Waiting in the wings is 6-foot-8 Brock Osweiler, a freshman who graduated from Flathead High School in Kalispell, Mont., early in order to join the Sun Devils for spring practice.

Erickson said he's never started a true freshman quarterback, but Osweiler might eventually change that.

"Brock has got a lot of God-given talent, a strong arm, a very good athlete. With Brock it's a matter of him learning what we're doing offensively," Erickson said.

Erickson said he might put Szakacsy in the game occasionally in place of Sullivan to give the team a different look, perhaps with some option plays.

But, the coach said, "Right now it's Danny's job to lose."

Sullivan has played in 25 games over three seasons as the No. 2 quarterback, completing 40-of-87 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns. He's anxious to erase any doubt that he deserves the starting job.

"Coach is probably waiting for something to happen, for one of us to take a big leap forward. I'm trying to do that, trying to end the competition as fast as I can," Sullivan said.

McGaha is the top target. He caught 61 passes as a sophomore, but that number dropped to 35 last year in an injury-plagued season.

Among the other receivers, Erickson said Robinson has "really jumped out" in early fall practices. Robinson is a 6-4, 230-pound sophomore who was considered one of the country's top high school players but had a disappointing freshman season.

At running back, Dimitri Nance and Shaun DeWitty return, but the ground game's success hinges on an improved offensive line. The Sun Devils allowed 34 sacks last season and their running game averaged only 2.9 yards per play.

Erickson said injuries hurt the offensive line, a group he says is motivated by the criticism they've received.

"They've got a chip on their shoulder, too, because they can read. They understand what's going on, and I think that's great," Erickson said.

The strength of the Sun Devils is their defense, with Dexter Davis and Lawrence Guy on the line. Davis is the only returning player in the country with double-digit sacks each of the past two seasons. His 11 sacks last year ranked third in the Pac-10.

Senior Mike Nixon, who anchors a deep linebacker corps and led the team in tackles (90) and interceptions (5) last season, said the defense can ease some of the pressures on the offense.

"When I came to ASU it was kind of an offense dominated program. We had some young guys playing on defense and the offense kind of helped us through our growing pains," Nixon said. "If we have to do that the first couple games of the year, let the offense get their footing under them, that's something we're going to do as a defense and as a team."

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