Oregon and its Crowd Pose Challenge to ASU

Thus far in the 2004 season, the Sun Devils were enjoying, not fighting, boisterous crowds. This week at Autzen Stadium, Dirk Koetter's team is about to encounter one of the loudest crowds in the conference.

The ASU head coach, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the 1996-97 seasons, talked about the Oregon home field advantage in his weekly press conference. "The crowd is right on top of you and the fans are very knowledgeable," he said. "They know when to be loud. They know its smart to be quiet when their team has the ball and they know its good to be loud when our team has the ball. They are good at disrupting the game. Anyone who has been there knows it's a hostile place for college football, just like Sun Devil Stadium is when we get a full house."

"We are looking forward to Oregon this week," Koetter continued. "Autzen stadium is one of the toughest places to play. In my opinion Autzen is the toughest place there is. They will be out in their Pac-10 opener and we know they will be trying. We know Mike [Bellotti] will have those guys foaming at the mouth, and our guys are anxious to go do it too. So it should be a great one."

Aside from their favorable surroundings, Oregon poses other challenges as well. "Oregon is one of the most successful programs in the PAC-10 over Mike Bellotti's tenure," said Koetter. "I have a ton of respect for their coaching staff. I've worked with those guys and I know how hard they prepare. I know how Mike handles the team and I know they're going to be prepared. They have some excellent players. They are high on their quarterback, they have one really good receiver and their tailback is playing really good right now. I think in all the preseason stuff everyone was raving about their O-line. With their D-line, they've had a couple guys injured, but they're very talented. They have one of the best kickers in the league. We have our hands full and I'm sure we'll be the underdog in this game. Oregon doesn't lose too many games on that field."

Koetter announced that scout players of the week were, offensively, Kellen Mills, defensively Wes Evans, and on special teams player Alex King. Game balls were given to Andrew Carnahan on offense. Emmanuel Franklin on defense (who was also named Pac-10 defensive player of the week), and Josh Barrett on special teams for the second week in a row. Carnahan and Jordan Hill will be the captains for the Oregon game.

Koetter claimed that two years ago, the Ducks were much more of a mirror image of the Sun Devils that they are these days. In fact, ASU's last opponent Oregon State is much more of a carbon copy than their archrival. Speaking of the Beavers, the Sun Devils skipper couldn't help notice the physicality in that contest. "It was a tremendously physical game," he stated. "When I showed clips to the players, I didn't realize until I looked at the tape yesterday, how physical of a game it was on both sides. The speed and physical style of this game was, by far, the most physical and the fastest game that we have played in this year. We were a little beat up yesterday. Nothing serious except for Randy [Hill], of course. Just the usual bumps and bruises for the day after a game. We kind of limped around running yesterday, but the guys got through it. I am proud of how we're playing."

The Randy Hill season-ending injury and the indefinite suspension to Loren Wade have elevated Hakim Hill, who's playing with a broken arm, to the starting position. Seldom used redshirt freshman Preston Jones is now the backup. Koetter talked about his recruiting process to fill up the other back up spots at tailback. "There are a lot of takers. We were in this very room. 105 players and we said we were having tailback auditions and it was like they were trying to get on `Who Wants to be a Millionaire'," quipped Koetter. "There were all kinds of hands up and I was nervous because Andrew Carnahan and Jimmy Verdon had their hands up too. One of the things we have to realize is we are taking auditions for third team tailback. We have two capable tailbacks, Hakim [Hill] has been a starter in the Pac-10 before, and I know everyone doesn't know Preston Jones. Preston will be fine. We were really excited about Preston in the spring."

"The other guy is Price Wilks," Koetter continued. "We are trying to redshirt Price, but in a jam we can always put him in there. By tomorrow night, we will have a couple other answers. We auditioned lots of players at practice yesterday. We cant be foolish here and take somebody that's in position to help our team somewhere else and convert them into a third team tailback. That wouldn't be smart to do. We have some plans to cover our bases and we will let you know by tomorrow night."

One of the biggest surprises on defense in former linebacker and current defensive tackle Jordan Hill. The ASU head coach didn't spare any praise when talking about the sophomore. "One of the unsung heroes of our fast start is Jordan Hill," Koetter remarked. "Jordan made the switch in spring ball from linebacker at 255 pounds to defensive tackle at 275. We were counting on him to be the third guy in the rotation behind Jimmy (Verdon) and Gabe (Reininger). Gabe had some bad luck in having both his calves operated on in the summer and hurt his knee up in Camp Tontozona. Jordan is one of those guys that has a great motor. He's still learning how to play defensive tackle but if you focus on Jordan Hill, that guy never stops. There's plays where he gets knocked down, stepped on, trampled over and then runs them down from behind and makes the tackle. That guy just has that linebacker mentality. He always seems to be around the ball. Those two fumbles bounced right to him and Jordan is making his own momentum right now and most of it is due to just playing hard."

Whether it's season ending injuries or suspensions to key starters, the 2004 Sun Devil team has not allowed those trials and tribulations to distract them from the task on hand. Koetter spoke about his team's ability to overcome adversity. "That goes clear into last spring with our leadership group," he said. "We got our leadership group to come up with the new definition of what Sun Devil football is in their eyes and what they wanted Sun Devil football to stand for. They came up with ways to describe that because we've been down that road. The three characteristics were preparation, sacrifice and fight adversity. We said there's no fighting adversity in spring football and there's not fighting too much adversity in fall camp. It starts when things happen during the season, particularly with injuries. We have five key players that are out right now. Including Matt Fawley who would be in our starting lineup right now. Of course R.J. Oliver, Brandon Rodd, Randy Hill and now Loren Wade. We have five really good football players that are out, that's fighting adversity. Northwestern coming back on us in the second half on road, that's fighting adversity. Oregon State, getting off to a fast start. We told the team that Oregon State is a fast starting team We're going to have plenty of chances to fight adversity. The fact that players recognize that and embrace that, I think that's a real positive deal. "

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