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 at (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 (he's slated to start) 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, Daryl Lightfoot 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, Hakim Hill and Cornell Canidate, who combined had 3 touchdowns. Hill could be looked at as a very significant cog in the rushing attack for ASU if his off the field problems are over.
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, Josh Amobi, an underrated linebacker and Jason Shivers, a sophomore safety who was a freshman all-american last year and led the team with 89 tackles.
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 another question. Nebraska brings back two starters (John Garrison, Dan Waldrop) and ASU brings back the same in Suggs and a starter though new to the position, DT, Brian Montesanto. The interior and possibly the entire right side will be the question here and Nebraska has to be feeling pretty good about their chances to make things happen. 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 explosiveness not being quite to the 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 Kyle Larson. Larson could very well end up as one of the best in the country in terms of punting average.
ASU has questions and a lot of them. None of their potential signal callers have any great degree of experience. Then again, Neither does NU and Lord has significantly more pressure on him , replacing a Heisman winner than any of the ASU quarterbacks.
QB = Even
In the backfield, ASU has potential, but right now, that's just what it is, while NU is loaded for bear at the running back position with not just athletes, but athletes with a ton of experience. Diedrick is a dark horse Heisman contender more to do with the fact that Crouch is gone, but he was the conference's leading back last season.
On the offensive line, ASU has a whole lot of questions again and for NU, there do seem to exist some inquiries as to what the interior is capable of early on, but as you would expect at NU, there's not the lack of talented maulers to fill those slots. This unit could not just end up being good by the end of the season, they might be stellar.
When talking about receivers, one automatically thinks to give the team that isn't NU the edge. In this case, despite ASU's type of offense and the fact that it's success is predicated on not just great Throwers, but catchers, NU could at the very least, be equal to ASU, at least early on. Wilson Thomas is A Florida type receiver playing at NU while Hassebroek and Cornelsen both have a world of experience in combination with their athleticism. Don't be surprised if newly transferred from baseball, Ross Pilkington gets involved early as well. ASU's staff still brings back it's top receiver, but overall, there's hard to find an edge for either team.
On the defensive interior, Nebraska has what is considered to be potentially one of it's best in years. Expectations are certainly higher as the last two games saw NU's defense basically become the whipping boy for both CU and Miami. The excitement for NU fans isn't for who they become familiar, it because of who they haven't seen that much. Patrick Kabongo, Seppo Evwaraye, Ryon Bingham and Georgia stud, LeKevin Smith who has yet to play because of nagging injuries, are all expected to shine, even early on. With that being said, it's still a lot of inexperience and last year's early success and not their late-season performance makes the strongest statement for this unit having a slight edge.
At the DE positions, both teams return starters. Both Demoine Adams and Chris Kelsay came off good years and much is expected from both, especially Kelsay as a potential all-conference player. For ASU though, they have a stud on one end in Terrell Suggs that is sure to give them a lot of good minutes. The only problem that exists on the other side is that last year's starter, Brian Montesanto has now been moved to the interior, Sophomore, Jimmy Verdon taking his spot. Suggs is going to be one of the best this season, but two returning starters beats one this time.
At the linebacker position, ASU brings back three starters to NU's one. Though this is the same LB core that helped ASU to defensive obscurity last season, expectations remain high as Mason Unck and Josh Amobi should both be a lot better with the expected improvement of the defensive line. NU has Scott Shanle, Barrett Ruud who did start a couple of games last year and a host of talented and very fast players filling the positions with a lot of potential if not known contributions. All Husker eyes will be on JUCO sensation, Demmorrio Williams as he has been one of the biggest names to come out of Spring ball. Just on speed alone, this unit for NU will be formidable.
In the secondary, ASU has to be breathing at least a little easier this season. With three starters coming back, the offense-heavy Pac-10 does not look as daunting as it might have just a few months ago. CB, R.J. Oliver, Safety, Alfred Williams and FS, Jason Shivers will be attempting to do their job in making the defensive line's life a little easier as they (the line) develop throughout the season. Nebraska isn't quite as fortunate, as they bring back only one starter. Granted, it's All-everything, DeJuan Groce, but he's going to have more experience by himself than all those playing within that unit combined. Pat Ricketts, Aaron Terpening and Phillp Bland all have some playing time, but this year will be their literal baptism by fire.
Secondary = ASU
On special teams, Nebraska brings back both starters, Josh Brown and Kyle Larson. Josh helped Nebraska to a 5th ranked mark in the conference, averaging over 42.5 yards per kick, while Brown kicked 10 field goals and 38 extra points for NU last season. Josh's totals also made him the third leading scorer on the team. ASU's returning kicker, Mike Barth went 9-14 for the year with a long field goal of 47 yards and as for Punter, Tim Parker makes his debut for the Sun Devils.
On coverage, Nebraska is in good hands with DeJuan Groce coming back sporting his 8th ranked punt return average in the country to boot. As for kick returners, Josh Davis returns, his average of 27 yards a return ranking 14th in the country overall. For ASU, they lost one of the best kick returners in the country with the loss of Tom Pace and you can take your pick as to who will be taking the punt-returning chores this season.
Special Teams = Nebraska
There's a lot to be said for a questionable offense versus a questionable defense. ASU fans might look to the NU team of ‘84 as some possible inspiration as prior to that year, they to were amongst the less successful defenses in the country, but just that next season, led the country in fewest total yards allowed per game. If they are going to at least get off to a good start this season, it won't be with a victory against NU, but a good showing.
The way it pans out, this will probably go about a half before NU starts to pull away. If Jamal Lord can settle into the offense and not make any major mental mistakes, NU should be in position to pull away to a comfortable win. I full expect the defense of Nebraska to be ready to play and for that D-line to stuff the run all but completely. With ASU's inexperience that spans the entire backfield, this will be a bad time to start testing new players' ability. ASU has some potential this year, but to go up against Nebraska this early is asking a little too much.
Final Score:Nebraska 41 - ASU – 13
Prime Time performers for this game should be:
Offense: RB, Dahrran Diedrick
Defense: DE, Chris Kelsay