What looked to be a potentially difficult decision for Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson coming into this week has turned into a rather easy one. Senior quarterback Danny Sullivan's sore biceps muscle has not allowed him to throw the ball in practice, essentially making freshman Brock Osweiler the starter by default.
"Right now we'll probably start Brock," Erickson said following Wednesday's session. "I got to see what happens tomorrow or (sophomore) Samson (Szakacsy) might be the second one. He's the one who has been getting reps. We'll see how Danny's biceps is. It's been really bothering him, he couldn't throw today. So with two days of practice, we'll see how Danny is tomorrow but right now I'd say we'll probably start Brock and let her fly in about as bad an environment as you'll ever get."
During Monday's weekly press conference, Erickson admitted being concerned about giving the reins to Osweiler for what would be his first career start in a hostile-as-they-come Autzen Stadium. But now he doesn't have much of a choice, and the ASU offensive staff approached the week with a goal of making the job easier for whomever lined up behind center.
"We've really simplified things this week anyway and when I say simplify I mean, so we can get the snap count and execute what we have because it's different," Erickson said. "If you play in the Southeast Conference or you play in the Big Ten or if you play in some of those arena every day, this kind of stuff happens. But in this league, it happens occasionally, you go up to the University of Arizona or you go to Pullman at night after they've had a full day, you go up there and it's hard. It's a difficult place and we've simplified things because of that."
Erickson said it's a less-than-ideal situation but one he and his staff are realistic about, particularly as it relates to how early it is in the evolution process of Osweiler.
"He's not making every perfect throw, not making every perfect read," Erickson said. "He's learning. He hasn't played. Like any guy that hasn't played at that position, it's no different than anybody else. It will be a tremendous learning experience for him."
With Autzen being such a loud environment it's far easier to use a silent count out of a shotgun formation than to have the quarterback have to bark out signals under center. As such it's likely ASU will spend most of the game in three and four wide receiver sets, forgoing the two-tight end looks that were more common in recent weeks, particularly with the receivers group somewhat banged up physically.
Senior center Thomas Altieri, who has returned to practice this week after missing two games with a knee sprain, said ASU's zone blocking scheme and increased reliance on the shotgun formation this year should make their job of handling crowd noise a bit easier.
"I think if anything it's going to help us," Altieri said. "Guys get antsy here or there but with that kind of environment, tension is going to be a little high but with the snap count itself being on silent it's going to make people stay more in tuned to what is going on because everyone is going to have to pay a little more attention to detail. We haven't had one false start penalty doing the silent count I don't think. It's worked great for us and I hope we can make it to our advantage.
"I've been there once and it's a great environment, a great college football environment. It is hostile, I will say that. You get that feeling of 11 guys versus the rest of the crowd and the other 11 guys on the field. It's a great feeling to get out there and hopefully try to shut those people up. That's the goal anyway, to keep the crowd quiet."
With the sacks allowed count way down from last season and rushing numbers improved, Altieri said there is evidence the scheme shift has benefited the program and will continue to pay dividends down the road.
"It just gives our backs and the quarterback so many more options I think," Altieri said. "We're only going to get better at it, it's only our first year implementing this offense. It's only going to get better so I'm excited to see what these guys are going to get out of it.
"We've made strides that I'll be honest, I wasn't 100 percent confident we were going to make. We're way ahead of where I thought we'd be with this type of offense in the first year of its implementation. We've got a lot of youth and a mix with some veteran guys like me and Jon and Shawn out there but I really think they're going to grow and improving moving forward with this offense."