Despite the knockdowns, Carpenter stands alone (Oregonian/Sept. 22, 2008)
Sept. 26, 2008
Despite the knockdowns, Carpenter stands alone/Posted by Ken Goe, The Oregonian September 22, 2008
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Pacific-10 Conference's best quarterback arrived early for an interview at the Carson Student-Athlete Center without the in-your-face attitude he displays on the field.
Senior Rudy Carpenter often spends fall Saturdays jawing with defenders trying to knock him into the cheap seats, but he came across Monday as soft-spoken and mild-mannered.
'If you know me just as a regular person and hadn't seen me on the field, you would think I'm completely opposite from what I may look like on the field,' he said.
All comparisons between Carpenter and the regular ASU student end about seven steps from the line of scrimmage, the collision point for opposing pass rushers and a quarterback trying to throw from the pocket.ASU yielded 55 sacks last season, with Carpenter usually the guy being belted.
He not only lived to talk about it; the conversation frequently started as the Arizona State quarterback picked himself up off the turf.
'Sometimes I do it if I'm not playing very well,' he said. 'Sometimes it's almost a pick-me-up, or a spark that gets me going. Or sometimes when we're playing real well, it's like a swagger. I feel like football is a fun game and you should have fun doing it.'
Two things to know about Carpenter:
He can take a punch. He bounced up last year after every sack -- he started all 13 Arizona State games and has 35 consecutive career starts. Despite the beating, Carpenter completed nearly 62 percent of his passes, threw 25 touchdown passes and had just 10 interceptions.
This season, with ASU struggling to run effectively behind a young, leaky offensive line, Carpenter again is shouldering the burden. In four games he is averaging nearly 300 yards with a seven-to-two touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In a conference that prides itself on producing top-shelf quarterbacks, this season Carpenter stands alone.
Really, only Kevin Riley of California, Mark Sanchez of USC and Willie Tuitama of Arizona belong in the conversation.
Riley has a huge upside, but is a sophomore with four career starts.
The Heisman drumbeat already has started in Los Angeles for Sanchez, a junior with five career starts. He could be great, but in USC's galaxy of stars how would you know? The Trojans' quarterback has two jobs: distribute the ball and stay out of the way.
Tuitama is compiling glossy statistics while piloting the Air Zona offense. But he is 0-for-his career against ASU and never has led the Wildcats to a bowl game or, even, a winning season.
Carpenter not only has won, he is the conference leader among active quarterbacks in career passing yards, touchdown passes and completions, and that doesn't count the intangibles.
His intensity, will and guts were big factors in the Sun Devils' 8-0 start last season. It's no coincidence their 2-3 finish occurred after Carpenter sprained his right thumb so severely he had trouble gripping the ball.
The pain didn't go away until offseason surgery but Carpenter stayed on the field.
'He's mentally tough and he's obviously physically tough with what he went through last year,' ASU offensive coordinator Rich Olson said. 'He's a tremendous competitor. He wants to win.'
Carpenter's guts and ASU's reliance on him never were more obvious than last season at UCLA, when pain forced him to the sideline in the fourth quarter with the Sun Devils nursing a narrow lead.
But, after backup quarterback Danny Sullivan fumbled, Carpenter came trotting back onto the field to close out the victory. Afterward Carpenter kept his hand tucked near his body while teammates tried to high-five or shake hands with him.
'That game kind of personifies what he is about,' ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. 'He's been hit. He's been bleeding. He's had his helmet knocked off. He's had it all.'
Carpenter concedes the battering took a physical and mental toll last year, one reason he spent the offseason in the weight room beefing up from 199 pounds to 225.
He also is trying to throw the ball quickly, rather than waiting for a receiver to break free as the rush bears down.
For the most part, things have been better, although third-ranked Georgia did get to Carpenter four times Saturday in a 27-10 victory over the Sun Devils. The loss dropped ASU to 2-2 and put an even greater sense of urgency on their next game, Oct. 4 at California.
Then comes an Oct. 11 trip to USC, an open date and an Oct. 25 game with the visiting Ducks. It's a critical stretch, and Carpenter knows all three defenses will target him.
He won't back away. It's no coincidence Carpenter is a big boxing fan.
'You have to be a different type of person to be a fighter,' he said. 'To a certain extent, you have to be a different sort of person to play quarterback, to get hit like that and keep on playing.'
And, in Carpenter's case, to keep having the last word, even if every member of the opposing defense takes it personally.
'I'm sure they feed off it,' Carpenter said laughing. 'So I don't know if it's all good for me.'