Koetter Seeking Answers to Team's Troubles

The deficiencies in the Sun Devils' performance at Iowa may be easily identifiable, but the answers, says Coach Dirk Koetter, may be harder to come by.

Inconsistency has plagued the team through out this young 2003 season, but the ASU head coach says that there's no magical or quick formula to fix it. "If I had plans for it (a consistency solution), I'd be switching to it right now," exclaims Koetter. "The problem is that I don't know what's wrong with it. It's not that I can just pull something out of my hat, and say this is it and fix it. It's a combination of a bunch of things, and I know a couple of the factors, and unfortunately those aren't factors that you snap your fingers and make it all better." The absence of deep threat receiver Daryl Lightfoot is an issue that greatly hampers the Sun Devil offense. "We're missing that (deep threat) in our offense right now. Maybe we will never gonna have that again. If that's the case, we'll have to figure out a different way of doing it. That's one of the things we're looking at."

Koetter doesn't believe that a general shake up is needed for the team. He says that detecting the problems with his squad should be the first order of business. "I never been in a game where we never got into the end zone," says Koetter. "I probably would look at myself more than anything else. What do I need to do better? Do I need to give us a better game plan? How do I need to call the game better? It's not like we're not playing hard, that's not what our problem is."

"It's not like our whole team went out there and sucked," Koetter continues. "We played against a very good special teams unit, and we held our own. If you told us that our defense would give up 21 points, would we win the game? – We would have told you yes. Our defense gave us the ball two times on their side of the fifty (yard line) in the first quarter." In regards to the defense, Koetter pointed out that it missed a season low eight tackles, and made 15 big plays, while giving up only three to Iowa.

The ASU skipper says that after analyzing the game film, "It's one of those games where very few plays turn the whole course of the game. We had several opportunities. We started fine on offense; executed pretty well…defense did a good job with (scoring) the safety… The part of the game that really killed us was the last eight minutes of the second quarter, and the first drive of the second half." Koetter mentioned the two scoring opportunities in the first quarter that were wasted, and one of them was a huge turning point – the Walter interception at the goal line. "Against a team like Iowa you just can't play like that."

As an offensive coordinator, Koetter admitted that this game will rank as the most frustrating contest for him in all his years of coaching. "Part of it is that Iowa did a good job on defense. There were six drives in the first half, where we came away with zero or negative yards because of breakdowns we had. It was very hard to get into a rhythm," says Koetter. "The first few drives of the game, we made positive yards on first down and in the third quarter we did the same. In the third quarter penalties usually stopped us…they threw a blanket on top of us and that was that. You have to execute to beat defense like that and we couldn't do it."

"When I say we struggled on offense," continues Koetter. "That starts with me. This goes beyond any specific individual." When asked in specific about the play of his quarterback, he replied: "I think that's the poorest Andrew (Walter) has played since he's been a starter. Obviously he made a very bad decision (throwing a pick) in the end zone. Every person will tell you that when you're scrambling to your right, don't throw across your body in the middle of the field towards the end zone…does that stem from him thinking he has to make every play? Possibly. But you can't do that stuff. I'm not saying that to criticize Andrew. He knows that and nobody feels worse than him."

Even though the Sun Devil signal caller was less than stellar, his wide receivers contributed to the ineptitude of the offense. The ASU head coach agrees with that assessment. "We had some busts in routes," says Koetter. "A couple of times it was the wrong route or at the wrong depth of the complimentary route that opens the main route was wrong. When you play against a match up zone type team you like to have a decoy guy to clear a zone, so another guy can came open." Koetter also stated that both Walter and his receivers at times didn't trust enough what was going to develop on certain play. Furthermore, at times the Iowa defense forced Walter out of the pocket or forced him to move around, when there was an opportunity for a play.

