Koetter announced the scout team players of the week: On offense it was running back Randy Hill, on special teams it was linebacker Jordan Hill, and on defense Tyrone Bowers received the honors. Bowers' selection was peculiar, since he played against Stanford. "Tyrone played a fair amount in the second half last Saturday at linebacker. He came here last year as a J.C. transfer walk-on from Santa Barbara City College where he played cornerback. He wanted to play safety here but we wanted him to play linebacker. He does a great job on the scout team and with us having three linebackers out, Tyrone found himself as the fourth linebacker. He got a few plays in there and did a good job." The ASU coach praised the linebacker's perseverance who "stuck it out for two years."
Game balls on offense went out to quarterback Andrew Walter, and offensive tackle Regis Crawford (who received the highest grade from the coaches). On the defensive side of the ball defensive end Jimmy Verdon got the nod. "Jimmy Verdon had his second excellent game. Jimmy is really playing well on the front four. He played well at San Diego State and played very well again Saturday." Other defensive honors went to linebacker Mason Unck. The special teams game ball went to Riccardo Stewart, who has been having a stellar season so far. "He's all over the field and if everyone on our team played at the same speed as Riccardo, we'd really be in business because that guy is playing hard." Crawford, Unck, and Verdon were named team captains for the North Carolina game.
After a 41-point victory, the ASU skipper was naturally pleased with his squad. "I'm very, very excited about how our team played on Saturday. I'm excited because we won as a team, and we played well in all phases. Sure, we had mistakes; you always will. We got off to not the best of starts and we talked about starting fast. We did start faster than we have, we've been behind at halftime, but these guys are starting to believe in each other and believe in what we're doing." Koetter praised his players for playing as they were being coached, which he believes is the biggest positive going for the team right now.
The second year coach sees many parallels between the Sun Devils and its upcoming opponent. "When he (North Carolina's coach) describes his team, it is a lot how we are: we're young. North Carolina is extremely, extremely athletic. When you see these guys on Saturday, you'll see that these guys look like a NFL team. They are a great looking football team. The reason they are 1-3 right now is because they are minus eight in turnovers on the season. We are plus nine. That is the whole difference. It is the biggest indicator in wins and losses in college football." Specifically, Koetter is impressed with Darian Durant the Tar Heels' signal caller. "Their quarterback is a great athlete. He can run and pass. He's their second leading rusher. They do things to highlight his athleticism. They have an awesome wide receiver and they are a talented, talented team. He talked about how young they are in their front seven. One thing that they do different from other teams we have played is that they match up different with our personnel groups. For example, if we have two backs and two tight ends in the game, they will play with four down lineman, four linebackers, and three defensive backs. They are very good at it because they have a lot of athletes to do that with."
Wrapping up his opening statement, the Sun Devils coach portrayed the game on Saturday as "An excellent test for us. I wish we were playing a conference game, but it doesn't really matter. The schedule is what it is and we have to play them as they come. This is the first of a two game series; we will go to North Carolina next year. We look forward to going back there next year, but we're going to have our hands full this week and we have to just keep getting better."
Being that the Stanford win was the biggest in Koetter's short tenure in Tempe, the concerns of his team being overconfident for this game have been raised. Koetter sarcastically said: " I'm counting on the media to do a great job of not letting us be complacent this week. Just help me out because we can't afford to be complacent, I promise you that." One issue that he does take seriously are the large number of yards given up so far by the defense, as well a luke warm running game on offense. "For us to be the type of team that we want to be, we have to do a better job of running the ball on offense, and we have to do a better job of stopping the run on defense. That game on Saturday, we had everything that could possibly go right for us go right and we got a big lead on offense. I'm sure that Stanford was taken somewhat out of their game plan. Since Nebraska we haven't gone against a team that has come out and slung it down our throats. We will see a team that is going to do that, they might not do it from a wishbone formation or something like that, but we will see a team that's going to test us…our defense is built around stopping the run, but we just haven't seen that very much this year." Nevertheless, Koetter says that the offense is taking what the opposing defenses are giving them. "The more guys you have to commit to stopping the run, the more that opens up the pass. That is exactly what Stanford tried to do to us. They committed their safeties to try to stop the run on us on Saturday and we were able to throw it downtown a little bit…does that (problems with the running game) concern us? Yeah, it sure does. The yards part doesn't really matter; it still comes back to the turnovers. Our team is good enough to go 80 yards at four yards a pop. There are a lot of defensive coaches out there that think that offenses are not patient enough to go four or five yards all the way down the field. I think that there is a lot of truth in that."
When asked about his views of North Carolina's defense, he replied: " They were hyping #18 (cornerback Michael Waddell) for preseason All-American, but they actually benched him during the Georgia Tech game. When they play with the nickel and dime sets, they have a lot of defensive backs that are getting in there. What jumps out at me watching their secondary is what good catch-up speed they have…their free safety, #24 (Dexter Reid), is their leading tackler. One of our coaches talked to one of the Texas coaches and they felt that the whole key to their game plan was controlling the free safety. They use him as a blitzer and, a lot like how we use Riccardo Stewart and Jason Shivers, they use him all over the field."
The ASU linebackers have been very impressive in the 2002 campaign, and Koetter was more than happy to offer his compliments. "I think that throughout the whole season, Josh (Amobi), Mason (Unck), and Solomon (Bates), when he's been in there, and the guy who has been the most pleasant surprise, true freshman Jamar Williams, are key factors of what make our defense go. It's been a different guy every week that has made the plays. This week it was Mason. Mason might have played the best game, in the two years that we've been here, last Saturday. Mason stripped the ball and Josh recovered two of them. I gave him a hard time that he should have scored on one. We are happy with our linebacker play…we just don't have great depth at linebacker. We gave Tyrone Bowers and Connor Banks some reps at backup linebacker. We are nervous about the depth, but pleased with how they are playing."
It was emotional for many on the field and in the stands to see wide receiver Daryl Lightfoot score his first ever ASU touchdown, in his first game back from a personal leave of absence. That feeling of moving elation didn't skip Dirk Koetter. "It sounds corny to say this, but when Daryl scored that touchdown, there are some times when that tear comes right to your eye. I did a forty-yard dash down the sideline, but there were so many guys ahead of me that I just couldn't get to Daryl fast enough. That kid has been through a lot and that meant a lot to him. You can't appreciate the struggles that kid has been through emotionally in the past year and a half…. Daryl is a kid where a lot of his self worth is tied up in how he is perceived as a football player. That really is a sad commentary on our society, but it's the truth nonetheless. For where Daryl has been, for him to help our team in general and to make a big play, he gives us another guy who can do that. I just couldn't be happier and you could tell that was pure emotion for our players. Shaun [McDonald] makes a zillion touchdowns in his career, but the other players were all over Daryl on that and it was awesome for me to see."
Playing a non-conference game in the midst of the conference schedule usually does create some apprehension for coaches. However, Koetter rather not worry about issues such as scheduling." We'd rather be playing a conference game, but when you set out to play your season, there they are laid out for you, 13 games, and you don't have any control over it. USC and Stanford traditionally have games against Notre Dame that pop up in the middle of the season. There's just nothing you can do about it…it doesn't really matter if you would or you wouldn't Play a non-conference game in the middle of the season), you can't whine about it. We play North Carolina. If we, in any phase, think that we can take North Carolina for granted, we'll get beat on Saturday. We're just not that type of team that can say we're going to go on cruise control for a week and jump back into conference play against Oregon State. Would we rather play a conference game? Sure, but will we be excited to play North Carolina this week? Absolutely."
Coach Koetter's Press Conference Notes
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