ASU Preview

<p class=txt>The Arizona State Sun Devils have greatly exceeded expectations this year. Dirk Koetter's team, which was picked ninth in the pre-season by the Pac-10 media, is currently tied for second place. Nevertheless, a bitter loss to Washington State last week, has the Devils had a major crossroads right now – will they tailspin the rest of the season or continue their improbable success? DevilsDigest.com previews Cal's next opponent.

Sun Devil quarterback

Andrew Walter has looked somewhat mortal since his Pac-10 record setting 536 yards against Oregon. Nevertheless, the sophomore still ranks in the top nationwide in pass efficiency. Thus far, Walter has 2,515 yards, averaging 251 yards a game. He has thrown for 21 touchdowns, and has been picked off nine times. Ever since he became the starter he has passed for 400 plus yards in three out of his four starts. Walter is blessed with an NFL-type arm strength, which is virtually a pre-requisite in Koetter's offensive schemes. ASU's running game has been somewhat of a disappointment ranked seventh in the conference. However, when you take in consideration that 4/5 of ASU's offense line consists of first year players and other linemen with limited experience, one tends to give the Devils a mulligan on this offensive category. Furthermore, two of ASU's three leading rushers are redshirt freshman. Cornell Canidate leads all backs with 493 yards, and averages 3.9 yards a carry. Canidate has also scored seven touchdowns on the year. Fellow first year player Hakim Hill is a dynamo ready to explode each time he has the ball. He's been relatively quiet with 234 yards and four touchdowns, but ever so often his play does spark the imagination. Junior Mike Williams completes this trio, and his numbers are very similar to Hill - 269 yards and three scores. Fullback Mike Karney is known for his punishing style, and is considered one of the best in his position not only in the Pac-10, but nation wide.

With the capable receivers ASU has been blessed with, one may wonder why the running game should be a concern at all. The Sun Devils rank fourth in the Pac-10 in pass offense. And this group of wideouts is considered to be one of the most talented in the conference. Leading the charge is last year's First Team Pac-10 selection Shaun McDonald. The junior has caught 65 passes, a school record for catches in a single season, for 1069 yards and ten touchdowns. Not only is the Walter-McDonald combination quite potent, but it also allows other ASU wideouts to make their mark. Sophomore Daryl Lightfoot starts along side McDonald, and is the second leading receiver with 326 yards. Lightfoot is true to his name, and is a blazing quick player who possesses some nifty open field moves. True freshman Derek Hagan, and junior Skyler Fulton complement the starters, and have proven to penalize opposing defenses who were double teaming their teammates. Tight end Mike Pinkard is second on the team with TD receptions with five, and has 335 yards receiving. While his play has been inconsistent he's becoming more involve din ASU's game plan.

 


To say the ASU's defense was the team's Achilles heel last season (finishing eighth in the Pac-10) would be an understatement. Nevertheless, this year it is hardly a stretch to say that the Sun Devils' defense has at times carried the team. ASU is ranked fifth in the conference in total defense, with its "bend but don't break" style. The Devils rank sixth against the run (101 yards a game), but it has had its troubles against the pass, as evident in their seventh ranking (249 yards a game). The overall improvement on this side of the ball is largely credited to the Sun Devils' front four - a unit that came into the season with significant question marks. Pre-season All-American Defensive end Terrell Suggs, is on pace to earn that honor at the end of this season as well. The junior is the current NCAA all-time sack leader with 18.5, and has 25 tackles for loss on the year. Suggs also leads the conference with five forced fumbles. His ability to occupy two offensive linemen has contributed to the emergence of fellow end Jimmy Verdon. The sophomore is fifth on the team with tackles (41), and second in team sacks with four. Plugging up the middle are junior Brain Montesanto, who has successfully moved from his end position, and JC transfer Shane Jones who's progression in the last few weeks has elevated him to a starter the last few games. This group has the capability of disrupting the running game and applying constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their ability to complete those two objectives will go a long way in determining how well the Devils' will fair in shutting down Cal's offense.

ASU's 4-2-5 scheme calls for two linebackers to play each snap. As luck would have it, the Sun Devils feature a trio of talented senior linebackers. Josh Amobi, who was practically a non-factor until midway through his junior year, has been a man possessed since the season started. He leads the conference with four recovered fumbles, and his big hits round out his athleticism. His availability for this week's game is still in question. Mason Unck is tied with Suggs in the Pac-10 in fumbles forced with five, and as the second leading tackler on the team (76) he has been more than just a complimentary player to Amobi. Solomon Bates had a less than memorable 2001 campaign, but he has showed flashes of brilliance the last few weeks. True freshman Jamar Williams has been a pleasant surprise, who is making the most of his limited play, and is also a vital contributor on special teams.

Another byproduct of the ASU defensive scheme is playing three safeties. As with the linebacker core, this position is blessed with many quality players. Last season, free safety

Jason Shivers turned in a sensational freshman campaign where he led the team in tackles, and to no one surprise he's still the leader so far this season (79). Sophomore Riccardo Stewart is a ferocious hitter, who has 11 tackles for a loss on the year, and his third on the team with 74 tackles. Senior Al Williams at one strong safety is not only one of the more talented defenders (eight tackles for loss), but also a leader on the team.

Depleted depth and injuries have marred the cornerback group, which is clearly the most troublesome unit on the ASU defense. Despite its overall woes, sophomore R.J. Oliver has emerged as one of the best corners in the


BearTerritory.net Top Stories