By Clay McNear
Before we look forward, a quick look back . . .
ASU vs. Stanford in Tempe, September 6
This game was supposed to be a lot closer than the end result, a 41-17 thumping of the Cardinal by senior QB Rudy Carpenter (pictured) and crew. After years of being the Pac-10’s dead bird, Jim Harbaugh’s Big Red Bird is purportedly on the rise, and a Week One win over Oregon State had a lot of prognosticators thinking . . . well, suffice to say they’re not thinking that so much anymore, certainly not with SU due to pay a not-in-my-house call on a tough Texas Christian University team on Saturday the 13th.
On ASU’s side of the ball, every non-deluded Sun Devil fan was way leery of the Stanford game. Despite being in Coach Dennis Erickson’s second year – historically, his teams have kicked major posterior in Year Two – the Devils kinda sorta stunk up the joint in their season debut against Northern Arizona. Stanford? Christ, those brainiacs beat USC and Cal last year. A fumble here, a silly bounce there, and 2-0/1-0 ASU’s suddenly looking at 1-1/0-1, with the sole W being a semi-shaky W over the big-whoopin’-deal NAU Lumberjacks.
Was Stanford not quite as good as billed, or is ASU better?
ASU vs. UNLV in Tempe, September 13
While the Devils were de-frocking the Cardinal, the Sin City Rebels (1-1) were getting their collective clock cleaned by the Utes of Utah, certainly no shock given that Utah held a lifetime 11-2 W/L against ’em going in. Still, the Rebs proved pesky in the first half, kicking the Utes’ butts around the ballyard and making it appear that there might be an actual contest in the offing. Rebels QB Omar Clayton had a decent game (19-of-30, 159, 1 TD), and RB Frank Summers smoked the Utes for 82 yards in the first two quarters. Trouble is, Summers managed only five the rest of the way, and his teammates only 83. Expect the oddsmakers in Vegas to sincerely dis their hometown team, ’cause this, Sun Devils fans, is a cupcake.
Prediction: Coach Erickson keeps his team’s collective football mind off the lurking Georgia Bulldogs, and ASU rolls, 56-7.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium, 500 East Veterans Way in Tempe. See www.thesundevils.com.
Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, September 7
This was, pure and simple, a numbers game, and here are the only ones that matter:
Times QB Kurt Warner turned the ball over: 0.
Time of possession, second half: 22:38 Cards, 7:22 Niners.
Current NFC West standings: Cardinals, 1-0. Everybody else, 0-1.
However, before we pump ourselves up all out of proportion, let’s remember what a mutt-ugly game this was, especially in the first half. Red-zone futility, veteran Mike Gandy’s doh! personal foul on the goal line, offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s nincompoop first-half decision to return to the running-game well time and time again when it wasn’t working – well, it all felt very 2007, and 2006, and 2005, and 2004, and . . .
Still, however much most of us thought they were gonna blow it as per usual, the bottom line is that these 2008 Cards stuck it to the team that swept ’em last year and likely kept them out of the playoffs.
Oh, yeah – one more number: Before this game, the Cards’ opening-day record in Arizona was 4-16. Now? Exponentially better than that.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Miami Dolphins in Glendale, September 14
Previous to the Cards/49ers game, I enumerated the following reasons for pessimism in regards to the Cards notching what should be an auto W against the Fish:
1) the Cardinals typically can’t beat a paper bag if it has a losing record
2) it’s the Cards’ regular-season home opener, and the fans expect crunch-time mediocrity, if not outright failure
3) the Dolphins know that new czar Bill Parcells (pictured) will grind them into chum if they lose one of their few winnable games to a historical barking dog like the Cards
Now that the 49ers game is in the bag, let’s deconstruct, shall we?
1) the paper-bag syndrome is historically oh-so-true, but they did beat the woeful Niners, who were 5-11 in ’07, and only that by dint of sweeping the Cards
2) Cardinals fans who don’t expect crunch-time futility aren’t true Cardinals fans and should get the hell out of town; remember, what doesn’t kill us makes us want to kill ourselves
3) the Tuna factor: the Cardinals don’t have a Bill Parcells equivalent, but head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s growing on me, and I suspect he’d be a mite peeved to lose to a barking marine mammal like Miami
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Whisenhunt well knows that his Cards must have this gimme given the murderers’ row that lies ahead. At Washington, at the Jets, Bills, Cowboys, at Carolina. Ack. Though you can color me hopeful, one thing you can count on the Cardinals to do is to play down to their level of need.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.
Prediction: Warner coughs it up, the luck of the Tuna kicks in, and the Cards thump back to Earth, 14-17.