"We practiced four times in the bye week, and the good news is that, we got some people back healthy that may not have been able to play if we had a game last week," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter in his weekly press conference. "Grayling Love, Stephen Berg, Jamar Williams and Nick Clapp all came back. Kyle Caldwell was out because of that shoulder injury that he got in the first half of the Oregon game. We anticipate all of those guys being back and healthy, plus several other guys that have been able to heal up."
On the other hand, Randy Hill and Jamaal Lewis look to be out for at least the next two weeks. "Randy Hill has been having problems with his knee that he had repaired a year ago," stated Koetter. "The doctors had to go in and scope Randy's knee and remove some scar tissue. We hope to get him back in a couple of weeks, but he's definitely out for right now…last Wednesday night in practice, Jamaal Lewis separated his shoulder diving for a ball. He made so many diving catches in practice and games, but this time he just landed on it wrong. We hope to have Jamaal back for the Washington State game, but he's out for a while for sure."
The injury raising the most concern, is that of signal caller Sam Keller. As of Monday afternoon, his status was unknown. The junior was scheduled to have his thumb re-examined later that day. "After the Oregon game, (team trainers) put a brace on his thumb until today, when he gets evaluated," Koetter explained. "He's been like a caged animal in practice. He says the thumb feels great, there's no pain, and the swelling has gone down. Team trainers haven't let him grip a football since the Oregon game. He's wearing a metal plate to hold the thumb joint. Sam's been wearing that, and holding a football telling me he can throw it. On Tuesday he said ‘I can throw.' On Wednesday ‘I can throw.'…If it's up to Sam, he's going (to play). The doctors have to make a decision on the severity of it and we'll have to see what they say."
Koetter added that Rudy Carpenter has been getting all of the first team reps in practice, while Chad Christensen has been practicing with the two's. "If Sam can't go, I'm confident that Rudy can go in his place," said Koetter. "I'm happy with the way Rudy is playing right now."
With having a bye week, last week's practices were a mixture of game planning and working on fundamentals. "We probably installed about 75% of our game plan and we devoted about 30 minutes a day out of a two-hour practice to Stanford," Koetter remarked. "The other hour and a half was fundamentals. We spent about 20 minutes a day, both on offense and defense, trying to do a better job of defending two-back runs and doing a better job of running the ball downhill on offense. I think that will pay off for us in the second half."
"I think the bye week was good for our guys mentally," Koetter continued. "Our practice last night (Sunday) was the best since we got back from Camp Tontozona. Our guys had good energy and were excited to be out there. I think watching all those games on TV. makes you realize how much you really love college football."
Stanford is entering this week on the heels of back-to-back conference road wins. The Sun Devil skipper admired the manner in which they have achieved their recent victories. "They are playing a very straightforward brand of football right now," he commented. "They're not doing anything tricky, they're just lining up and beating people. On offense, they're not turning the ball over. They're using what they have and they're putting the ball in the quarterback's hands. Trent Edwards is the guy making all the plays at quarterback. He is throwing the ball very efficiently and, in the last two games, he's rushed for sixty to seventy-five yards. He's not running on designed runs, he's running on quarterback scrambles. They have got a veteran offensive line and lots of two-back runs, way more two-back than we have seen from anyone else this year."
"On defense, they play a 3-4, which again is unusual. They were an odd defense a year ago. Even though he changed coordinators, Coach Harris brought in an odd defensive guy. Because of recruiting, they decided to stay with that odd defensive system; scheme-wise, they're the same. Their strength is their linebackers. Outside linebacker John Alston had three sacks against Arizona last week. Their corner, T.J. Rushing. is one of the leading kick returners in the country. They're solid on special teams. They're playing a lot of close games and they've won three out of four. They're like us, they've lost a couple games at home and they have won two in a row on the road."
While the Cardinal's alignment may be unusual, their scheme can be vulnerable for opposing running attacks, as Arizona State and Rudy Burgess proved last year. "We're a zone blocking team and the zone running scheme was designed to attack a 3-4 defense and we're a zone running team," Koetter explained. "We ran the ball the best we ran it all of last year against Stanford. Rudy Burgess had just under 200 yards in that game. Last year against Stanford was the first time we ran the stretch play all season, and we run it about 25 times that game. This year, every team is running that play against them. The 3-4 defense, regardless of who plays it, sets up better for a guy like Rudy, than maybe a 4-3 defense. They also have an extensive nickel package, so they can do it both ways."
It goes without saying that effective blocking up front will heavily determine the efficiency of the ground attack. ASU's right side of the offensive line has been occupied by second stringers Chaz White and Leo Talavou. The recipe for improvement on that side of the line, according to Koetter, centers on one specific aspect.
"The main thing that we had to get better at between Leo and Chaz, and that also incorporates the center and the tight end when there's a tight end on that side, is that they have to communicate more and communicate better," stated the ASU head coach. "In the Oregon game, the lack of communication cost us a few times. We have to make sure that we're making the call, and the guard and tackle are blocking the same way. We have seen progress in practice along those lines." Koetter added that because those two players haven't played together for an extensive period of time, there was a lack of chemistry that has plagued both of them as well.
Following two straight conference losses, one can wonder if the squad's confidence has wavered as a result. Koetter claimed that the answer won't be known until it manifests itself on the playing field this Saturday. "I feel like we're still a good football team, but we have to prove it on Saturday," he said. "We weren't that same football team against Oregon, and that's not to take anything away from Oregon."
Some may call the Stanford game a must-win situation for the Sun Devils. In Koetter's opinion, no one game is more important than the other, and the focus should naturally be centered only on this week's contest. "We can't worry about what's going to happen four or five games from now," he explained. "We have to worry about just this game and getting back to playing the way we can. With what's happened the last couple of weeks in this league and with whom everybody else still has to play, every game is of the utmost importance. Our team knows what we have at stake and we just have to worry about what we have at stake this week and that's getting back in the win column."
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