UA/ASU: From a Devil's perspective

So what do the Devils have? Instead of having a Wildcat beat writer profile the Sun Devils, Cat Tracks enlisted an ASU expert to profile the dreaded rival to the North.

In recent years, the annual "Duel in the Desert" has lost most of its luster, due to the mediocrity that has set down on both Arizona State and the University of Arizona. Unfortunately, this trend has continued this year. Both schools enter their meeting this week each with only one conference win to their credit. It has been a long and agonizing class in the school of hard knocks, for ASU's first year head coach Dirk Koetter. Koetter and his staff would love nothing more to sweeten this bitter year, with a win over the Sun Devils' archrival.

On offense, ASU has mostly lived up to the billing of a Koetter high-octane style. The Devils rank third in the conference in total offense, and quarterback Jeff Krohn has ranked all season as the Pac-10's most efficient passer. However, the sophomore has been hobbled for weeks now by various injuries. His status for the game is still up in the air, and backups Andrew Walter and Matt Cooper will likely see some action of their own. The primary beneficiary of ASU's pass-happy offense is receiver Shaun McDonald. The sophomore leads the conference with 107.6 yards a game, and his ten touchdowns ranks fourth in total scoring. The running game that has been an ASU staple for years, has sputtered in the last few weeks. Senior Delvon Flowers is the fifth leading rusher in the Pac-10 with 94.8 yards a game and eight touchdowns, as well as fourth in all-purpose yards. However, they have been few games where ASU's running game was a viable threat toopposing defenses.

A new 4-2-5 scheme employed by the Devils' defense, has regressed what used to be a stout ASU defense last year. Although the Sun Devils' rank near the middle of the conference in most defensive categories, their performance has been less than average all season long. The star on defense is the 2000 Pac-10 freshman of the year Terrell Suggs. The defensive end ranks first in fumbles forced, and second in both sacks and tackles for loss. Due to the overall ineptitude of the ASU defense, no other player on the defensive line is able to step up when Suggs is doubled team. The linebackers have been shells of their former selves, especially Solomon Bates. The mostly young secondary has struggled with the conference's superior quarterbacks and receivers. Their ranking as dead last in the Pac-10 in red zone defense speaks for itself. However, true freshman Jason Shivers has been a lone bright spot all season and leads his team with tackles – a rare feat for a first year player.

Tom Osborne was hired from Oregon to duplicate the Ducks' excellence on special teams in Tempe. After a rocky start, this unit has been playing solid and is no longer a weak link for the Devils. ASU is second is kickoff returns and punting, and right around the middle of the Pac in field goals and punt returns. Nevertheless, one area of difficulty all year has been the kickoff coverage. Arizona's excellent kickoff returner Gary Love stands to have a big day if the Sun Devils continue to struggle in this aspect of special teams.

Can a win in this bitter rivalry erase a season long of underachievement and failures? The ASU coaches and players hope that it can to some extent. It has been an unkind learning curve for both the Sun Devils coaches and players who are still trying to adjust to a new conference (as far as the coaches) and a new schemes (as far as the players). ASU has won the last two meetings, and hopes that number three will be charm for them, rather than the Wildcats.

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