Offense Gets Payback in Camp Ending Scrimmage

It may have been predictable but after a defensive dominated scrimmage last Sunday, the offense came roaring back on Friday to have the upper end in a rain soaked scrimmage that ended the Sun Devils stay at Camp Tontozona.

The offense came storming out of the gate, and the first few plays featured a long run by Loren Wade for 48 yards, and Andrew Walter completing his first two passes. After only seven plays the scrimmage was stopped for about 15 minutes because of lighting. This hardly cooled down the boys in maroon who featured a balanced attack, to which the defense, minus injured players Justin Burks and Gabe Reininger had no answer for. Walter connected in the later parts of the scrimmage with Derek Hagan for touchdowns of 36 and 20 yards. There were some bright spots on the defense in Chris McKenzie intercepting Walter, as well as a Mike Talbot sack.

The ASU kickers turned in another solid scrimmage. Jesse Ainsworth made 12-14 field goals, with misses from 48 and 39 yards. Chris MacDonald, who just got a scholarship a few days ago, had 7 punts for an average of 48.1 yards a punt.

Following the scrimmage, coach Dirk Koetter was content with all that transpired, minus the injuries suffered by the various players. "As a coach you're always hoping that your own guys don't get hurt," he said. "That's one of the things when you go live. We had Justin Burks and Gabe Reininger out and that made the middle of our defense a little softer. Other than that I was very pleased. I feel real good. You just can't wait to get to the games – you prove it in the games. I'm happy where we're at, I'm anxious to go home and so is everybody else."

On the injuries, Koetter commented that Burks injured his clavicle, and because of an unclear X-Ray, will go a CAT scan on Sunday in the valley. The early prognosis is that the linebacker will be gone a couple of days. McKenzie (arm), as well as fellow cornerback R.J. Oliver (twisted foot) both left the scrimmage with injuries. Bradis McGriff and Hakim Hill (on the last play of the scrimmage) were carted off the field. At this time the extent of their injuries is unknown.

As with any scrimmage, the outcome will always favor one side of the ball over another. However, the Sun Devil head coach felt that both the offense and the defense had good showings in the last 10 days. "When you're playing yourself, somebody wins and somebody loses," Koetter explained. "Half the coaches are jacked up, and half the coaches are pissed off. Riccardo Stewart is ready to smack somebody he's so mad…we're a team, and when you practice against yourself you'll have issues. As a head coach I try to look at it from both sides…make no mistake – the offense won today. But there has been many times where the defense has won. We had 18 practices, and the defense has won half of them if not more."

As mentioned, Mother Nature supplied challenging weather on Friday. Not only did it not disrupt the plan of the scrimmage, but it also provided situations that may prove handy in the future. "We followed the script, other than that one delay," Koetter commented. "We may have cut a couple of plays here and there. Playing in wet weather, that's something that we don't do very often. We would have done it sooner this week, but we were afraid that we would tear the field up. This was actually a good experience for us; we had the quarterbacks and receivers handle wet balls. It will help us down the road." Koetter added that a member of the football staff was monitoring the weather service reports and was advising the team when the lighting was getting close.

Both scrimmages did exhibit a trend, which Koetter seeks to eliminate. "The last scrimmage the defense sacked the offense three straight times. What I told the guys that we have to get better at is to put some things behind us. I thought the offense struggled after a slow start in the first scrimmage, and I thought the defense struggled to a slow start today." On the flip side, both scrimmages showcased some fine kicking by Ainsworth and MacDonald. "Very solid," exclaimed Koetter. "I think going into today; in the field goals with the line in front of him Jesse was 31 out of 34. MacDonald needs to work on his tackling after T-Rich (Terry Richardson) blew right by him (smile)."

According the Sun Devil skipper, the second wide receiver spot is still up for grabs, but Richardson still seems to be in the lead. "Matt Miller sure started his case today," said Koetter. "Rudy Burgess didn't get very many chances. T-Rich had a great camp until the last three practices. He pulled a hip flexor and has been slow. He may have been the offensive MVP until three practices ago." In general Koetter feels that some positions battles, as well as decisions of redshirting or not redshirting first year players, are far from being resolved. "Jobs are always open. Find something you can do to get on the bus, and we'll get you on there."

