The 2001 Football Season in Review

To any Sun Devil fan, the 2001 football season was a major disappointment. Many fans had high hopes and expectations leading into the season. A seven or eight win season did not seem out of the question because, although Bruce Snyder was fired and new coach Dirk Koetter was in his first season leading the Sun Devils, the new coach reportedly did not inherit a program that lacked legitimate PAC-10 talent.

In addition to the returning talent base, fans were intrigued with the offensive potential of Koetter's offensive system. His Boise State teams were highly ranked nationally in many offensive categories. Coming out of spring practices, the defense was significantly ahead of the offense and dominated the spring scrimmage. It appeared that the defense was going to have to carry the offense at the beginning of the season while the offense got comfortable with the new system and their new responsibilities.

Once the season actually began, however, it was obvious that the offense had put in their work over the summer and at Camp Tontozona. They racked up 425 total yards in the 38-7 win over San Diego State. The defense held up their end of the bargain against the Aztecs, too. They allowed only 190 total yards to a team that was reportedly much better than the 2000 SDSU squad.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, the success of the first game did not continue throughout the 2001 season. They ended with a disappointing 4-7 record, including a 34-21 thrashing by the hated Wildcats from Tucson. ASU dominated their weak out of conference opponents, but could not match up against most of the talented PAC-10 teams.

Here is a brief review of how the three aspects of the team – offense, defense, and special teams – faired during the 2001 season:

OFFENSE

The stats reveal that the Sun Devils were a potent offensive machine in 2001 – exactly what the Sun Devil faithful expected from the Dirk Koetter offense. ASU averaged over 425 total yards and 34 points per contest. Quarterback Jeff Krohn ranked in the top 10 nationally with a 54% passing efficiency rating. Tailback Delvon Flowers rushed for 1041 yards this season, which is slightly under 95 yards/game. Receiver Shaun MacDonald averaged over 100 yards per game receiving with 47 catches for a total of 1104 yards.

Some Sun Devils also turned in great individual performances this season. Flowers rushed for 226 yards in the Sun Devil's only PAC-10 victory against Oregon State. Those 226 yards include a season high 74 yard dash. Additionally, MacDonald caught a season high 9 receptions for 194 yards in the loss to Washington and had a 68 yard reception from QB Jeff Krohn in the Stanford game. Krohn also turned in some noteworthy performances. He racked up 366 yards passing against the Cardinal and passed for four touchdowns against SDSU, SJSU, and Louisiana-Lafayette. Finally, the four touchdown games by Shaun MacDonald and Ryan Dennard were memorable for both players and Sun Devil fans.

However, the stats did not tell the whole story for the Sun Devils. QB Jeff Krohn suffered what was later revealed as a broken bone in his foot toward the beginning of the USC game and his injury problems continued throughout the season. Krohn was unable to complete many of the games he started in 2001. Additionally, the offensive line play was sporadic at times. The OL gave up 34 sacks over the course of the season and, despite averaging over 167 yards/game on the ground, the rushing attack seemed ineffective in many situations – especially on the goal line where ASU failed on numerous attempts to punch the ball in from inside the 5 yard line.

Even after the gaudy out of conference stats are removed from consideration, ASU's offensive numbers are respectable. The 426.4 total yards/game average drops to slightly under 409 total yards/game (slightly under 156 yards/game rushing and 253 yards/game passing). The real difference that can be seen between OOC and PAC-10 play is in the scoring average. Despite the overall numbers only dropping slightly in PAC-10 play, the scoring average dropped from a gaudy 51 points/game average against OOC opponents to a lower, yet respectable 27.5 points/game in PAC-10 play. The drastic scoring drop-off despite only slightly lower overall offensive stats can be attributed to a lack of defensive help (defensive scores and field position) and struggles punching it in on the goal line situations.

DEFENSE

Just as the stats reveal that ASU was a potent offensive machine in 2001, they also reveal that the Sun Devil defense made opponent's offenses into equally potent weapons. The Sun Devils defense gave up slightly under 400 total yards/game, comprised of just under 261 yards/game through the air and over 138 yards/game on the ground. The lack of experience in the secondary and the inconsistent play of the front seven left the Sun Devil faithful yearning for Adam Archuletta, Pat Tillman, Derek Rogers, or maybe even Courtney Jackson.

