Behind Enemy Lines: ASU Previews ASU

Contenders or pretenders? Despite a 2-0 start and a No. 16 ranking in both polls, the Sun Devils' pair of victories thus far have been anything but impressive. Therefore, Coach Dirk Koetter's team is not exactly steamrolling with confidence into Iowa City this Saturday. Nevertheless, the talent on this team has proven in the past that it can and will rise to the occasion. The following is a preview of Iowa's opponent through the eyes of DevilsDigest.com.

Heisman hopeful quarterback Andrew Walter has done very little, if any, to tarnish the lofty expectations put on him. The junior comes into Kinnick Stadium completing 57.4% of his passes for 501 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. Walter who posses an NFL strength arm has seen his numbers suffer due to several drops by his receivers. One of the more sure handed wideouts on the team is Skyler Fulton. The senior, who is Walter's favorite target, is coming off a career game against Utah State. In that contest, he caught eight passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. With four career touchdowns, including three last year, he's already well on pace to set personal season and career bests. Another receiver to keep an eye on is Daryl Lightfoot. True to his surname, the junior excels at stretching defenses. Sophomore Derek Hagan is ASU's most physical receiver, and the primary player who is featured in the three-wideout alignment.

In the beginning of the season, the Devils were intent on improving an anemic running game. While the numbers may pail in comparison to Iowa and other Big Ten teams, ASU's first two games showed encouraging progress averaging nearly 150 yards a game. Redshirt freshman Loren Wade leads all ball carriers with 122 yards. Wade, who started in the last game, may yield his starting position to senior Mike Williams, the team's regular starter, who missed the game with an injury. Redshirt Freshman Randy Hill has been a pleasant surprise, and adds further depth at this spot. All the rage this week has been over fifth string running back Hakim Hill, who makes his much anticipated homecoming trip. The sophomore had a solid game last week with 12 carries for 57 yards, and one may wonder if it was a prelude to a successful journey to his old stomping grounds. Senior Mike Karney, a standout fullback, will be providing the blocking for all ball carriers.

Much of the strength of ASU's offensive line lies inside where four upperclassmen vie for three spots. The two players with the more secure positions are junior center Drew Hodgdon and senior right guard Regis Crawford. Senior Tony Aguilar holds a slim lead in playing time at the left guard position over fellow senior Tim Fa'aita. Both tackles are relatively inexperienced, but nonetheless have played in a solid manner in 2003. The right tackle spot is manned by sophomore Grayling Love, while the all important left tackle spot is manned by redshirt freshman Andrew Cranahan, who at times splits snaps with sophomore Chaz White.

With the loss of Lombardi Trophy winner Terrell Suggs, the Devils' defensive line's ability to rush the passer was one vital question leading up to this season. With seven sacks against Utah Sate, ASU's front four may have relived some of that anxiety. Junior defensive end Jimmy Verdon is another player who enjoyed a recent career day with nine tackles, including three sacks. Fellow classman and end Ishmael Thrower may be rewarded for his play and start over Nick Johnson on Saturday. At defensive tackle, the senior duo of Brain Montesanto and Shane Jones has been successfully anchoring the middle of the line. Montesanto is a former defensive end, and he definitely showed those skills when he recorded two sacks against the Aggies. JC transfer Gabe Reininger will see some extensive time at defensive tackle in his backup role.

The Sun Devils' 4-2-5 defensive scheme will feature the duo linebacker core of Jamar Williams and Justin Burks. Williams, a sophomore mature beyond his years, is the most experienced member of his group. Along with JC transfer Justin Burks, they posses a fine combination of speed and sure tackling. The bruiser of this group is redshirt freshman Jordan Hill who is arguably the best run stopper among the linebackers.

The team's safety core is considered not only one of the best in the Pac-10, but also the entire nation. However, various injuries have given the trio of safeties very little playing time together this year. Strong safety Riccardo Stewart is the team's leading tackler at 21. The junior was actually the conference's leading tackler for most of the 2002 season before he succumbed to injury. Senior Brett Hudson is the other strong safety, and can hit as hard as he can track you down with his 4.3 speed. Junior Jason Shivers is penciled at free safety. He led the team in tackles his first two years, and is considered the "quarterback" of the defense. Sophomore Matt Fawley is one of the current team leaders in tackles and will be inserted frequently at both safety spots.

Junior R.J. Oliver is ASU's best lockdown corner, and is considered one of the best among his Pac-10 peers. At the other corner spot there has been a brewing battle between sophomore Josh Golden and junior Emmanuel Franklin. These speedy corners may or may not be tested on Saturday, depending on the Hawkeyes' ability to run the ball.

The Sun Devils are fortunate to have the Pac-10's best punter in Tim Parker. The senior doubles as the field goal kicker (ASU has yet to attempt a field goal this year), but could yield that responsibility to true freshman Jesse Ainsworth who has been regulated to kickoffs. Golden handles both kick and punt returns; with Lightfoot backing him up on punts and Shivers on kickoffs. So far this season, ASU's return game has been exceptional while their coverage units still seek consistency.

The Iowa game is easily the first true test for the Sun Devil squad. Undoubtedly, the results of this contest will, at least for the time being, dispel fears or create further uncertainty. On Saturday, the stage will truly be set for ASU to seize the moment and justify the pre-season accolades bestowed on them.

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