When It Mattered The Most Walter Came Through

ASU's senior signal caller took the offense on a wild roller coaster ride against UCLA. Starting the game with one of his worst displays of his career, Andrew Walter came back in the fourth quarter with a vengeance and led the Sun Devils to a much-needed win. In their weekly press conference Walter and Dirk Koetter talked about last Saturday's contest and looked forward to the game at Cal.

The ASU head coach acknowledged both Walter's shortcomings and virtues that were displayed against the Bruins. "Andrew was extremely ugly at times in the game," said Koetter. "But in the fourth quarter, what he did in the last seven minutes, there are not many people who can do that. That pass to Derek Hagan, there are not many people that can make that throw. A pump-fake one way and then throw it 50 yards on a dime the other way. For Andrew to throw three picks, which equals his whole season and also six touchdowns in the same game, Andrew surprised me."

"The first touchdown to Derek, the 79-yarder, when you watch that on film, Andrew scrambles, gets spun-around and then kind of sidearm wings it down the middle of the field," Koetter continued. "All of a sudden we are in the end zone. I think Andrew is always capable. We threw for over 400 yards in that game, and we look at the tape and we should have thrown for 600 yards. We went in to the game saying we have to run it. So how do you figure that?"

Walter claimed that when he's trailing in a game in it waning moments, improvisation overcomes calculation, and in some instances like last Saturday it works to perfection. "When the game is on the line and you don't have anything to lose," he said, "you play a lot differently. We were down by two scores in the fourth quarter and so we sort of had to throw everything in the game plan out the window. The calls ended up being perfect considering UCLA's defensive sets combined with a great effort from Terry (Richardson). It was guys just stepping up and saying `let's go do it.'"

Even though the victory was probably harder than it should have been, the Sun Devil skipper stated that one major accomplishment couldn't be denied. "The silver lining of the UCLA game is," he said, "seven weeks into the season, we are bowl eligible and that's something we all know we weren't last year. We know we are going to be in a bowl game. We talked to the team yesterday about every time you win you bump yourself up another notch on the bowl ladder."

The depth at running back has been a juggling act for a few weeks now, and on Saturday it reached a new level, when not even one scholarship running back played in the game. How many adjustments did the coaching staff need to make at that position? "A lot more than you will ever know," said Koetter in response to a question. "As the week unfolded that combination of Preston Jones, Chad (Christensen), Lee (Burghgraef), Rudy (Burgess) and Antoine (Saulsberry), who all played tailback in the game, we really had no idea who was going to be in there. Antoine Saulsberry played tailback for three days. All of those guys have strengths and all of them have liabilities. None of them have really played tailback in a game. I mean played real tailback, meaning running between the tackles, blocking a defensive end or a linebacker. So I didn't know how all of that was going to work. I thought the offensive coaching staff did a great job of having that organized." Koetter was non-committal as the depth chart at tailback or whether Hakim Hill will end his suspension this week.

In the last couple of weeks, The Sun Devil defense has definitely not played at the same level as it did earlier in the season. Koetter offered some explanations. "First off, we have played two pretty decent offenses," he explained. "USC and UCLA are pretty good offensive teams and we are going to play another pretty good offense this week that may be better than both of them. Part of it is we are playing good offenses. Secondly, in the last two weeks our offense has turned the ball over five times. When in the first five games I don't think we turned the ball over more than two times in that five game span. We have given our own defense the short field. The kicking game has also given our defense the short field. We played against excellent tailbacks that make tackling difficult and we are going to play against an excellent tailback again this week."

"Our lack of depth on defense is starting to show up," Koetter continued. "We played 80 snaps on defense and 88 snaps on offense, which is above average in both areas. We got warn down a little bit. First off our captain on defense Ricardo Stewart was out and then Josh Barrett goes in and gets hurt, so Maurice London plays three-quarters of the game, who I thought did a nice job and had nine or 10 tackles. But it's not like we are substituting guys in there. Those linebackers are playing every single play. But I just think it's a combination of better offenses, turnovers, field position and wearing down a little bit. I think all of those things have affected us, but with all that said, when the defense needed three and outs at the end of the game and in the third quarter they got the job done."

Many think of Cal only in terms of having an excellent offense. However, their defense has proven their worth this year, and this hasn't gone unnoticed by the ASU coaches. "They don't beat themselves," Koetter remarked. "They are an excellent tackling team on defense, they get off blocks very well, they will blitz you, play a soft zone, they mix it up, and they play extremely hard. So if you look just at the stat sheet, nobody is doing really great. They aren't giving up points; they aren't giving up rush yards. Then you think to yourself that you should be able to pass against them, but you look at the stats and nobody is lighting them up there either. They are going to present some challenges, but what a great position for us, what a great opportunity for us. I think our guys are pretty confident in what we are doing too."

Another challenge, that can equally affect both teams, is having similar offenses. "I think we know each other's tendencies a lot," said Koetter. "Both teams will try to give each other a few different looks. But it still comes down to execution. I thought we had a good game plan for Cal last year and we got blown out of the water. That comes out of how hard you play and turnovers and those types of things. But, especially this late in the year when you see each other on tape you know each other's tendencies already. I'm sure there will be some new wrinkles there on both sides."

Walter has been very impressed by his counterpart Aaron Rodgers, who leads the conference in pass efficiency, and is second in the nation in that category. "He's a fundamentally sound quarterback," Walter commented. "He is someone in which the Cal coaching staff can rely on throws a lot of short passes. He uses timing within the system and he plays awesome. He does everything they ask of him, I'm sure. He's had a great couple of seasons."

Consistency on the other hand had eluded Walter and his teammates. The quarterback offered his remedy to the situation. "I think focus has a lot to do with it," he explained. "It (the UCLA game) was an emotional game and I think sometimes if you let your emotions get to you, you can tend to lose a little bit of focus. When we can keep those in check when the game is on the line, we won't bleed IQ points. You bleed out of your cleats. If you can keep your emotions together, then you won't start making those mental mistakes."

"I think guys can retain that when we've done a great job of preparing all week in practice," Walter continued. "I assume we'll do the same this week. When we keep emotions in check to a point where it doesn't start affecting guys mentally, I think that is also a big part of being prepared."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories