Arizona State - 08/24/02 - @ Lincoln - BCA Classic
The first game for the Huskers will be a classic, but probably not the likes of any OU game you have ever seen. The first inaugural Black Coaches' Association Classic pits two teams that are (presently) different ends of the spectrum.
Arizona State is trying to rebound from a 4-7 season. A season marred by the continuing health problems of their starter and key player, Jeff Krohn. With Krohn at the helm, ASU jumped out to a 3-1 start. The success was short-lived as Krohn went down against USC. Krohn returned once more only to go out for good against Oregon and ASU dropped their final four games.
First year head coach, Dirk Koetter inherited a problematic situation with the Sun Devils, the school sporting an abysmal losing record in the three years prior to his arrival. And, the first season didn't promise much, losing the key to their offense for most games than naught.
What ASU is looking to do this year is find a piece here and a piece there and put back together a team that once beat the team they are going to be facing for their first game, 19-0. It's been a long time since then and perhaps, it seems like an eternity for Sun Devil fans, but hopes are looming at least higher for ASU fans, despite having to replace some heavy guns.
Most significant of course, Jeff Krohn. His 1942 yards and 19 touchdowns will be replaced by two incumbents who've thrown for, 4 touchdowns combined while tossing 7 to the competition. The good news for either Andrew Walter, Mike Cooper or even redshirt freshman, Chad Christiansen is that ASU"s leading receiver, Shaun McDonald is back and bringing his 1104 yards and 10 touchdowns from last year with him. Other receivers expected to make an impact for Arizona State will be Justin Taplin and TE, Mike Pinkard who had 3 touchdowns combined, but each managed at least 15 yards per catch.
On the ground, again, ASU is going to feel the loss, but not of it's best statistical back from a year ago, but it's two best. Delvon Flowers led Arizona State in attempts, yards and touchdowns, while the other departer, Tom Pace was second to Flowers in all those aforementioned categories. Replacing them will be Mike Williams and Daryl Lightfoot, who combined had 3 touchdowns. Lightfoot had just 12 carries but managed to average over 9 yards per carry and if Hakim Hill has eliminated his off-the-field issues, the backfield could be potent if not experienced.
And what about that offensive line? Well? That's probably what ASU fans are asking as there is one returning starter from last season, Regis Crawford. Crawford will be moving to left tackle to protect the QB blindside, but as he is the only senior on an offensive line with woefully low experience, there could end up being a lot of blind sides.
With 8 returning starters on defense, you would think that the ASU fans are all smiles. The problem is, much of the reason for ASU's inability to win games last season was because of that very same defense. In only one of the losses that ASU experienced last season did the Sun Devils give up less than 30 pts. Needless to say, that defense will be expected to improve this year, specifically because they have so many coming back.
Some of those that you can expect to make the biggest impact are Terrell Suggs, their All-everything defensive end, Solomon Bates, a vastly underrated linebacker and Jason Shivers, a sophomore safety who was ASU's scout team player of the year last season.
The outlook to this team for the year, 2002, they should be better. Koetter has a firm grip on his style of offense and people don't change their offenses just because of one bad season. Finding players to fit that style is the trick and the QB position will obviously be one of the grand experiments for the coaches to see who fits best. Don't' expect Koetter to rest on his laurels though as you may see one person come in as the starter, but unless they have a clear-cut the field general for the Sun Devils this year, coach Koetter might resemble Steve Spurrier in how he juggles his personnel trying to find that proper match.
People are applauding NU for scheduling this game. None of those people are from Penn State as the last thing they wanted is for NU to have yet another game to get tuned up for their trip to Happy Valley. Tom Osborne once stated that a team needed three games to figure out where it's at and that's just what the Huskers will have going to the Quaker state.
What to look for:
As many questions as ASU has with their defense, NU has likewise with their offense. Replacing Crouch, Jammal Lord has a tall task in front of him, but this game should be a proving grounds for his versatility. Don't expect any break-away runs for 90 yards as I am sure that coach Solich, though wanting to give Lord freedom, is looking to bring back a little more balance to an attack that is naturally unbalanced. This game won't be decided by Lord, but how effective NU is early on will be greatly dictated by just how fast Lord has picked up what it's like to be the starter of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Lord's success will also be benefitted by an experienced tailback in Dahrran Diedrick. A back who's dependability has been his calling card now will be looked at for his productivity. With Crouch gone, Diedrick will help Nebraska once again recognize their running backs as the chief producer of ground stats for the season.
The O-line and what it can do against ASU's D-line will be the question. Nebraska brings back two starters (John Garrison, Dan Waldrop) and ASU brings back the same in Suggs and on the other end, Brian Montesanto. The interior will be the question here, but Nebraska has to be feeling pretty good about their chances to make things happen here. Richie Incognito is already getting props as being the next NU lineman to win hardware. His presence along the front should provide NU with an added push up the middle and for Incognito, this is almost a payback game. From various reports, Incognito was reported saying that he wasn't exactly happy about getting dissed by the ASU coaching staff and some negative comments were reported to have been said about Richie's stature not being quite to standard that ASU was looking for.
On the defensive side of the ball, NU will be breaking in a lot of new or newer faces. The entire linebacking core except for Scott Shanle will be either new or relatively new to the starting spot. NU is expecting great things from Barrett Ruud as he goes into his sophomore year and JUCO transfer, Demorrio Williams is allegedly the real deal all the way around and has even drawn comparisons to former NU stud, Terrell Farley.
At the defensive end spots, NU brings back their most experience, two seniors starting, that being Demoine Adams and Chris Kelsay. Both had good years last season, but much more is expected from them this year.
As for the secondary, it's a common theme on defense reoccurring as DeJuan Groce heads up a rather inexperienced unit in terms of overall playing time. Look for Phillip Bland to be a difference maker back here. He doesn't have Mike Brown's reputation as a heady player, but his tenacity is supposed to be at least the rival of NU's former superstar safety.
Special teams should once again be special for NU as they bring back both Josh Brown and K