The Sun Devil skipper exclaimed that fall camp changes mandated by a new NCAA format heavily hampered the structure that Koetter and his staff prefer to employ in the pre-season preparation.
Koetter said that normally he would like to have one daily practice after a scrimmage. However, the new regulations concerning two-a-day practices, actually forced the team to cut down the number of those practices. "If you have a scrimmage," he said. "That's your one practice, now you have to come back (the next day) with a two-a-day. We never did that, because we never believe having two-a-days after a scrimmage."
"We only had two days of two-a-days," Koetter continued. "We have to go back and set a more overall toughness tone in fall camp. I look back at it now, and we were so conscious of injury prevention, which you should be, and saving legs."
Another factor that slowed down matters in the pre-season were the personnel decisions at tailback. "If I had to say one thing I wish I had done different," claimed the ASU coach. "It's that I would of sped up the timetable at tailback. We had five tailbacks, all with different pluses and minuses, and I went out of my way to be fair to five guys, instead of pushing the envelope with the guys that I probably knew would end up being the best in the long run." Koetter added that injuries and off the field situations hampered the development of our roles at wide receiver, which was detrimental since "Let's face it, we didn't know how we were gonna replace Shaun (McDonald)."
The ASU coach proceeded to breakdown all of the season's games, and their implications on the year.
NAU and Utah State - "We go into the early season games. We won the games, but we didn't dominate those games, as we should have. And I go back to the two things I said, tailback and wide receiver. Another real key issue that ended up being bigger than we all thought is when we lost R.J. (Oliver) in that first game. It was a very legitimate injury, but it was the most expensive 100-yard interception return in the history of ASU football. That costs us a lot, because R.J. was never really the same. He told me as recently as two weeks ago that he didn't feel that he ever got his burst back."
Iowa and Oregon State - "Our defense played early enough in those games for us to have a chance. Our offense didn't do their part. We had no running game. We had a red zone turnover early against Iowa. You can't play the ‘what if' game, but if you gonna beat those teams you got to play earlier."
"Six turnovers against Oregon State – you're not gonna beat people turning it over six times. Our defense gets a lot of heat, but in those games our defense was fine early."
USC - "We played a really good game for three quarters. At the end we went with a no huddle. It was a hot day; we thought we could wear them out. I think our team got worn out. Our defense let them come back. We let it slip away in the fourth quarter."
"USC is a deeper team than we are. But we played good football. That's one of the frustrations (of the season). The two best teams in the league this year, USC and Washington State, we played good football against them. Not good enough to win, but we played good."
Oregon and North Carolina - "Performance wise, those two games, we played like the team that we thought we could be. It was our best stretch of the season, combined with the USC game. We came out to a fast start against Oregon. North Carolina, yes we have to win it on the last play of the game. But for anyone that was there, that game didn't have to be that close (eluding to the officiating blunders)."
UCLA - "This in my opinion is a huge turning point in our season. Maybe the most physical game we played all year, and the result of this game, maybe the most emotional. We get Andrew (Walter) hurt in the second quarter, but we still lead it in the half. Our defense plays fine. They give up those two passes for them to get their first touchdown, but we're still ahead at halftime."
"Our defense only gives up one play the whole second half. It's a huge one – an 86-yard run. We have great field position the whole fourth quarter, and can't knock it out. We have a gapping hole we've see Loren (Wade) gash several times now, and the ball just pops out. That's one of those things that's unexplainable."
"After that game we were physically beaten up more so than at any point this year. Emotionally, distraught is the word that comes to mind. Our guys were crushed to lose that game in that fashion." Koetter added that he felt that his team had that point was not equipped to overcome this cloud of adversity that descended on them.
Cal and Stanford - "Worst stretch of the season. This is where I made my biggest mistake this year. Coming off the UCLA loss, I misread our emotional and physical downer, as time to back off in practice. When I say that we misread it – we've done that in other years and it worked fine. Now looking back at it and talking to players as well, I should have done the opposite. When we backed off, all we did is go into a deeper funk emotionally."
"The Cal game was a disaster. We started off the game fine. Our defense stops them, we march it all the way down the field, and we have a turnover. It ended up being a horrible game. I met with those players afterwards, and they basically confirmed the misjudgment of backing off. Those top 40 guys that are doing most of the playing that I met with, all told me that they would compete hard and finish. We did that, even though those first eight minutes against Stanford were pretty ugly. After those first eight minutes, I thought we competed very hard. We just got off to a horrible start."
Washington State - "Due to injuries and sickness we take only 55 guys on the trip. The guys we took competed hard, best since UCLA. It was one of those games where three or four plays decide the whole game. A couple they make, a couple of them we don't make. I feel a lot better how our team executed."
Arizona - "Obviously we closed it out against U of A on a positive note."
Judging by the coach's comments on each game, it appears that the team's defense played better than the offense earlier in the year. Later in the season both units seemed to reverse their fortunes. Koetter offered his thoughts on this matter.
