Koetter Keeps Season in Perspective

No Sun Devil follower is happy these days following three consecutive losses, and that includes the team's head coach. Nevertheless, when taking a look at the season, which is nearing completion, Dirk Koetter is realistic at how far his team has progressed this year, and how much more is there to look forward to.

"I really do like this Football team." Says Koetter, "We talked about this from the end of last season, that we wanted to be a team that overachieved (this year) and not underachieved, and we already accomplished that. I realize that when we got off to a 4-0 start (in conference play) everybody's expectation level was raised. That's healthy and that's a good thing." According to him, youth and inexperience, along with turnovers are the main contributors to the three-game skid the Devils are experiencing. "When you look back, the last three teams we played have senior quarterbacks. All those three teams have double-digit senior starters. We have four senior starters in those games…our turnover margin in the last three games went from a +8 to a +1. We all want to win. The things that takes to win - we're not doing very well now, like our turnover margin."

When further breaking down that inexperience factor, Koetter mentioned that the last three signal callers ASU has faced have played in 32 games (Jason Gesser), 39 (Kyle Boller), and 41 (Carson Palmer), as opposed to Andrew Walter who just completed his 10th game in the maroon and gold. However, Walter is 4-3 in Pac-10 play as a sophomore, which is noticeably better compared to the sophomore Pac-10 records of Gesser (1-5), Boller (2-6), and Palmer (2-6). "I think that puts it all in perspective. Having senior quarterbacks – that' the M.O. of this league." The ASU coach further expands on the rawness of his squad. "Two of the last three games we played teams ranked in the top 7 in the nation. Would we like to play better? Yes. And we will play better. Just go back and look at our team – we don't have guys that have played those teams successfully in the past. We don't have guys that have won as many games as they have now. I'm disappointed that we're not giving ourselves a chance to win. But I'm not mad at the team, and I refuse to hear people say how bad we are."

On that note, Dirk Koetter is quite pleased with the goals that his set forth for the team in the pre-season, and the rate of their accomplishments "I look at our goals: wining non-conference record-done. Undefeated at home – we didn't get we're 5-2. Beat Arizona – remains to be seen. Winning season – done. Bowl game – probably done. National top 20 ranking – we had for a while, but we dropped out. Pac-10 championship – we didn't get it. So, I'm not gonna mop around here for the next two weeks. We're gonna work on what needs to be corrected."

Speaking of the health of the team, Cornell Canidate is expected to start running on Tuesday. Brett Hudson and Mason Unck will take off a couple of practices so they can rest their ailing ankles. Daryl Lightfoot will have to have more tests on his shoulder, but at this point the tests only show a strain. If that prognosis remains the same he should be ready for Arizona. Matt Miller should be able to practice this week, and be ready for the next game as well. Riccardo Stewart has had his shoulder repaired, but he's still out for the year. Koetter was impressed with the play of Matt Fawley who came back into the lineup after breaking his arm. He was voted player of the week on defense, and Jason Shivers was player of the week on special teams. No offensive player of the week was named for the USC game.

When recapping the game against the Trojans, Koetter said: "The first and the third quarter were the turning points of the game. In the first quarter, we get a good kickoff return that was returned for a penalty. Following a 75-yard punt we get the ball on the 50-yard line and fumble, and they go in for a score. Nine times this year we haven't scored first, and we had a great opportunity over there. In the third quarter we're down by ten, and we had three solid chances to cut it down to three. I have a whole long list of things we did wrong there. If we score, we change the momentum, and it slipped by us." Koetter mentioned three aspect of the game that adversely affected the outcome more than anything: "Mental errors, tacking, and turnovers. All these things add up. Turnovers are the most important thing."

