Offense and Defense Both Shine in Spring Game

It would seem impossible for both the first team offense and defense to play equally well in an intra-squad game. Nevertheless, that's exactly what took place in the final 2003 spring scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium. Approximately 3500 fans enjoyed an arial assault on offense, and stifling performance on defense. As a result, the Maroon team blanked the White team 28-0.

The 449 passing yards this afternoon, possibly an ASU spring game record, naturally entertained the Sun Devil crowd. Andrew Walter displayed his extraordinary skills once again going 15-24 for 271 yards (219 in the first half) and passing for four touchdowns. Chad Christensen solidified his #2 position with a 10-15 and 85 yards display. After exploding for over 200 yards last week, ASU's running game, albeit by design, was muted today. Collectively, the running backs rushed for 88 yards on 27 attempts, with Mike Williams leading the way with 21 yards.

Prior to spring practice, some may have wondered how life after Shaun McDonald would look like on the receiving core. If today's performance was any indication, those fears should be immediately squelched. Daryl Lightfoot showed his extraordinary speed chasing down Walter's signature long bombs. The junior had two catches for 75 yards including a 33-yard score, and another 59-yard touchdown was nullified by a penalty. Skyler Fulton has emerged as Walter's go-to receiver catching four balls for 56 yards and a six-yard touchdown. Matt Miller proved that he is worthy of being the third receiver on the depth chart, as he hauled in a team high five catches for 71 yards, including a 38-yard score. The fourth touchdown of the game came courtesy of tight end Jamaal Lewis who took an 18-yard catch to the end zone.

As mentioned, the first team defense was not victimized today. While it didn't have any interceptions for the second scrimmage in a row, it did have two turnovers. Jason Shivers turned in the best defensive play of the game, forcing and recovering a fumble on the same play. Josh Kirkwood recovered a fumble as well. Justin Burks, Nick Johnson, and Shane Jones each had a sack. Tim Parker was perfect on all four of his extra point kicks, and he along with the other ASU punters averaged 39.5 yards.

Andrew Walter naturally enjoyed today's game plan, which was designed with heavy emphasis on the passing game. "(Quarterbacks) Coach Helfrich said in the meeting that we're not gonna be nice today on the defense, and we're gonna throw it up. In earlier scrimmages we tried to work on the running game, and today we decided to air it out. It was fun for me." The signal caller said that spreading the ball among several receivers carries an important meaning. "Going into the off-season, everybody will have fresh in their minds that they're all a big part of this team. I don't know if we'll have a go-to guy, and maybe we'll have five of them. This spring I was trying to get into a rhythm, and get all the guys on the same page." Walter feels that he had some slow days during the spring, but now at the conclusion of spring practice he feels that "I'm on the same page with the others. The evidence is how we spread the ball around, and that was huge. They need to go into the of-season knowing that the ball can fly their way at any time. I think we got that done."

While Walter took pride in getting so many different players involved in the passing game, he does admit that Skyler Fulton should be considered the proverbial ‘go-to guy'. "Absolutely. Skyler and I are definitely on the same page, and I think that carried over from last season. We didn't even hit today any ‘unders' or ‘overs', which is my bread and butter with Skyler. So, that's encouraging to know that we can hit a post or a corner. Right now he's definitely in the back of my mind. We know what he's capable of, and we're taking advantage of it."

Head Coach Dirk Koetter, knows that Walter's last season's performance and today's spring game, will naturally increase ten fold the level of expectations for his quarterback: "It's funny, because we had a meeting with his family and talked about that very same subject. No one has higher expectations for Andrew that we do, and he has high expectations of himself. When you have a player like Andrew that's a proven commodity, one of the best if not the best in our conference, every little bit that he still climbs up that ladder helps a lot. Your elite players have to keep on climbing the ladder. We laid out a plan for Andrew to do that, and today he showed a glimpse of what's out there." Koetter also mentioned that Christensen may still be battling consistency issues, but is pleased with his progress.

As far as the game plan goes, Koetter said it was all about shifting the emphasis on the offensive goals of the team. "We came out today to throw the ball. Those earlier scrimmages were about featuring the young tailbacks. Most people don't realize how few opportunities you get to improve your quarterback. Doing hand-off drills isn't hard for those guys. But to come out in front of a crowd, and play with a live defense. You get so few opportunities…I asked the offensive coaches to come out winging it today, and put Andrew on display. That gives him a chance to grow and work with those receivers, and I really like what he did today."

Koetter talked about the position battles brewing on the offensive line, and contended that some have them haven't been settled even at the conclusion of spring practice. One of those battles is the left tackle position. "Andrew Carhnahan came into spring ball saying don't count me out, and you appreciate that from a young guy. He continued getting a little bit better all the time, and actually has been playing a little bit better than Chaz White. We know Chaz has the potential. We're gonna need them all. As far as who starts against Northern Arizona, we have time to decide that later." Koetter said he's not going to lose any sleep over having four capable guys to man three interior spots on the line. "All four of them will play. Regis (Crawford) makes us much more solid. Drew (Hodgdon) is playing at his natural position (center). Tony (Aguilar) had a real good spring. People assume that he's the odd man out – not true." The ASU coach also mentioned that Grayling Love has taken the lead at the right tackle spot very early in the spring, and that Stephen Berg "Has his work cut out for him."

The fact that the first team defense got a shut out was very pleasing to Koetter, who pointed out Jason Shivers' tenacity as one of the bright spots today. Koetter also mentioned that Jordan Hill will be the middle linebacker in 4-3 alignments, abut he will have to fence off competition form the rest of the linebacker reserves. One of those players, De'Andre Johnson, was praised for the significant progress he made throughout spring ball. Precision on both sides of the ball was one attribute that Koetter was satisfied with today. "Two years ago in the spring game it was ragged on both sides. Today, guys were hustling, very few penalties. Our guys are thinking like champions."

Very few outside of Tempe believe that ASU can capture the Pac-10 championship in 2003. However, objectively speaking that opportunity is quite realistic. The offense posses a gunslinger for a quarterback, who is complimented by a deep and talented arsenal of targets. The offensive line and running game has also made significant improvements and aren't done yet in their quest to contribute to a balanced attack. The Sun Devil defense is solid from top to bottom, and this season should do more than just survive the departure of Terrell Suggs and other impact players. The team's success in 2002 was improbable, but this year it is almost expected. Time will tell if the Sun Devils can better their record and accomplishments from last year, but suffice to say that the program's resurrection is progressing to the delight of the team and its fans.

Scrimmage Stats:

Passing: Walter 15-24 271 yards 4 TD's
Christensen 10-15 85
Bradley 4-5 31
Mortensen 1-4 62

Rushing: M.Williams 2-21
Canidate 5-18
McKinney 7-17
R. Hill 8-17
Wade 5-15

Receiving: Lightfoot 2-75
Miller 5-71
Wyatt Poole 1-62
Fulton 4-56
Mutz 4-35
Karney 2-34
Austin 2-31
Richardson 4-26
Lewis 1-18
Burghgraef 1-17
Williams 1-12
Hagan 1-7
Aboussie 1-5
Krula 1-0

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