Sun Devils Unimpressive in 2003 Debut

Glass half full or half empty? Sun Devil fans may be divided in their opinions following the 34-14 win over Northern Arizona. The victory was hardly the dominant display that everyone was expecting. Some may even push the panic button and exclaim that ASU did not live to its pre-season hype. Nevertheless, the game does provide an invaluable measuring stick and a clear understanding on the deficiencies that need improvement.

Andrew Walter had a solid night completing 15-24 for 224 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. The handful or so of dropped passes prevented him from padding these solid stats. The expectation for a better running game was fulfilled tonight with 137 net yards. Loren Wade and Randy Hill, listed #2 and #3 respectively on the depth chart, led their team in the ground attack. Wade gained 64 yards on only 11 caries, and added an eight-yard touchdown reception. Hill amassed 43 yards on eight rushing attempts. The rushing numbers become that much more impressive when keeping in mind that starter Mike Williams sat out most of the game due to injury.

Wide receiver Moey Mutz may not be a secret for those who follow the program closely. Nevertheless, the former walk-on was a pleasant surprise and took full advantage of the increased playing time that occurred with the injured Daryl Lightfoot being held out for precautionary reasons. The sophomore led his teammates with 75 yards, and two of his three catches went for touchdowns of 29 and 38 yards. Skyler Fulton had a sound effort catching for 59 yards on six catches. Derek Hagan's numbers were nothing to be ashamed about, three catches for 55 yards and a score, but his dropped passes tonight will stick out quite a bit when reviewing the game. The offensive line definitely showed improvement over last in both opening the running lanes and protecting the passer.

Bend but not break would be a fair way to describe the defensive effort – 372 yards given but only 14 points to show for it. NAU signal caller Jason Murrietta had 292 yards on 21-35 – not exactly the numbers you'd like to see from a visiting I-AA quarterback. To the defense's credit, they sacked him twice and their lone interception, by R.J. Oliver, not only prevented a touchdown but also went for a score the other way. Receiver Clarence Moore was unstoppable most of the game, grabbing nine catches for 157 yards. Lumberjack kicker Paul Ernster prevented a much closer score with a pair of missed field goals. Riccardo Stewart led all ASU tacklers with ten, including one and half for a loss. The linebacker duo of Justin Burks and Jamar Williams chipped in with seven tackles each, with Williams having three of those tackles for a loss.

Special teams kicked off the season with a fine performance. Tim Parker never attempted a field goal, but turned in his usual performance punting for an average of 45.4 yards with his longest going for 66 yards. Some of his punts were under duress, and that's an area this unit will have to perfect for the future. His lone blemish was a missed extra point. Josh Golden returned four punts for 75 yards, and Jason Shivers returned a kickoff of 40 yards. Jesse Ainsworth did an adequate job kicking off in his first game ever in the maroon and gold. Overall, the punt coverage team did a better job than the kickoff coverage squad. Five penalties for 64 yards may not be constitute a horrible night, but a few of those penalties either halted the team's momentum or kept the visitors' drives alive.

The Lumberjacks left Tempe with a $350,000 payday and some confidence for the future. How did the Devils fair? Some may call Saturday night a wake up call; others will say that this contest will produce precious game film that will identify the kinks to be ironed out. The team's performance against Utah State next week will undoubtedly prove if there is truly reason for concern following the first win of the 2003 season.

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