"There's plenty To Play For" Says Koetter

It would be easy to sulk after an extremely disappointing 55-38 loss to Cal. However the ASU coach, while identifying the team deficiencies that led to this defeat, says that the season by no means is over.

On the injury front, Koetter said that Josh Amobi was cleared for practice, and could play this week at USC. Matt Fawley, who's been practicing for the last couple of weeks, could return to the lineup as well. On the negative side, they're have been two significant casualties. Riccardo Stewart, who has been hobbled by his shoulder virtually all season is most likely done for the season. He will have an MRI that will determine if he'll opt for surgery that will in effect end his season. Cornell Canidate sprained his ankle, and is doubtful for the USC game. Phil Howard will have his knee scoped on Monday, and his availability for the rest of the season is also up in the air. Matt Miller is day to day with a hamstring injury. Jamar Williams had back spasms during the game, and his availability for the USC game is unknown. Injures have depleted not only the depth at linebacker, but also the starters on special teams. Koetter praised players such as Al Williams and Mason Unck who have been playing through pain for several weeks now.

After reviewing the game Koetter said that "There were four plays that cost us the game. The two fumbles, the interception, and the blocked punt. That's a lot of points to give up." He did however praise the defense who "For the first three series gave us three consecutive three and outs. They gave us decent field position." He also mentioned that the defense had no missed tackles in the first half, and that most of the big yards and plays given up by the defense came in the fourth quarter, at a point where the defense was extremely fatigued. Players such as Jason Shivers, R.J. Oliver, Solomon Bates, and Mason Unck each played over 70 snaps. Koetter seem to put more blame on him and the offense (as well as special teams) and less on the defense. "Our defense didn't play poorly, until we got to that desperation stage. There's a point where if your offense doesn't play well, your defense plays with desperation. It's like they're saying ‘If we don't turn over the ball right and score right now – we'll lose.' So they have a tendency to do more than they should. Guys leave a gap open, and the play runs through that gap. A guy tries to strip the ball, instead of making the sure tackle. Our offense and special teams' turnovers had a lot more to do with how things ended up than our defense. Plus, Cal played very well. They were able to stay in their game plan." Koetter also mentioned that he was "embarrassed" that they were six alignment penalties called on his wide receivers.

In order to help the Sun devils' offensive line, which has given up the most sacks in the Pac-10 aside from Arizona, ASU's tight ends and backs have been more committed to pass protection. Has this action taken out those players from the passing game more than the coaches would like to? "At times (it has). The caliber of pass rushers in the Pac-10…you can't survive on 5-6 man protection." Nevertheless, Koetter mentioned that tight end Mike Pinkard had six plays where he was the primary receiver. Speaking of that position, the reason Maddox played ahead of Lee Burghgraef was that Maddox is a better edge blocker, and that's what the game plan called for.

The metal psyche of Dirk Koetter's team will be followed closely all week, but right now there seems no reason to worry about that topic. "I thought the players were alright today. I talked to them about the fact that there were several positives in the game. The three obvious ones were Terrell (Suggs), Shaun (McDonald), and Andrew (Walter) setting significant records. But I'm also taking about Derek Hagan and his blocks, Shane Jones continuing to play well, guys playing hurt more so than they're telling anybody, Drew Hodgon who bounced back after the Washington State game…" Needless to say that the team's resolve will be heavily tested in the next several days. "The pressure on our players to cave in mentally will be huge right now. When were 7-2, tied for the lead in the Pac-10 everything looked rosy. Now we dropped two in a row, and the perception is that the sky is falling. We have to solve this for ourselves, the cavalry isn't riding in." Koetter said that the fact that school is out on Monday in observation of Veterans' Day is a good mental break for the players.

There has been an outcry by some Sun Devil fans about not recognizing the seniors before their last ever home game. Koetter mentions several factors that led to that decision, and some were out of the team's control. "I will actually post something my column (on www.thesundevils.com ). It's an awkward situation where we still have 3 games remaining and it's the last game for our seniors. It felt awkward for us to get all sentimental about this, and still have some games to play, and a lot to do. That coupled with Fox Sports Net who wanted us to come out four minutes earlier than usual. So that coupled with the introduction of 18 Football seniors…we're still gonna have our Football banquet, which the main purpose is to pay homage to the seniors. I never gave it a second thought. A couple of players came up to me during the week and talked about it. I think that they were a little disappointed that their family couldn't be on the field, but they understood that we had a lot still to accomplish. I'm glad that our fans did care about it, and we have to find a way to work around it in the future." Koetter also mentioned that the traditional Friday night speeches at the team hotel were delivered by 14 of the 18 seniors, instead of the special teams captains, and other regulars like Suggs.

After 11 games and two more to go, can the Cal loss be attributed to being mentaly fatigued? "I can't sit over here in good conscious and say this is a cop-out. You can make a case that mentally and physically we're worn down. Our depth is low, we have a lot of injuries compared to last year, we're playing a lot of young guys and they (like any first year player) have the tendency to hit the wall. The mental side comes from a lot of different angles. When these guys aren't here they go out with their friends, and all they want to talk about is Football. You go from not expected to do anything to suddenly you're playing for a Pac-10 title, and now you don't play well. That can wear on the team. That's human nature, and it happens in any walk of life."

Slow starts for the Sun Devils have been all too common, and unfortunately it re-occurred last Saturday. Nevertheless, ASU's signal caller who was sluggish out of the gates, did dramatically improve as the game went on. "We talked a lot about starting fast, and it must have hurt Andrew Walter who was talking about starting fast. I thought he played pretty darn well, and is playing above his experience level. He's making some great plays. Now that we see what he can do, we tend to have high expectations from him. But as the game went on, I counted six throws that were above and beyond the call of duty. It just makes you say ‘Wow'." Having one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, does allow Koetter to implement a wide array of his offensive plays. "From a route perspective the play book has been able to open up more because of Walter's play and the wide receivers'." However, the ASU skipper mentions that the young offensive line has actually caused him to cut out some running plays and protection schemes from the playbook. When asked about the great success that McDonald and Lightfoot had against Cal, Koetter was very complimentary of the Golden Bears who were "Disguising coverages more than any other team we faced this year." Furthermore, the long passing plays to Daryl Lightfoot and McDonald were a result of man-to-man coverage that the ASU's wideouts were able to exploit. Naturally, Walter was throwing the ball very well, but that's not the only aspect of his game that has seen dramatic improvement the last several months "He's standing back more, and knows when to shift his body weight forward. That helps his timing and accuracy. His patience and understanding has improved too. His intangibles are way better than I thought they would be – running the huddle, leadership, the way he talks to the offense, handles himself with the media. He's been tremendous."

The ASU coach said that when he took notes of the seniors speaking on Friday night, he noticed two words that were a recurring in almost every speech – fun and trust. "We still have to trust each other and still have fun when we're playing."

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