Spring Game is a Whitewash

Time will tell if Rudy Carpenter will be an NFL scout, but in terms of evaluating his own team's talent he struck gold. The quarterback hand-picked running back Shaun Dewitty and receiver Mike Jones during the spring game draft, and the duo combined for 294 yards and three touchdowns, as the White squad defeated the Maroon team 31-7 in the 2006 spring game, in front of 4,000 fans in Sun Devil Stadium.

Rudy Carpenter was 18-35 for 302 yards and four touchdowns, and had a late game pick. Two of his touchdowns were caught by Mike Jones who had seven catches for 142 yards. One of his scores was a 49-yard catch. Shaun DeWitty had his way against defensive tackles Michael Marquardt and Jordan Hill, as he rushed for 121 yards on 22 carries. The redshirt freshman also caught three balls for 21 yards and a touchdown. The fourth touchdown for the white team came via a 33-yard catch by Brandon Smith. Zach Miller tallied 35 yards on four catches.

Sam Keller was 19-31 for 135 yards and an interception for the maroon team. Keegan Herring provided the lone score for his squad on a 9-yard scamper. The sophomore finished the day with 52 yards on eight carries. The leading receiver for the maroon team was Jeff Gray who hauled in six catches for 49 yards. Chris McGaha collected four catches for 24 yards, while Jamaal Lewis amassed three catches for 26 yards.

Despite giving up a lot of yards, the maroon team cornerback tandem of Chris Baloney and Justin Tryon played well. Tryon had a forced fumble and a pass breakup in the end zone. Payton played well too with a sack and a pass breakup of his own. Wes Evans had a sack, and Uriah Marshall collected an interception.

Defensive end Tranell Morant, who had a great scrimmage a week earlier, was once again a terror up front with a sack and a tackle for loss. Rodney Cox had a forced fumble, and Josh Barrett, possibly the best player on defense all spring, recovered the aforementioned drop. Barrett also had a crucial pass breakup on fourth down. Grant Crunkleton had an interception, and Rudy Burgess a pass breakup.

Jesse Ainsworth made all his extra point attempts, including one from 35-yards which followed an excessive celebration penalty. He also converted on his lone field goal attempt from 39 yards out. Nate Kimbrough, playing with an injured hamstring, returned a punt 78 yards for a score.

DeWitty's play on Saturday was very indicative of how he has played the last few weeks, and the running back was naturally pleased. "I've been pretty happy with how spring has went," he said. "The line has been blocking for me, and I've been working on staying confident and running hard." On whether he has made a case for a starting position, he replied: "I feel like I'm improving, but I'm not the one who makes the call. I just need to continue to get better everyday. Being confident has helped me in a big way, and the line blocking is always important."

"That is an excellent battle right now," said head coach Dirk Koetter about the competition at running back between DeWitty and Keegan Herring. "DeWitty is right up there as one of the most improved players this spring. Part of that is just being healthy and his confidence. Overall, Keegan had a good spring as well. He does have some things he needs to get better at. You have to give Keegan credit because we are out there throwing him passes and he is playing with that big cast on his hand, too."

The most talked position battle continues to be the quarterback one, and the Sun Devil skipper continued to maintain his stance on how positive this competition has been. "It says we have two excellent quarterbacks and I'm happy about it," he commented on the play of both of his signal callers. "I thought both quarterbacks made good decisions today…I'm the happiest guy in America. We have two great quarterbacks … Don't you wish we had this problem at every position? How good would we be? It is the greatest thing in the world."

Koetter was naturally pleased with Mike Jones, who capped off a solid spring with an outstanding performance on Saturday. "Mike Jones has been our most consistent wide receiver all spring and he showed that again today," claimed Koetter. "Brandon Smith - I think you can see flashes being an outstanding player. We need to get Brandon more consistent. The wide receivers were still pretty inconsistent today – we're still dropping way too any balls. If you're dropping balls, you won't be in the rotation and you'll be standing next to me watching the game from the sidelines. Our receiving crew when we get it all put together will be fine." Koetter added that while receiver Jamaal Lewis was making progress, tight end Dane Guthrie has been a disappointment in the spring.

Rudy Burgess has once again showed his versatility, as he played well at his new cornerback position. "I'm very pleased with how that went," stated Koetter, "because now I know Rudy can play three positions. I know he can play tailback, I know he can play wideout and I know he can play corner and that is going to give us a lot of flexibility in the fall in terms of how we plug him in. You can see when Rudy plays corner he is still a playmaker. He does not give up big plays. He is just a smart football player and a really valuable guy to have."

Speaking of cornerbacks, the ASU head coach also praised starters Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney. "I know Chris Baloney gave up some plays today, but Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney are the real deal at cornerback," said Koetter. "I'm excited about those JC corners. If they can get the job done then Rudy will be playing on offense. If we get in an injury situation then this spring will be very well worth the price of training him at corner. We get Chad Green and Keno Walter-White back, and I would want Rudy to play on offense. We'll just have to wait and see."

Versatility definitely defines Mike Nixon too, who aside from playing safety, has also practiced at middle linebacker and kicker. Thus, what is the best position for this former baseball player? "The best position for him is the position he can help our team at the most," replied Koetter. "Right now we're strong at safety with Catanese, Barrett, Payton and Cox. We have four excellent players at safety. Nixon can get in there in the mix, but his final position will be determined when those five linebackers get in here in the fall. Nixon is a guy like Rudy Burgess or Jamaal, he's so smart and we can plug him in where we need him."

Linebacker Robert James missed spring game, and for that matter all of last week, due to personal reasons. "Family has to come first," said Koetter. "He didn't do anything to violate his standing on the team." Aside from James, eight injured players sat out spring game, which was better than the nineteen that were sidelined last year. "The other guys that get reps – that's what's gonna make you stronger in the fall," said Koetter. "We're a deeper team…"I'm excited. I wish we could take a week off and get into fall camp, but that is not the way it works."

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