Koetter had no concerns that the focus in practice this week would be affected by an emotionally draining win at North Carolina. "It (focus) is great," he stated. "Our guys come to work every day, they realize they have to go out and get better each week. Even though we went through that three game losing streak, we continued to get better every week."
When he reflected on the beginning of the season, the Sun Devil skipper said that the trails and tribulations ASU went through were just part of the process of figuring out the make up of this team. "Even though I like offense," said Koetter. "I'm the head coach of the Sun Devils and I focus more on wins and losses. We were not playing well as a team, even though we won the first two games. I was pleased with our defense in the three game losing streak, that they were setting us up wit the short field. It was frustrating from an offensive standpoint…but that's part of putting the puzzle together – every team is different, and you gotta figure it out. It took a little bit longer than we would have liked."
For the last two games, the Devils' improvement on offense is undeniable. Koetter singled out a few of the reasons that led to that trend. "The emergence of those two young tailbacks – Hakim Hill and Loren Wade, the steadiness of the offensive line, Derek Hagan stepping up…but more than anything, if you look at the last two weeks, we just haven't turned the ball over. We're executing in the red zone, and we're doing better on third down. My vision of the offense is perfection every week. So my vision is very different than everybody else's. But we played well the last two weeks." He also made a point of mentioning the better decision-making by Andrew Walter.
With a large contingent of ASU players hailing from the neighboring golden state, the juices are naturally flowing a little stronger this week. Koetter admitted that playing UCLA can also help the team's overall focus. Nevertheless, distractions can be part of the equation as well. "We have a lot of Southern California based players," exclaimed the ASU coach. "Playing at the Rose Bowl or against USC is always a plus. The only time it might be a little of a distraction is on Saturday when you're waiting all day for a seven o'clock game, and you have a lot of friends and family there (at the hotel). But during the week – I don't think so."
On paper, giving up 164 yards rushing to North Carolina would point to a struggling run defense. However, Coach Koetter begged to differ and pointed to some unique circumstances. "In that game last week, we put a lot into stopping (UNC's QB) Durant," said the Sun Devil coach. "Our rush lanes were based on Durant, his scrambles, and him throwing the ball down field. North Carolina hadn't been patient with the running game…so I think that's a different game plan."
"If that happened six games in a row there's a concern," continued Koetter. "But that's a one game thing. We've been always good at stopping the run. This week at UCLA we'll face a team that will try to mix it. Their coaching staff has said that they're gonna be more open on first down, and try to get closer to 50-50 (in run-pass play selection). We know they have playmakers at wide receiver and tight end. So it will be a good test for our defense. But statistically, I know UCLA isn't doing what they want to do on offense. But they're doing a lot better on the other side of the ball."
Sometimes facing an undefeated conference team can put a little more bounce in one's step as he prepares to play the role of spoiler. However, don't expect Koetter to emphasize that angle in this week's game preparation. "In the middle of the season, I don't think you're talking about being a spoiler," stated Koetter. "I think you're worried about taking care of your own business. We're getting in that time of year where everybody knocks everybody else in the conference. We need to get a conference road win - that's all we're concerned about."
Team's Improvement Took Longer than Excepted
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