ASU Coach Dirk Koetter started his post-game press conference by paying tribute to his Holiday Bowl opponent, as well as the event organizers. "First of all I'd like to congratulate Kansas State. They have an excellent Football team. I'd like to also thank the Holiday Bowl for a great week in San Diego, and for taking a chance on a team that nobody thought would be here. I'd like to thank our fans who showed up tonight in a big way. I wanted to congratulate our team and our 18 seniors. They did a great job competing tonight. One of our mottos is compete with passion and character, and we certainly did that tonight. I'd like to complement my coaching staff for the job they did preparing this Football team."
When asked about his preparation for the Wildcats, he said that he didn't take any unique approach: "We prepared for them like we did for any other team. We you exchange every single game film, and you have a month to prepare for a team, then you should be able to figure out something to do. Kansas State has a tremendous defense that has a fast flow and aggressive defense. We tried to go against the grain on a few things…I think the best thing about our game plan was how the defensive coaches changed up, and came out with the 4-3 (alignment). We did keep them off balance for most of the game, but we did give up a few big plays. We said that if they beat us throwing the ball so be it, but we had to do everything in our power to stop the running game." The ASU skipper added that he wasn't disappointed with his ground game since "Nobody has been able to run the ball on them. We're not exactly known to be a power running team, but I think we got better against Arizona. I thought we ran the ball at times OK, and maybe should have run the ball more a little more than we did. But you have to trust your game plan and stick to it, and we did that."
Naturally, the competitive coach didn't gain any solace in losing to one of the country's best teams, in what was a highly competitive game. "We're disappointed. We had opportunities to make plays, and didn't make them sometimes. I'm very pleased with our effort and they way we competed. But we came here to win, not to stay close." Nevertheless, Koetter put this loss and the whole season in a very positive perspective. "This is the sixth team out of 14 games that at one point or another was in the top 10 in the nation. Let's not forget that we were picked as the ninth team in the conference and here we are at the second place bowl game, and finished third in the Pac-10. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We've come a long way in this program. We were a team divided a year ago, and now we're a family. When you're a family you don't beat yourself on the inside. Very rarely does a team leave it on the field, and tonight we did that."
Now that the season has concluded the million dollar question on every Sun Devil mind is if Terrell Suggs will be back for his senior year. Koetter offered his viewpoint. "I've spent time with Terrell and his family. I told him that I'm 100% behind him as is everybody else in the Arizona State program. Terrell has a difficult decision. I'd love to have him back. He needs to make the best decision for him and his family and not look back. Terrell is a Sun Devil for live no matter what happens. If he stays, we have a great Heisman campaign for him next season…We have plans to play him at tailback, tight end, kick returner, punter (smile)…"
The player in question didn't have any new insight to offer on his tough choice: "I don't know right now. I just finished playing with my brothers out there, and this is the hardest decision I ever had in my life. I really don't know yet, but it didn't feel like my last game. When I get back I'll sit down with my Mom, decide what to do, and just act on it."
Quarterback Andrew Walter didn't think that his team's performance was a coming of age statement, but he thinks "We showed people that we could play with everybody in the nation. It's more a case of people recognizing what we already knew about ourselves." The low key signal caller said that he usually doesn't show emotions during his interviews, but it was hard for him to hold back amid the lack of respect that the media was showing the Sun Devils. "I was pretty irritated with people not giving us any respect from day one. Coming here we were the biggest underdogs of any bowl game, and that irritated me too. We saw guys saying that they were gonna blow us out, and that's just fuel for our fire. The same guys that said it was gonna be a blowout are the same guys that said we're gonna be ninth in the Pac-10. Obviously, they have no idea what they're talking about and just added fuel to our fire."
Walter said that even though ASU will probably be favored in most of their games in 2003, the change from the usual underdog status won't cause him to be complacent.
"It helps when you have a chip on your shoulder, but even when you're the favorite I still believe it's a matter of respect. If we're favored by 30, I want to win by 40. I think it's always gonna be the case. As long as I am around, I'm gonna communicate to the players that it's never enough. You can never be favored by enough, and if you're the underdogs you have to play with a chip on your shoulder. There's always something there to get."
Senior receiver Justin Taplin didn't have the type of ASU career he envisioned when he came to ASU. Nevertheless, he played well in his last game in the maroon and gold. "I gotta a little playing time because of an unfortunate injury to Skyler (Fulton). I was trying to replace him as well as I could. I felt real good during practices doing my punt returns, but I started the game a little shaky. As the game went on, and I got more opportunities, I was more comfortable." Taplin attributed the poor offensive performance in the second half to miscommunication. However, he acknowledged that Kansas State has: "A great defense, and I can't say enough about #4 (Terrance Newman). The ball just didn't bounce our way…We always knew that they were a great team. But we didn't pay attention to that ridiculous underdog stuff."
Another senior who had a disappointing Sun Devil career, but played well in the Holiday Bowl was linebacker Solomon Bates: "It was tough loss. Everybody had us counted out, but we knew that we were capable of winning, and we almost did it tonight. We played hard, and you have to tip your hat to K-State. They have a great team." When further asked about the play of both teams, Bates kept on complimenting his opponent. "Their offensive line did a great job protecting the quarterback. They gave him and their running backs good lanes to run, and gave him time to complete his throws. He came up big when he had to throw…We had them where we wanted them. We didn't let them run, and they did things that they don't like doing like checking off a lot at the line. But they came up with big catches when they put the ball up in the air, and that hurt us. It's hard to play a quarterback that can run really well and complete big passes."
Bates is a natural middle linebacker, who mostly had trouble adapting to the 4-2-5 scheme, which doesn't call for that position. To combat the Wildcats' proficient running game, the ASU alignment was changed to a 4-3-4, and the senior got to play his last Sun Devil game in his natural spot. "We knew that we could stop the running game, playing the 4-3 with our three senior linebackers. But we didn't put enough pressure on them when they put the ball in the air. It was a good showing for me playing a good running team, and I got to show what I can do in my last game as a Sun Devil. It was a great way to go out. But the only way I really look at this is that I could have played better, and we should have won it. So, it's really disappointing."
Despite the fact that he'll be leaving the program, he discussed the bright future that awaits his now former teammates. "We talked about it in the locker room that we set the bar high now for Arizona State. It's a double-digit win season from here on out. We have a lot of good young guys that will be good in the future. 2002 just put us in the right direction. I know I'm leaving a great team." It was hard for Bates to shift his thoughts from his college career that just ended, to his future career in the pros. "Oh man, I'm not sure I can even think about that now (smile). Us seniors were talking about how fast all these years at ASU went by. We told the younger guys not to take it for granted. I don't know how long it will take me to be in that (NFL) frame of mind…"
Holiday Bowl Quotes
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