It may appear as the Hawkeye defense played a two-deep zone scheme, but Koetter says that this alignment was shown less often than believed. "We anticipated that they would show it against us," exclaims Koetter. "They played very little of that coverage, maybe ten snaps. The only time they really played the two deep is when they brought that nickel in and rushed three. They played two deep six under, and took that extra linebacker that would normally be the fourth rusher, and ran him back to the middle…we did try to get to the middle with Skyler (Fulton) a few times, and we couldn't. It takes time to get there. He has to avoid the linebacker over him, and get between the safeties and over the top of the linebackers that are in the hole."

"What they were doing more was playing a quarters coverage," continues Koetter. "Where they're four deep and three under. They're bracketing whichever two receivers we had. That type of coverage forces you to throw the ball to the outside, like outs and flats. To the naked eye they were showing what's called the ‘two-deep shell'. In a two deep the corners clamp hard on the outside and funnel you to the safeties. But what was happening, especially when we were in four wide, was that those corners were softening and playing an in and out coverage, not an under-over coverage."

Koetter felt that there wasn't an adequate rotation among the wide receivers in the first two games. That coupled with his desire to give Terry Richardson and Matt Miller more looks, resulted in them getting 38 and 46 snaps respectively. Derek Hagan was the receiver who suffered the most from this rotation, as he saw his snap count drop to 25, which is the same number of plays that Moey Mutz was in on. "Those four are in a different category than Fulton and Daryl (Lightfoot)," says Koetter. "Fulton knows everything and can play every spot, and Daryl because of the speed. With those four guys, we're still looking for the right combination. We still haven't found a rhythm how those other guys will play and fit."

Injuries did severely disrupt the running back rotation Coach Koetter had envisioned for the Iowa game. "The first part of the game we tried to go by splitting the carries between Mike Williams and Loren Wade," exclaims Koetter. "And using Hakim in certain situations. As the game went on both Mike and Loren had to come out at certain parts of the game because they were banged up. That took us out of the rotation. That's the difficult thing about having a rotation, and all those guys play on special teams. What do you do (in regards to the rotation) when a guy gets banged up?"

"That tailback situation – that's one of the things that we will have to solve one way or another," Koetter continues. "It would be much easier if it were just a very clear-cut answer. That would make us say ‘we're going with that guy and that's it.' But we still have to make a decision and give one guy the bulk of the carries." Koetter states that other factors such as leadership and special teams play make the decisions regarding playing time at running back that much harder.

On the injury front, Koetter expects both Lightfoot and R.J. Oliver to return to action. Lightfoot's injury against Utah State was believed to be a muscle cramp, but was later diagnosed as a mild hamstring injury. Even though he practiced sparingly on Thursday, the normal progression of recovery led the team to believe that he would have been cleared to play in Iowa. Nevertheless, pre-game warm-ups ruled him out. "I could just tell that every time he planted and try to cut off from that, it wasn't quite right…we felt it was better to leave him out, than risk further injury…Lightfoot did run today (Sunday)." Oliver tried to practice on Thursday, and back then it was determined that he won't make the road trip. During the Iowa game, Josh Golden felt like he was going to cramp in the second half, and didn't return to the game. "Our team isn't having cramping issues – Josh Golden is having cramping issues. The doctors will take him to a specialist tomorrow, and see if they can't find out what it is."

One of the most questionable calls on Saturday was the illegal substitution infraction against ASU. Koetter recalls the incident. "Two refs said it was offside on the defense, and that shows up clearly on the film. The (head) referee said there's a rule that says you can't hurry from the huddle with the intent to deceive the defense. He said he called it illegal substitution but he worded it wrong. He said if we did it again it would be a 15- yard penalty." Koetter told the referee that he had never heard of that rule, and added in his press conference that teams have been going tempo offense for years. He stated that this rule has never come up with Pac-10 officials.

No game balls are given after a loss, but safety Jason Shivers who had a career high 17 tackles, and linebacker Jamar Williams on special teams were recognized by the coaching staff. Both Shivers and fullback Mike Karney will serve as co-captains against Oregon State. Koetter cited the following players as scout players of the week: on offense offensive lineman Mike Pollak, on defense defensive back Rudy Sanchez, and on special teams linebacker Mike Merritet.

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