Devils Manhandle Miners in Season Opener

What can a victory against the proverbial "patsy" team teach us? In 2003, the Sun Devils struggled against its so-called easy non-conference opponents, which served as prelude to an underachieving season. On the same token, one can hope that a lopsided 41-9 win against UTEP, may be a sign that a successful season is awaiting the maroon and gold.

The offense was off to a slow start in the first quarter, where a 22-yard field goal by Jesse Ainsworth served as the only scoring in that period. Two touchdown passes early in the second quarter to Terry Richardson and Brent Miller widened the gap, and an Emmanuel Franklin interception return for a score put the visitors in even a deeper as the home team pulled ahead 24-0. A blocked punt by the Miners led to their only touchdown of the game with 1:49 left in the half.

The third quarter was not as sharp offensively as the second one, but a career-long 48-yarder Ainsworth boot, along with a Walter-Hagan scoring connection gave the Devils a 41-6 lead. Backup signal caller Sam Keller got on the action too, and his long-range toss resulted in a 68-yard touchdown pass to Rudy Burgess. A late fourth quarter Miners' field goal marked the final score of the three and half hour contest.

Walter's numbers, 18-37 for 241 yards and three scores, aren't staggering but are also far from disappointing. His three sacks are however an area of concern. Hagan picked up where he left off in 2003, and eclipsed the century mark with 119 yards on eight catches. The three-headed monster that is the ASU running backs all looked good even though none of them was used extensively. Loren Wade and Randy Hill each had 11 carries, while gaining 56 and 46 yards respectively. Hakim Hill had only 6 carries for 34 yards, but his average per carry (5.3) was the highest among the ball carriers.

Much has been said about the improvements made on defense in the off-season, and regardless of the quality of the opponent, this group had one of their better outings in recent memory. Miners' quarterback Jordan Palmer was not only held to 196 yards on 21 of 44, but was also picked four times and sacked twice. Howard Jackson, one of the better running backs that ASU will face this year, was held to 61 yards on 16 carries. Linebacker Dale Robinson continued his fine performance in fall camp, and led the team with nine total tackles, including one of two ASU sacks Kyle Caldwell recording the other). Aside from his interception turned touchdown, Franklin had another pick, as well as a pass break up and five tackles.

The Sun Devils' special teams were a bag of mixed goods. Ainsworth connected on his two field goal attempts, and Burgess had 90 total return yards. Punter Chris MacDonald, albeit in part to some directional punting, averaged 42.1 yards on seven punts. His blocked punt, along with 195 yards in total returns by UTEP, are special teams aspects that need to shore up in a hurry before ASU meets the tougher teams on its schedule.

Up next for the Devils is a trip to Northwestern, who ironically also played tonight and was edged on the road in overtime to TCU 48-45. The road hasn't been kind to the Sun Devils in recent years, and just like the win against UTEP, a victory against the Wildcats could be another signal that 2004 won't be a déjà vu of last season.

Sparky's Sundries: Defensive linemen Jimmy Verdon and Ishmael Thrower carried both the senior flag and the American flag onto the field…Not only was the late Pat Tillman honored by having his name on the ASU jerseys, but also a sign reading PT 42 was painted in the end zone…Also honored in the game were the two slain Phoenix Police officers Eric White and Jason Wolfe, who lost their life earlier this week. Prior to kickoff a moment of silence was observed in their memory…The ASU newcomers had their hands in the first tackle of the game (Robinson), the first fumble of the game (Burgess on a punt return), and the first penalty (Brandon Rodd). Sadly Rodd also marks the first serious game injury, when he tore his ACL and is apparently out for the year…In a change from last season, defensive coordinator Brent Guy was on the field and not in the coach's box…While the student section was full at the beginning of the game, it dwindled quite a bit as the game progressed. One can attribute this to much needed sleep for Friday's classes or in some cases resting before a long Labor Day weekend and a trip to Rocky Point…

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