Judging by the success USC had running the ball (200 yards), it would be natural to ask why the defense didn't allign in a 4-3 scheme which has proven successful for the Sun Devils in stopping the run. "When we play the 4-3 alignment, we play it when the other team has two tight ends and one back. If you look at USC they lined up with two backs. I will say that we never seen a back run as hard this year as Justin Fragas. That's a clinic on how a back should run. Like Pete Carroll said in the press conference, he was recovering from injury, so I didn't get to see much of him in film. That guy was way more impressive in person, than what I've seen on film. That's what makes playing USC so difficult. That may have been the only team we've seen that can be patient because they can run or pass. When you take their senior quarterback who played over 40 games, with three excellent wide receivers, and two good running backs they're a very balanced team. All things equal, a balanced team will usually win."

With three consecutive defeats, it would be natural to suspect that the mental state of the team has been in vicious snowball mode since the loss at Washington State. Coach Koetter is quick to dismiss that notion. "I don't think we had a mental breakdown the last three losses. I think that can happen, and I can't speak for all our players, but I think I have a pretty good feel…I know that last season during some of our games we had the ‘Here we go again' feeling on the sidelines. I didn't have that one time last night. We when were in the huddle with eight minutes left, the players on offense were saying ‘let's go down and score and get back into this thing. I've been getting a lot of questions about this the last few weeks, and I feel like I have to defend it. I think that's an excuse. I don't we have that (mental breakdown), and if our players are doing it they're doing a great job disguising it. I do think when you're not playing as well as you can, you get frustrated and try to do too much. Andrew tried to do some things, but the best way I can describe his play was frustrated. He was trying to force the ball, and he was pressured a lot. But he made great plays. He played like a guy in his tenth game a starter…Terrell (Suggs) was frustrated at times. Our expectations of Terrell are huge. I felt that in the first half our team was waiting around for Terrell and Shaun (McDonald) to make some plays. But when you have every team out there watching your films, and do some planning to take Terell and Shaun out of the game…"

Koetter has been lately very complementary of his quarterback, and in recapping the USC game (and the season in general) that theme didn't change. "Andrew did a great job handling the zone blitzing USC had. As the season progressed we put more and more on Andrew Walter because he has shown the ability to handle it. If you go back to the first five games - we were very basic on offense. Last night they were many times where we went with five-man protection. We didn't even have that in our game plan. Every time you take away a man in protection that puts more pressure on the quarterback. He played well in that protection. No question this will pay dividends next year. Make no mistake, we want to the best team we can this year. But the byproduct of Andrew's play, is how much better he'll be down the road. I'm not disappointed in Andrew the person, I'm just disappointed in they we played and I know he can play better than that. I'll never forget in the Pac-10 Media Day, ASU was introduced as the only team without a returning starter at quarterback. I feel great about where we're at today, and I'm happy about our progress. We got a lot of young guys. We have a lot of true freshmen who had a lot of playing time this year."

The ASU skipper plans on trickling down the introduction of the Arizona game plan over the next two weeks. "That's how I always did it with a bye week. I found that it's better to spread out the game plan over two weeks, so everybody has some time to chew on it. They'll be shorter mini variations of the game plan on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Seven coaches will be out recruiting Friday and Saturday. We'll practice Sunday, have Monday off again, and then practice Tuesday, and Wednesday. We're gonna modify the pace of practices, because as much as we want to win the game, we also want to be as healthy as can be. But I have pages of notes of fundamental things that we need to work on."

The turmoil at Arizona is bound to be a recurring theme in the pre-game talk for the duel in the desert. However, Kotter said that he can't even factor that angle into his game preparations. "We prepare for schemes. I'm anxious to watch their game against Cal. It's hard to prepare for psychological or emotional things. I don't pretend to know the physiological state of Arizona. I just didn't have a chance to think about that." Overall, Koetter wants a positive ending to the regular season. "I'm trying to finish the best we can. There's a bunch of scenarios, and in one of them we can go to the Holiday Bowl, if both Washington State and USC move into the BCS bowls. We're certainly in no position to say where which bowl we want to go. We just want to be 5-3 in the Pac-10 - What a great finish that would be for this team."

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