"From the offensive standpoint," Koetter said. "It's plain as day. Derek Hagan steps up, and ends up having a pretty good season. Our offensive line ends up solidifying and playing very well. On the first team all-conference ballot, there were seven guys nominated for first team and we had two. The tailback situation - we started running the ball more, and having be able to play action, our offense played better."
"On the other side," Koetter continued. "Our depth became non existent on defense. Other than the defensive line where we were able to rotate, we didn't have depth. We got beat down. R.J.'s injury takes longer (to heal) than we thought…the longer the year went, we had a tough time getting there with a four man rush. When we did blitz we had a difficult time covering. It was between a rock and a hard spot. Do you sit back and play all zone? Whether you call it a ‘bend but don't break' or however you say it…we tout ourselves as an aggressive defense, and we weren't able to play that way. So you're counting on trying to keep the ball in front of you, and saying the offense will make a mistake before they can drive it. That's really not the style of defense we came here to play."
Koetter pointed out the cornerback position, as one that was suffering from a confidence crisis. "I think they all came back at different levels," he said. "It took R.J. a long time. Chris McKenzie improved a lot to a certain point, regressed a little bit, and came back a little bit - somewhat typical of a first year JC player. Manny Franklin – no question. After the injury at UCLA he was never the same. Josh Golden, did some really good things at times, but again was up and down confidence wise. When you're playing an aggressive scheme, those corners - you ask a lot of them. A pass rush helps them more than anything."
Coach Koetter is aware of the criticism his staff is receiving these days, and he proceeded to echo his vote of confidence in his assistants. "The coaching staff is not going to undergo major changes," exclaimed Koetter. "These guys are my guys. These guys can coach. For those people that think a major bomb is gonna drop on the coaching staff, it won't happen. Too young, underestimate the Pac-10…I heard all that. That's just not the case."
The ASU head coach stated that the Defensive scheme, like many other aspects of the team, is an issue that has to be evaluated in the weeks ahead. "I can't come out today," he said. "And say we will do this or do that. If you're gonna make any changes in your scheme, you have to recruit players for that scheme. Based on our depth chart and what happens in recruiting that's how you determine that (defensive change). I have got some things in mind, but it just depends on what happens with recruiting. Obviously we won't know that until February 4th."
When he looked ahead on what he personally has to improve on, Koetter pointed out the need to develop better internal leadership. "I have to help that happen," he stated. "As it relates to unity, playing for each other, not being selfish, expectations and dealing with adversity…I have to do some things through developmental stuff that's not blocking or tackling that can help us deal with that."
On the same token, the Sun Devil skipper made it clear that the need for improvement in the leadership area is no reflection on the outgoing senior class. "These guys were really good guys to work with," said Koetter. "I really like these guys a lot. It just wasn't a very big senior class, but the guys that were playing - those guys gave it their all. There's no question about that."
Koetter hinted the unavoidable attrition process will take place in the weeks and months to come. "I found out some things about some players this year," he stated. "Going into this year, I thought this was gonna be the deepest team we ever had. But due to various reasons, we found some things about guys who would and wouldn't compete. That's just the way it is. There are some guys where it became apparent that they didn't want to be here. They're not willing to do what we asked them to do at this level. That doesn't make them bad people at all. It just means that can't be here."
"I got some guys that some of them it will be their choice – they not going to want to be here, because they don't like the way I'm doing it or they think they're not getting the right amount of playing time. That's understandable. Every school has it. On the flip side, they're some guys I'll have to ask to leave, because this isn't the right fit for them."
The ASU coach added that there are some possible personnel and position changes on the horizon. "It's based on the needs of the team and getting the best 22 guys on the field. I've had some players come to me and request position changes, and we usually try to honor those when we can."
Koetter announced that Jason Shivers and Andrew Walter will both put in the paper work to the NFL to determine where they stand in the draft. "We talked to both of those kids," said the ASU coach. "I'm meeting with Andrew's family later this morning. The NFL will get back with them in a few weeks, and at that time the players will sit down with their family and the coaches again to make a decision." Koetter added that over 50% of players that put in the paperwork stay in school. Last year, Mike Karney and Regis Crawford went through the same process and decided to stay for their senior year.
The ASU coach offered his unwavering support to both Shivers and Walter. "Obviously I hope both guys come back," quipped Koetter. "But if those guys and their families feel that it's in their best interest to go out, I'm for those guys. I will back them up on it." Today is the first day both players can start to send their paperwork in, and they have until January 15th to decide whether they will forgo their senior years.
Koetter laid out the off-season plans for his team. "Players will be in off-season workouts four days this week," said the ASU coach. "Monday through Thursday, and three days next week which takes them up to reading day. The team will be off mandatory workouts until Martin Luther King day." On that day the team will have its first meeting in 2004. The off-season workouts will resume in the spring semester, which starts the next day.
Koetter Wraps Up The 2003 Season
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