Sun Devils Look to Mend Broken Spirit

Many football fans know that the game of football is as mental, as it is physical. The 51-23 loss may have not been taxing physically, but head coach Dirk Koetter acknowledges that his squad psyche is quite fragile these days following the 51-23 loss to Cal.

"They broke our sprit yesterday," said Koetter Sunday night. "I don't think that happened since the Arizona game two years ago. But we can talk all the X's and O's, and all the scheme, but you still have to play this game with some emotion and passion."

"It's always disappointing when you lose a game," Koetter continued. "None of us is are in this to lose, but it's part of the game and you will lose sometimes. I told them (the team) it's one thing we you compete your butt off and lose, like we did at UCLA. But it's another thing when you have your spirit broken, and I thought we had it broken yesterday."

Koetter stated that he has heard rumblings that his team didn't appear to be motivated and fired up during pre-game warm-ups, which is the reason for the loss. In his opinion, the antics that do or don't take place prior to kickoff have little bearing on the actual level of play. "I think different teams have different personalities," exclaimed the ASU skipper. "I don't think this team has ever been a rah rah type of team in warp ups. I couldn't notice a difference in this team in warm ups yesterday, any different then they were before Oregon or North Carolina."

" I don't think this team has a lot of vocal players in it," Koetter continued. "I think we have a lot more ‘matter of fact' type guys on this team. How did we start the game? We march right down the field. Even after they scored, we came back and scored and it was 7-7."

At times, the game film doesn't always look as perfect as you would expect it to be following a win or as bad as you would expect it to be in a loss. Nevertheless, the tale of the tape of Saturday's game was an accurate reflection of the real time impressions during the contest. "The film pretty much pointed out the same thing I said yesterday – we got our butt kicked. You can't give up eight straight drives where they scored and expect to win."

Missed tackles, and assignments errors were only some of the main culprits in the defeat. "They hurt us on three or four bootleg passes," said Koetter. "Where the guy in coverage came out of coverage. They hurt us in a scramble. We turn a man lose, and they get a big play. We had missed tackles where we hit the guy, and just didn't finish. They threw four post routes over our head…that's the number one thing in any defense – you can't give up the big play down the middle, and we did. We did all those things. Never have we done all those things in one game."

"To make matters worse, we're minus three in turnovers," Koetter continued. "You would have to go back to Oregon State to a game that we're that far in the minus category. We're so much better in that area, we were plus two on the season. The first turnover for us really hurts. We're in a nine play drive and we're all the way down at 3rd and six. We throw an interception in the end zone, and they come back and score. So it hurts you both ways. With six and half minutes left, we turn over the ball twice, and we go from being 11 down to being 24 points down. Those turnovers before the half were back breakers."

According to the Sun Devil head coach, those crucial last six and half minutes of the second quarter carried over to half time. Furthermore, they put the team in the dire state of mind that was reminisced of the fourth quarter in the losses to Oregon State and USC. Thus, a point of emphasis in the halftime speech was to prevent the meltdown that plagued the squad earlier in the year during those aforementioned games. "I addressed that as the first thing when we got down into the locker room, and right before we came out. I thought as far as that part of the game, we did do better in the second half."

ASU started the Cal game carrying the ball eight times. Koetter claimed that this scheme was a combination of attacking one of Cal's deficiencies, as well as Andrew Walter's condition. "We felt that we could run the ball at Cal," said the ASU head coach. "But another benefit was that it was gonna get Andrew in the flow of the game, and not put everything on him to get it started. Our actual game plan was suppose to be 2/3 to 1/3 run to pass on run downs. I had 16 plays scripted – 10 runs and six passes. We were having so much success running the ball, that we just kept on doing that. In that first drive we did eight straight times."

Following this loss, there were no game balls given. The co-captains for the Stanford game are leading tackler Jason Shivers and Connor Banks who recorded his first ever ASU sack in the Cal game. The scout players of the week were Mike Affleck on offense, Josh Barrett on defense, and Chad Green on special teams.

