Coach Dirk Koetter had a simple and direct opening statement: "Good guys win!" (smile). When asked what the difference was in the team's play this week than previous ones, he replied: "Our defense, what a great start they got us off to," he said. "Two huge plays…offensively we were just a tick off in the first half. We had so many plays that were just an inch or two from exactly how you want them to be. The second half those things did come together because we scored on every possession. We had good play on special teams. Just a lot of players did good things."
Koetter pointed to the obvious confidence boost that the early 14-point lead, which came off two Oregon turnovers, as a momentum setter for the contest. "I'm glad it was us that got the 14 points and not them," exclaimed Koetter. "And that I didn't have to find out the other way. I'm sure both teams were a little nervous about what would happen if they fell behind, because of the recent history (between both teams) and the last few weeks. We needed a game to come out and play like we knew we could play. I told the guys last night at the hotel that I really truly believe we're practicing better than we did any point last year. We haven't been playing better at the games. Today we played more like we're capable of."
It did seem that Oregon scoring a late touchdown in the first half, had the potential to somewhat halt the positive tide the Sun Devils were riding. However, unlike last week, ASU didn't falter in the third quarter. "I was happy with the fact that our defense played almost prefect," stated Koetter. "I don't think they didn't even complete a pass the last two and half minutes of the first half. We were up 21-0, and they score that touchdown before the half – not exactly the way you want to end the half. But our offense came out in the second half with that big play from Matt Miller. Would have like to finish with a touchdown, but the fact that we got points on the board (on a field goal) was important."
For the second straight week Derek Hagan eclispsed the century mark in yards receiving, and was constantly making the tough and crucial catches downfield. Is the offense looking to him more than others or is he just open when other receivers are not? "A little of both," replied the Sun Devil skipper. "When we're in a two-receiver set, he and Daryl Lightfoot trade off at the "X" spot. At the other side it's Skyler (Fulton), Terry Richardson, and Matt Miller. Derek has practiced so well the last few weeks, and Andrew has a lot of confidence going to him. Last week and even today, when he was on the post route or the post corner the coverage was very tight, and Andrew stuck the ball in a place where he can get, and Derek went and got it. Derek is finishing his catches. He sure is making a lot of catches with the guy (defender) right on him."
Fellow receiver Daryl Lightfoot played his best game in this injury-riddled season. Koetter was pleased as well. "Let's face it, the way Daryl plays the game, that kid has no fear. I have a lot of respect for him. He plays with no fear at 168 pounds. The way he plays, is he ever gonna be 100% healthy? On those returns, he's like a pinball machine getting bounced all over the place. He came out after that one catch, throwing up all over him, he had the shoe off…that's just how Daryl is – that guy gives everything he has. He has a big heart, and having him back as a playmaker certainly helps."
When completing six plays of more than 25 yards, and scoring on all six possessions in the second half, some may point to this win as a turning point in regards to the offense's play. How does the ASU coach view it? "I hope so (smile)," he said. "Part of it is how Oregon plays on defense, they pack them in there, and dare you to do it (throw the long ball). Nobody has really been able to run the ball well on Oregon. I actually was encouraged in the first half, that we were close (to making a big run.) I told those guys in the second half, we're gonna hit a 60-yard run in this game, and we finally got it. Against that style of defense, you got to throw it vertical. You can't check it down against a team that us that many guys up there."
Through out the game, the team constantly mixed up its defenses. "We tried to play the 4-3 when they were in the two back or two tight end sets, and played 4-2-5 when they played three wideouts. That just puts us in a great position, and I credit coach Guy and the defensive staff for the game plan. It gives us a little bit more depth that way, because we switch back and forth. Brett Hudson played both corner and safety." One defender in particular that impressed Koetter was safety Riccardo Stewart. "One of the reasons I know he's one of our captains is that he was unbelievably sick right after the pre-game meal. What a warrior that guy is. We had to sent him from the hotel to here with one of the assistant coaches. They gave him an IV, he didn't even go out for part of warm-ups…so for him to make some of those hits, and play the way he played today was big."
In last year's Oregon game, the Devils took a knee on the Ducks' 10-yard line to run out the clock. Yesterday, when driving deep into the end zone they ran the ball with their reserves to an eventual score. Coach Koetter said that the decision to take a knee or not is sometimes a no win predicament. "That was a very delicate situation," claimed Koetter. "I apologized to Mike (Belotti) right after the game. I know Mike doesn't hold a grudge. When you're inside the two-yard like that, we had our second offense in there, we were running straight ahead, and those guys deserve a chance to play. There's just such a fine line between what worst – running it in with your second offense or taking a knee. We talked about it on the sidelines…we weren't trying to run it up. If we were we would throw the ball more."
