Although Arizona State's bye week falls one week after the technical midpoint of the 2011 season, it still makes for a perfect dividing mark.
In the Sun Devils' rearview mirror is the meat of their schedule, a slate that featured major battles against Missouri, Illinois, USC, Utah and Oregon. ASU has emerged from that portion at a hearty 5-2, including a key 3-1 conference record that has them in prime position to take home the Pac-12 South title.
The bye week also presents a great opportunity to review and analyze just how the Sun Devils have performed through the first seven weeks.
First up, the offense.
Rushing Offense: 72nd (135.3 yards per game)
Passing Offense: 27th (291.6 yards per game)
Total Offense: 39th (491.9 yards per game)
Scoring Offense: 33rd (34.1 points per game)
Key Number: 18 sacks allowed
Entering the season, the primary question lingering over the ASU offense was how Brock Osweiler would perform in his first season as the starting quarterback. Through seven games, that question has been resoundingly answered.
Osweiler has displayed his impressive physical skills throughout the season-primarily his powerful arm and mobility-but it's been his leadership and poise that have stood out most prominently.
Regardless of the score, opponent or situation, Osweiler has been a revelation. Most importantly, he's played his best in the biggest games. Against Missouri, USC, Utah and Oregon, he has thrown for 1,191 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions (both against Oregon).
As long as the line can keep the pressure away from him (more on that later), Osweiler figures to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in 2012.
Running Back: B-
There was a large degree of uncertainty heading into the season as sophomore Deantre Lewis' recovery from an offseason gunshot wound was clouding his future (he will miss the season), which meant that the other running back, principally Cameron Marshall, would have to step up.
Despite Marshall's injured ankles that have hampered him for several weeks, he is leading the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns with nine. He has only had a single 100-yard effort-141 against USC-but he's shown both the power and speed that earned him a spot on the Doak Walker Award watch list.
Behind Marshall has been some degree of disappointment.
Jamal Miles is second on the team with 169 yards, but 51 of that came off a swing pass last week against Oregon and he's seen more time at wide receiver than running back. Kyle Middlebrooks has been a total non-factor the last two weeks, with just two carries for -12 yards. Should any larger injury befall Marshall, the Devils may be in trouble.
That being said, the real reason for the running backs' struggles has not been with their play, but rather the lack of blocking.
Wide Receiver: A
Early on, the hype of the Sun Devil passing game surrounded the senior duo of Gerrell Robinson and Mike Willie, each 6'4" and possessing skills to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
However, it was another senior, Aaron Pflugrad, who made the early headlines, highlighted by his eight catch, 180 yard and two touchdown performance in the win over Missouri. He seemed to be building a go-to rapport with Osweiler, and followed up his big day with a seven catch effort against Illinois. However, since then, he's been a non-factor. In the last two weeks, he has a total of three catches for 14 yards.
Thankfully, Robinson and Willie have really come on strong to pick up the slack recently. While Pflugrad was struggling to compile those 14 yards, Robinson and Willie have combined for 398 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, that trio means that even with great shutdown coverage on one or even two of them, someone will still be open for Osweiler.
However, it's Miles who is leading the team in receptions with 33, including four touchdowns, although, most of those have been on swing passes and quick slants, as evidenced by his 6.5 yard per catch average. Thankfully, Miles has the explosiveness to make him a true threat even on those short routes.
Offensive Line: D
With the wealth of talented playmakers all along the offense, it has been the most experienced unit that is the weak link.
There was a lot of attention paid to the Sun Devil offensive line thanks to the return of the eight most experienced players from last season. Unfortunately, injuries and generally poor play have turned that optimism into a sense of dread every time Osweiler drops back to pass.
In the two losses-to Illinois and Oregon-Osweiler was sacked a total of 10 times, and pressure, hit and hurried on several more. The Sun Devil offense is built on timing and execution, and nothing destroys that faster than an effective opposing pass rush.
As poor as the pass blocking has been, the run blocking has been much worse.
In four of their six games against FBS schools, ASU has posted a team per carry average of under 3.5, bottoming out at a horrific 1.9 against Utah. Taking out Marshall's 70-yard run against USC and Miles' 51-yarder against Oregon, the team's season average of 3.8 per carry drops to a pathetic 3.3.
Quite simply, if ASU is unable to improve their running game and give their ultra-talented backs room to run, opposing defenses will be able to key on shutting down the pass and blitzing Osweiler.
Alex Garoutte gave Sun Devil fans plenty to worry about after a dreadful fall camp saw him struggling mightily, something a fanbase still stinging from Thomas Weber's uneven senior season did not want to see.
After a strong opener in which he connected on both field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder, Garoutte missed three of his next four, including kicks from 32 and 35-yards.
However, he has bounced back by making his next four. If he can become a reliable kicker, the ASU attack gains a significant boost.
First Half MVP: Brock Osweiler
First Half LVP: Kyle Middlebrooks
High Point: Cameron Marshall's 70-yard touchdown run on his first carry against USC.
Low Point: The fourth quarter against Illinois. In three drives, the offense only gained 55 yards and gave up a sack that resulted in the game-winning score for the Illini.
Reason for Optimism: Other than the Oregon Ducks, no team in the conference boasts as many explosive playmakers as Arizona State.
Reason for Concern: A poor offensive line could make the unit one-dimensional and get Osweiler injured.
Check back Monday for a review of the Sun Devil defense.