Part of the Sunday speech to the players was emphasizing that there should be no finger pointing towards individuals, since this loss is shared by all the coaches and players. Furthermore, Koetter in enlisting his entire coaching staff and selected players to remedy the situation. "I asked all the coaches to make me a list of things that we needed to do better at their position," stated Koetter. "And to point it out in film today. I will be meeting with several individual players this week, and ask them those same questions of what they can do better in their positions, what our team needs to do to get better right away, and what I needed to do for our team to improve right away."

While the UCLA game took a severe physical toll on the team, the causalities are small in number and light in severity following the Cal loss. "Hakim (Hill) has a little knee sprain, Chris McKenzie sprained an ankle, and Jamar Williams has a quad (injury). I don't think that there's anything that will keep out anyone." Fullback Mike Karney, who had flu like symptoms, missed Saturday's game, but was feeling a little better today. "Mike Karney woke up about 2:30 Saturday morning, and had those (flu) symptoms. They put three bags of fluid in him. We brought here (to the stadium) from the hotel early, so he could meet with the doctors. He tried to put on his gear and warm up, but he couldn't…we anticipate him practicing on Tuesday."

However, the biggest injury on fans' minds in the one to quarterback Andrew Walter. Koetter feels that his practice schedule this week will include giving him full reps. "We'll see how he feels on Tuesday," said the ASU skipper. "But I would anticipate (it happening). He was sore today, but nothing like he was last week at this time. I'm told it's more like he was on Wednesday of last week. I anticipate that if he keeps on making progress, that he will take his full reps on Tuesday."

Backup Sam Keller saw extensive duty for the second week in a row. He did appear to perform better, which was hardly a surprise to Koetter. "We said all along that Sam would be probably come back," claimed Koetter. "And be in a much better rhythm, and I thought he was. The first drive Sam was in, he did a good job and took us right down (for a score). When we recovered the fumble, and we were down on the six-yard line, they blitzed us and I though Sam got rattled a little bit. As a freshman, the experience is great for him."

"He certainly showed as a freshman what he's capable of," continued Koetter. "As far as throwing the ball down the field, some people were questioning his arm strength, and I think he put that issue to rest with his performance. It was nice for him to get his first touchdown, but there's not a lot of good things that come out of a game like that."

Following the Cal loss, defensive coordinator Brent Guy has been quoted taking a lot of the blame for the team's performance. That personal accountability is a virtue Koetter reveres in his staff. "Brent like any coach, wants to take his share of the blame," exclaimed Koetter. "When you're in situations like this, and you're a competitor, when things don't go the way they should – I want guys like that on my side, who will step up and take the blame."

"The one thing we talked about today," Koetter continued. "Is that maybe we're switching too much between the 4-3 and the 4-2-5. Maybe we're confusing the players switching back and forth. Our critics will say the 4-2-5 doesn't work. We were in the 4-3 more yesterday." He added that this topic will come up in some of the private player meetings he plans on having this week.

The Sun Devil third year coach said that some of his players are taking an active leadership role in these trying times. "Last night after I spoke in the locker room," he said. "Six players spoke. A couple of players spoke to the team today. I think the players are disappointed, and in many cases embarrassed. The way we got beat yesterday - that's not how we perceive ourselves. It happened, we can't change it, and we have to do something about it. That's the attitude we have."

At times, having the same player deliver what is essentially the same speech week in and week out may lose its effectiveness. Nevertheless, Koetter thinks that the individuals stepping to the plate are not in danger of being tuned out. "They haven't been doing this until the last week or so," claimed Koetter. "I think when you're a player or a coach; it's pretty easy to tell people who talk from the heart and people who say what you want them to hear. The guys I hear talking are talking from their heart. Over 90% of the time the guys speaking are usually the most respected guys on the team. I would be much more worried, if the most respected guys on the team weren't speaking up…the guys that are speaking out, their actions on the field in practice and in the game – they're giving it their all. Not playing perfect but giving their all."

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