Devils Stutter Again During Non-Conference Win

Many football coaches will tell you that a team's greatest improvement comes between the first and second game. To say that Arizona State defied that theory on Saturday night would be an understatement. Not only did the 26-16 win over Utah State fail to resemble any progress, but it also could be interpreted as a step back.

Offensively Andrew Walter had another solid night completing 20 out of 37 passes for 277 yards, including a couple of touchdowns and an interception on a tipped pass. Just like last week, Walter's stats fell victim to several dropped passes. Skyler Fulton had a career night amassing 175 yards on eight catches. Two of those receptions went for scores. Daryl Lightfoot had a successful return from injury grabbing a handful of catches for 59 yards. The ground attack showed again some promise gaining 165 yards on 37 carries. All three running backs averaged more than four yards a carry, and each of them carried the pigskin ten or more times. Nevertheless, failing to score twice from the 1-yard line was demoralizing to say the least. Loren Wade led all running backs with 61 yards on 14 rushing attempts.

The maroon and gold defense did have a better showing than the NAU game, but just like the offense had several plays they wish they had back. The seven sacks and three interceptions, one of them returned for a score by Riccardo Stewart, were signs of sheer dominance. On the other hand, giving up 373 yards to Utah State and failing to stop them from scoring in the end zone is harsh enough to negate the accomplishments on this side of the ball. Stewart once again paced the team in tackles with 10, including the after mentioned touchdown, a sack, and a forced fumble. Jimmy Verdon set a personal best with nine total tackles, and three sacks. Brett Hudson (one interception) and Matt Fawley (one tackle for loss) had eight tackles each. Brian Montesanto chipped in with two tackles – both of them for sacks.

The special teams' performance against Utah State was an eerie carbon copy of last week's game. Tim Parker excelled in his punts (averaging 48 yards a punt), but missed an extra point. ASU's returners shined, while the coverage teams (especially on kickoffs) faltered. The penalties for the Sun Devils were a glaring Achilles heel on Saturday night. A dozen yellow flags for 122 yards will put a damper on any victory. All in all, these two areas alone should translate into an animated film session and subjects of concern for the future.

Were the Devils' first two games simply a display of kinks that will be ironed out quickly, or are they a sign of things to come? At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the Iowa road game may be more than just an early test against a top 25 team. A poor display at last year's co-Big Ten champions is all but certain to result in the team's first loss in 2003. In that scenario, Arizona State's resolve will be tested even further than it is right now…

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