Much like the offensive stats changed when comparing OOC foes to PAC-10 play, the comparison reveals much more of a drastic change on the defensive side of the ball. Total yards/game increased from 297 total yards/game against OOC competition to just under 438 total yards/game against PAC-10 opponents. Rushing yards given up increased from a stingy 88 yards/game OOC to over 157 yards/game within the PAC. Passing yardage also inflated significantly, changing from just under 209 yards/game against the lesser OOC competition to over 280 yards/game against conference foes. The increased numbers can be traced to poor tackling, soft play from an inexperienced secondary, and a gambling style of defense that often left the corners on an island due to multiple blitzes.

A major difference can also be seen in the turnovers forced against OOC and PAC-10 foes. ASU forced 3 TOs/game in their three OOC victories, but barely over 1 TO/game in the PAC-10 contests.

There were some positive performances by ASU defenders over the course of the season. Terrell Suggs had two sacks against SDSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, and USC. He also totaled 5 tackles for loss against the Trojans. Freshman safety Jason Shivers was everywhere against Washington and racked up 17 of his team leading 89 tackles. Finally, Emmanuel Franklin had a 100 yard interception return against SDSU.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The luring of Assistant Head Coach Tom Osborne away from Oregon in the off-season was seen as an important step in shoring up the important third aspect of the Sun Devils' game plan. Many starters on offense or defense were used on ST as well. By the end of the season, however, the ST play received mixed reviews. There were times that the ST really looked to live up to the term "special", such as when they successfully pulled off multiple trick plays to keep drives alive. At other times, "special" did not apply at all, especially when referencing the muffed punts and poor punt and kick coverages that seemed to plague the Sun Devils intermittently throughout the season.

As expected, Nick Murphy and Mike Barth were solid. Murphy averaged 41.1 yards/punt and had a season long 58 yard boot against the Ragin' Cajuns of ULL. Barth was successful on 43 of 44 PATs and also completed 9 of his 14 FG attempts. Four of the five missed field goals were from over 45 yards away.

Some other individual ST stats are noteworthy. All-purpose senior Tom Pace returned a kick-off 100 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. He led the team with a very strong 31.6 yards/return average. Justin Taplin paced ASU with an 8.7 yards/return average for punts, including a season high 62 yarder against Oregon State.

THOUGHTS FOR 2002

The main objective for the offense will be to find a QB to replace Jeff Krohn, due to his decision to transfer from ASU for the 2002 season. Andrew Walter, Chad Christensen, Matt Cooper, and possibly a new QB candidate will battle it out for the starting position in spring ball and again at Camp Tontozona. The next major focus will be to replenish an OL that loses 4 starters to graduation. Another issue will be to find someone to fill the hole left by departing RBs Flowers and Pace. Mike Williams seems to have the lead to fill the void. Additionally, who will replace the receptions and yards of Donnie O'Neal? Finally, can a TE step up and play a significant role in the passing game?

The defense has some obvious holes to fill, also. First, Sun Devil faithful will have to hope that the young secondary follows the saying that players make the most improvement between their freshman and sophomore years. Additionally, Solomon Bates either needs to lift and eat himself into an athletic defensive lineman or slim down and regain his form at LB in 2002. And who is going to replace the departures on the interior defensive line? Finally, will Suggs be able to gain enough strength over the summer to play consistently against the run? He could also develop a few new rushing techniques to help offset the adjustments PAC-10 teams made against him.

And last, but definitely not least, the coaches need to look in their respective mirrors. Sun Devil faithful heard the "we got out-coached" explanation after many games this year. Although it was tough to swallow in 2001, it will be an unacceptable explanation in 2002. Decisions like not doubling Bobby Wade and allowing him and Clarence Farmer to single-handedly beat the Sun Devils must serve as valuable lessons to this young ASU coaching staff.

Overall, because of the significant holes that will need to be filled in 2002, ASU's record may not be much improved over the 2001 record; however, the real measure of the team and the coaching staff's performance will be how well they compete and the improvement the team makes throughout the 2002 season – especially on defense.

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