Starting Tuesday, the team will start working a lot more on implementing its UTEP game plan, as well as refining some general aspects of their game. Nonetheless, the instructional part of camp isn't going away. "We're still making some basic mistakes," admitted Koetter. "I don't think that instructional part ever ends. Our game plan for UTEP has been done since June. We're already mixing that in (in practice), you just don't know which ones they are."

In regards to the offensive line, Koetter mentioned Chaz White as a player that had made significant strides thus far. "Chaz had a nice camp," he stated. "Chaz has improved a lot. His improvement is what enabled us to move Brandon Rodd to the left guard spot. If we started today it would be Chaz and Brandon, Pollak at center…Berg or Krula is the battle at right guard. Krula was ahead, got hurt, and Berg is playing much better. Carnahan at right tackle. So those are six guys that we feel real good about, knowing that Grayling (Love) and Drew are coming back." When asked about the play of Sam Keller, he replied: "You know how I feel about quarterback play – I like it when it's perfect. It's not perfect." On the other hand, Koetter was delighted with the play of all three tailbacks.

In the camp ending awards that were given out Friday night, Zach Miller won the newcomer award on offense and Dale Robinson on defense. Center Mike Pollak, who replaced Drew Hodgdon successfully, won the offensive MVP for his efforts. Jimmy Verdon was selected as the MVP on defense. Robert James wins the award for special teams. "Robert is a guy that came into camp not starting on any (special teams) lineups, and is now starting on three teams. He had quite a camp." The ASU coach also likes James' versatility as a linebacker that can play the strong side role occupied by Robinson, as well as the Devil position held now by Jamar Williams.

"That was better," said quarterback Andrew Walter on the offensive dominated scrimmage. "We're leaving camp with confidence, and a lot of hard work under our belt. We put in a lot of good work, and it's a feather in our cap. When tough situations come up in a game, we'll be able to fight adversity."

"I think we're light years ahead of last year," Walter continued. "We all know how last year was, so we'll keep on getting better. I feel good about where we are, but there's a lot of hard work left." The Sun Devils signal caller also made mention of the invaluable live scenarios in practice, and scrimmage type situations, as aspects that can help the team improve.

As a fifth year senior, Walter has made his last trek to camp Tontozona as a member of the ASU team. "Yeah, this is it," he reflected. "Hopefully I'll be busy this time of year for a while, so I won't be coming back for a few years. It's been a lot of fun, and a good run. Now it's time for the season." The slip ‘n slide sessions by the team on the wet tarps, albeit without his participation, were the fondest memory Walter will take with him from the pines near Payson

Receiver Derek Hagan, who had two touchdowns today, was naturally elated over what took place on Friday. "We had to come out today and show the defense that we're not gonna lose the last scrimmage," he said. "I think I had a pretty good camp. I missed a whole week with my lower back hurting, but I tried to come back into the grove and I think I did pretty well."

The junior said that he's leaving camp with high expectations for the 2004 season. "Everything is going well for us right now," he commented. "Our goal is to win the Pac-10 championship and go to the Rose Bowl. We just need to get better. We're coming out every day and working hard, so we're on the right track."

The team is off on Saturday. They will only lift weights and watch film on that day. Sunday features the last of the two-a-day practices, and Monday the team will be off again due to the beginning of the fall semester.

Scrimmage Stats:

Passing

Walter 7-15 196 2TD INT
Keller 6-11 104


Rushing

Wade 6-47
R Hill 5-76
H Hill 7-39


Receiving

M Miller 4-37
Hagan 3-69 2TD
Mutz 2-50


Special Teams

Ainsworth made 12-14 field goals. His two misses came from 48 and 39 yards out.

Chris MacDonald punted seven times for an average of 48.1 yards a punt.

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