Miscues Plague Devils in Loss to UNC

Missed field goals, penalties, turnovers – any and all of those factors contributed to the Sun Devils 38-35 loss to the Tar Heels. Despite out gaining the visitors 657-478 in offensive yards, ASU somehow found a way to come up empty in their last out of conference game of the season.

Quarterback Andrew Walter's numbers were quite impressive on the night. The sophomore was 24-45 for 474 yards. However, the fact that he had no touchdowns, lost a fumble, and had two picks tarnishes those numbers. He would probably be the first to admit that he played below average, and missed key throws that he would otherwise make. One of the lone positives to come out of this game was the improvement on the Sun Devils' ground game. The team finished with 183 yards, led by Mike Williams and Hakim Hill who had 73 and 56 yards respectively. Both backs also scored two touchdowns each, and made a very strong case to replace Cornell Canidate in the starting lineup, who scored once before leaving the game with an injury. It's been a while since two ASU receivers finished with 100 yards receiving each, and Saturday night was one of those rare occasions. Shaun McDonald amassed 156 yards, while Skyler Fulton had 122 of his own. Daryl Lightfoot was close to the century mark with 91 yards, and Hill trailed slightly behind with 81. On the night, it was bad throws more than dropped passes that prevented the Sun Devil wide outs from gaining more yards, and ultimately scoring.

While the ASU defense did a stellar job containing the Tar Heels' rushing attack, limiting the visitors to 61 yards, they were exposed in the passing game to the tune of 417 yards. Cornerback R.J. Oliver, who had four pass breakups, prevented North Carolina's main receiving thereat Sam Aiken from being a factor in the game. However, Oliver's counterparts which consisted of a revolving door of Brett Hudson, Josh Golden, And Mike Davis failed to stop the other Heels' wide out Chesley Borders who had 192 yards on only nine catches, to go along with his four touchdowns. Quarterback Darian Durant threw for a career 417 yards on 25-40. His two fourth quarter comeback drives, along with his timely rushing yards more than negated the two interceptions he threw and the six sacks he suffered on the evening. Jason Shivers, Mason Unck, and Ricardo Stewart all had double-digit tackle performances with 13,12, and 11 respectively. Stewart also recorded a sack and an interception. However, it was Terrell Suggs who had the biggest night on this side of the ball with four sacks, which helped him eclipsed last season's total of ten with more than half of the 2002 schedule still ahead. The defensive end has 12 sacks on the year and is second all time in ASU's list with 32. Another solid contributor was Al Williams who had eight tackles, three of them for a loss.

The ASU coaches will be the first ones to admit that the special teams performance was horrendous, and that may be a gross understatement. Kicker's Mike Barth four missed field goals could have easily helped his team escape with a victory. Every other punt return seemed to be muffed, failing to capitalize on North Carolina's poor punting game. On the other hand, ASU's punter Tim Parker turned in another stellar performance with an average of 47.3 yards a punt. If this officiating crew never found its way again to Sun Devils stadium, no ASU fan will shed any tears. The Sun Devils were called for 9 penalties good for 100 yards. Many of those penalties were highly questionable and were absolute momentum killers for the home team. Furthermore, the several no-calls against the Devils and the overall officiating inconsistency were more irritating than having no air conditioning in July. Nonetheless, the zebras can't take all of the blame for this defeat. The fact that ASU coughed up the ball three times and failed to capitalize on North Carolina's own turnovers was detrimental when all was said and done.

Every season teams will have a game that just wasn't meant to be won. One can only hope that Sun Devils got this necessary evil out of its system in the North Carolina game. The cynics will say that ASU's first home defeat of the 2002 season will bring back the team to reality, after a resounding victory in their Pac-10 opener. A loss in non-conference play won't mean as much as a Pac-10 one. Now it's time for Dirk Koetter's team to regroup, correct its mistakes, and prepare for an arguably better opponent in Oregon State. A win against the Beavers at home, could restore the confidence that was shattered against the Tar Heels, and wipe the perception that the Sun Devils, are headed to another disappointing season…

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