Koetter Respectful of NAU

While no one doubts that ASU should roll over Northern Arizona this Saturday, the ASU head coach does not plan to take the Lumberjacks lightly. In his first press conference of the season, Dirk Koetter previewed his first opponent and discussed other issues as they relate to his squad.

"We have a lot of respect for NAU," said Koetter. "NAU head coach Jerome Souers has done a great job wherever he's been and offensive coordinator Charlie Hall has done a nice job with what they do on offense." Koetter specifically talked about the Lumberjacks signal caller, who happened to be ASU's team camp MVP the last two years "We thought very highly of Murietta. He can run and throw very well and when he gets outside of the pocket he can throw on the run. I've seen that kid make a lot of plays in his high school career when things around him were breaking down and he can still make a play." Other NAU players Koetter singled out were wide receiver Johnny Marshall, cornerbacks Ryan Thornton and Maurice Taylor and punter Mark Gould who led the nation in all levels of punting last year.

The ASU coach also added that the Lumberjacks experience was quite evident in their season opening win against St. Mary's. "You could tell they really knew what they were doing and have a lot of seniors," exclaimed Koetter. "They didn't make too many mistakes on both sides of the ball. They did things right and made the plays that were there to be made. Most people say a team's biggest improvement is between their first and second game so I expect them to play even better against us."

In general, the ASU skipper is eager to kick off the 2003 season, after watching the rest of the league pick up one game under their belt. "I'm excited to get going and get a game," said the third-year ASU head coach. "It's hard to sit back and watch the other teams play and not be playing. The theme for this week is just be ourselves. NAU already played a game and got to work some of their bugs out. We need to go out there and take care of how we're going to play."

Koetter feels that this season's opener will dictate the demeanor his team will have in 2003, as well as have other teams take notes as what to expect from ASU later in the year. "Last year is over and every team on our schedule from here on out gets this tape. We want people to say that we're a team that has great speed, a team that's physical, a team that knows what they're doing and a team that plays hard. Whether you're playing the first game against NAU or the last game against Arizona those characteristics should show up."

On the injury front, Koetter stated that the team is "Relatively healthy other than Brent Miller being out for the season. There are three guys that still have a question mark if they'll be able to go. They are Kyle Caldwell, Lamar Baker and Joey Smith. All three guys are making progress and getting closer." The ASU coach said that Tuesday's practice will further indicate if any of those three is ready to play on Saturday, and that as a general rule: "If a guy doesn't practice full speed on Wednesday he probably won't play in the game."

Earlier this year, Koetter broke down the season into several segments. The first three games were part of a segment titled ‘starting fast'. The ASU coach went on to explain that motto. "There's no use in waiting around," states Koetter. "We were a slow starting team last year. I think every team takes on its own personality and last year was last year. I don't think it's really fair to compare because we had a quarterback change in the first few games of last year. Everyone's a year older and wiser and been in the system longer. It (starting fast) means fast start for both (season and the game)."

The differences in the team between last year's season opener and this year's one revolve around the team's confidence and experience, according to Koetter. "Last year at this time we were going into a game at Nebraska hoping that we could go out there and be a competitive team and I don't think we're hoping anymore," says the ASU skipper. "Our guys are very confident - especially on defense. We're not hoping and our guys think they have a chance to be in every game and I believe that. There are a lot less questions because everyone's been in the system and most of the guys have 14 games under their belt."

Can this abundance of confidence help the team handle the lofty expectations that have been put on them this year? Koetter believes that focus rather than confidence can help his squad live up to the accolades bestowed on them. "These guys have had a lot of nice things said about them the last few months," says the ASU coach. "We have to go out and back it up. That's why the approach in our game should be 100% on what we do. That doesn't mean that we're not working on the NAU schemes. The mental approach and the way we go about our business will set a strong tone towards how they handle the expectations." Koetter believes that the quality of their opponents cannot let the team deviate from this mission. Otherwise, an unpleasant surprise is bound to take place. "You can't wait until the Iowa game and see what kind of a team we have. If you are doing that, call Maryland (who was shocked by Northern Illinois) and ask how that went for them."

Among the heated position battles on the team, no battle is closer than the field goal duties between punter Tim Parker and incoming freshman kicker Jesse Ainsworth. Koetter said that even a few days before the season opener, this battle has not been won convincingly by any one player. "I would say you would see both Parker and Ainsworth," says Koetter. "But if we were playing today we would go with Tim Parker as the punter and the field goal guy, and Jesse Ainsworth as the kickoff guy…essentially, we are committed to playing Jesse and not redshirting him this year. Tim Parker has surprised us at how well he has hung there. Either of those guys can do the job. But right now, we'd be doing a disservice to Tim because we always tell these guys that the best one will play."

Another issue that hasn't been completely resolved and will continually be evaluated is the method that Andrew Walter will receive his plays from the sideline. Backup quarterbacks Chad Christensen and Kellen Bradley will continue to signal in plays as a duo or separately. Then again, the role of the sideline signal caller may be entirely insignificant on Saturdays. "We always have a signaler, but I don't always use him," Koetter says with a smile. "Sometimes during the game I get a little nervous so I like to talk to him (Andrew) myself, and take the middle man out of the equation. Every team is watching your signaler, and they all think they can steel signals. Some probably can…if I ever think that's an issue I will talk to Andrew directly."

The Pac-10 conference had a strong showing last week, which really didn't surprise the ASU coach." Like I've been saying all along, the Pac-10 is a strong league," exclaims Koetter. "I think that they're a lot of teams that can go all the way. SC is everything people said it would be, Washington will still be reckon with when it's all said and done. Cal is better than people thought, Washington State gets a shutout, Oregon - they have the power running game and they get Sammie Parker much more involved." On Saturday, it will be the Sun Devils turn to impress.

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