Quarterback Andrew Walter had his best game of the year passing for 316 yards. He also echoed Koetter's sentiments, that the Oregon style of defense played straight into the hands of ASU, which contributed to the passing game display. The junior says his squad can appreciate the ramifications of this victory. "Anytime you get a win like this against a quality Pac-10 opponent, it only breeds confidence," said Walter. "If it had been a sloppy win, it wouldn't have been the same. But it was decent win, and it does definitely breed confidence. For three weeks we were really close, and we were finally able to get one. We were able on offense to keep things going. I guess it was just the product of working hard in practice, watching film with the receivers, and things like that."
The signal caller was very pleased with how the team played for four quarters, but admits that the first quarter set the pace for the rest of the contest. "Before we knew it was 14-0, and then 21-0," exclaimed Walter. "They scored right before the half, and we said at halftime not to let up and keep on riding. To know that last year we did it, and there's no reason why they couldn't do it to us this year. So that was the mood, and it definitely helped us out to get some momentum and get rolling right after the kickoff."
Walter threw three long passes to Lightfoot, who caught one of them. Was he looking in particular to that one receiver? "There were plays designed for almost everybody today," replied Walter. "He definitely made some big plays on the kickoff. I thought he was gonna go (all the way) on that one. He was definitely all over the field. I think everybody in the receiving core had a good game."
The inability to finish off an opponent heavily contributed to the loss to USC. This week, the team responded differently. Walter sees that fact, as well as the meticulous preparation, as factors that lead him to believe that the team can get on that proverbial roll. "Anytime you start with 14 points up it's a huge cushion. But then it comes back to the killer instinct. Do we coast or keep going? Today we kept going. Today we put it together, and there's no reason to think we can't keep it going. It's gonna take continuing hard work, and continuing to work hard in practice."
Linebacker Jamar Williams' 50-yard interception for a touchdown in the third play of the game, started the onslaught of the ASU scoring. Setting the tone early, according to the sophomore, is a mantra they always try to live by. "We talk about all the time, coming out strong. We tried to hit them fast. Getting two big defensive plays like that right off the bat is great. You have to do something like that when you play a team like Oregon. Not only did my play help, but Chris McKenzie's interception after that. To hit a good team like Oregon right off the bat like that is a good start."
When asked to describe that play, he said: "I was able to drop into my zone, and the quarterback threw a bad pass. Everybody else was covered, and I guess he tried to squeeze it in there. I made a break on the ball, and I didn't want to get tackled (smile). I saw the end zone, and I was trying my best to get into it."
Williams was not only happy with his group's performance, but also with the offense's presentation. "As a defense we want to establish a lot of things. The offense gave us a lot of rest, and we came out there fresh. To hold a team like Oregon to 14 points and less than 300 yards of offense, is just a great feeling."
When one team has such an uplifting performance that usually translates in the other team being demoralized. Based on yesterday's game, Williams agreed with that theory. "Coach always talks about breaking their (the other's team) will. In the third and fourth quarter, you could just see it in their eyes. Beating a team by that many points – any team will break…I give a lot of props to them. They came out and played."
"It's about time!" That's how safety Riccardo Stewart summed up the Saturday's victory. "We clicked all three phases. We've been waiting a long time to do that. I consider this our first win. The first two wins are wins that we won on the board – not on the field." He was also pleased with the margin of victory. "Personally, I'm glad we've beat them as bad as we did," stated Stewart. "Because they have been beating us for a long time. My redshirt freshman year, we lost in triple overtime, and killed us the next year after that."
Holding down two of the best Pac-10 receivers to 127 yards was one of the most remarkable feats that came out of the game. The safety offered his thoughts. "I just think our corners did a great job, and our secondary stepped up. We had good protection, because they weren't running the same deep routes. I felt that defensively we could handle anything they threw at us. I guess they came to the game thinking they can run the ball down our throat. It was surprising they ran a lot of option. This was a different Oregon team we played today."
Overall, one the leaders of this team will not allow this triumph to overcome the team in a negative way. He's more than willing to put it all in perspective. "All it means that we won one game," exclaimed Stewart. "And now we need to win number two. We're just taking it like that. We don't care what others say, we have to stick together. We have to listen to what's inside our locker room, and what's inside our huddle. We can't listen to anyone else."
As mentioned, receiver Derek Hagan continued his fine play from last week. We asked him about his play in specific, but he would rather discuss the rest of the team. "It felt good," he said. "We played great on both sides of the ball. Defense started off things for us. They got us all hyped. Jamar got that first interception, and then Chris…offense wasn't even on the field for the first seven minutes of the game. We just executed on offense, Andrew made all his reads, and gave all the wideouts the ball. We just had a great game today."
Hagan sated that this game could mark a turning point, but should also be taken on its own merit. "Last week we thought we should have won against USC. This week, we just played a great game. Things are rolling now for us. We have North Carolina next week, and we have to be ready for the long trip. We just have to be ready every game, and go on a seven game win streak."
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