UCLA Game Takes a Physical Toll on Team

The Sun Devils have played eight straight weeks, which undoubtedly contributes the physical and mental wearing down of the team. Additionally, head coach Dirk Koetter stated that the contest against the Bruins was the most physically taxing game of the season. Thus, every measure will be taken to have the team recharged for the upcoming game against Cal.

"This was a very physical game," exclaimed Koetter. "This is the most banged up we've been on a Sunday all year. The fact we didn't have a bye week - those two factors on top of each other…. So we have to say ‘what are we going to do about it?' At this point of the year, we have to take every necessary measure to make sure we're fresh for Saturday." He added that the initial plan is to spend more time in meetings (and at this point of the season the amount of film to review is very high) and less time on the practice field. Therefore, one can expect practices to perhaps begin a little later this week.

The ASU coach claimed that his squad didn't always compete hard in a game where they lost. However, the game versus the Bruins certainly doesn't fall into that category. "What shows up in the film we didn't execute well enough to win," Koetter said. "Offensively, in the second half we had opportunities and we didn't cash on them. There are so many little breakdowns from every position group that could have led to bigger plays."

"Defensively, we didn't tackle well in the second half," continued Koetter. "We missed 14 tackles. We came out in the third quarter with a 13-10 lead, our defense does a good job getting the ball for us around midfield. But we can't get any points out of it, and they get the 80 yard run, and we're behind from that point on."

Players of the week for the UCLA game were Shane Jones on defense, Tim Fa'aita on offense, and Jason Shivers and Emmanuel Franklin on special teams. "There were excellent individual performances mixed in there," stated the ASU skipper. "And I thought our special teams as a whole played very well. Our punt return unit did well - we had almost 100 yards returning. Our punt team had five punts inside the 11-yard line. We had two good kickoff returns."

Koetter also singled out tight end Jamaal Lewis who had a career high 31 yards on three catches. "Jamaal is a guy that in the last month of the season has gotten better and better. He's gaining confidence, and he went through a period earlier in the season where he lost his confidence." Another player that has reversed his fortunes last Saturday was sophomore Josh Golden, who spelled Chris McKenzie. The JC transfer was sick leading up to the game, and was injured on one of the kickoffs. Golden answered the call collecting two total tackles, one for loss, as well as one pass breakup.

The severity of Andrew Walter's ankle injury, according to Koetter, is still unknown as of today. "Andrew is in a boot to take off pressure off that ankle," Koetter reported. "They're calling it sprain ligaments on his ankle both inside and the outside. He's day to day. He's sore, but he's not swollen." He added that despite getting a shot, and trying to loosen up on a stationary bike, Walter felt that he didn't have enough mobility or the ability to push off.

The Sun Devil coach made a point to dismiss any speculation that Walter wasn't willing to play hurt against UCLA. "I want to make it clear that Andrew's toughness should never been in question. That guy obviously played through a lot, and he had to make a decision along with the medical staff what's best for our team." Koetter added that it won't be known until the middle of the week whether the starting signal caller will have a chance to suit up on Saturday. "He rode the bike today (Sunday), and will be getting heavy treatment today and tomorrow."

Keeping Walter's experience in mind, Koetter believed that his starting quarterback could probably play this weekend, even if he practiced only once this week on Thursday. "But I'm saying that without watching one second of film on Cal. The first priority will be Andrew's long term health – does he have a chance to play without re-injuring it?"

Spelling Walter was true freshman Sam Keller. Koetter stated that the Sun Devils' No. 2 quarterback started out the game in an impressive manner. "Losing Andrew you go from one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league, to having a freshman there. I think he started off excellent. In the second quarter he starts out throwing 5 of 7. He starts right in rhythm, and one of the incompletes he threw it away. Then, I think Sam went through a period in the third quarter where he was actually trying to get the ball out so fast that his feet weren't set, and he threw off balance."

"Then in the fourth quarter," continued the ASU coach. "We had the third and longs. They were four man rushing and dropping in coverage. He had a hard time seeing things, and he held onto the ball too long. It's 3 and 11 and he's thinking that he has to throw to the deep receiver, instead of chucking it down underneath." Koetter added that late in the game, the UCLA defense was mixing a cover two scheme and zone blitz both from the boundary and the field. "When they weren't doing it they were bluffing it. The fourth quarter they got him a couple of times, and doubt crept in his mind ‘are they coming or not coming?' I was talking to him in the third quarter and he said ‘I know when they're coming', and in the fourth quarter he came up to me and said that they were holding their blitzes real late."

As a result of the Bruins' defensive schemes, the offense was checking late. As expected with a new player under center, there were some false starts as a result. "The crowd was into it, and he had pressure defense in his face. It didn't help that when they were rushing just four that they were able to get some pressure."

It may have been a brutal lesson in the school of hard knocks, but the ASU coach knows that just playing in a Pac-10 game pays dividends for young players. "I think that he got valuable experience," exclaimed Koetter. "He's a true competitor, and I really like his upside. Sam has been practicing very well with our second unit, which is a lot different than going out there against UCLA's defense. But I think this experience will serve him well down the road, maybe as soon as this week."

Koetter thought that Keller's quotes indicated that he had put an unnecessary amount of blame on himself. "We had some things in the run game," said Koetter. "Where we should have had some bigger gains in the second half." Speaking of the ground game, Koetter claimed that Loren Wade's shoulder, not a UCLA defender, is what caused a freak play that resulted in the ball popping out, which eventually led to a costly turnover.

Koetter agreed that the loss to UCLA does create a re-assessment of goals from here on out, and perhaps taking the approach that the squad is now facing what in essence is a four-game season. "We had a team meeting tonight, and we talked a little about that," stated the Sun Devil skipper. "We're gonna have a team meeting on Tuesday, and we'll have a plan of action. I need to talk to some of the team leaders and to my staff about this." Koetter stated that message in general this week is to stay the course, both on and off the field. "This was a hard one. We'll have guys all over the place as far as the ‘buy-in' factor. I told them today that all you can do is keep on doing the little things right. We have to keep doing things in academics, social life, and football. We need to learn why we didn't execute and do better."

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