The Sun Devils got their offense on track in conference last week against Oregon, scoring a season-high 59 points after averaging just 19.2 points per game in the first five games. Like the Tar Heels, Arizona State boasts a junior record-setting quarterback, their indisputable team leader, Andrew Walter.
Led by game-breaking safeties Riccardo Stewart and Jason Shivers, the Sun Devils have 310 return yards on 11 interceptions. The defense as a whole is allowing 375 yards per game of total offense – 130.3 rush, 245 pass.
Here's IC's weekly trip through the depth chart of UNC's next opponent.
Against the Ducks, Andrew Walter (6-5. 222, Jr.) completed 18 of 28 passes for 316 yards and no interceptions, including three scoring tosses to three different receivers, earning him PAC-10 Player of the Week honors. He has twelve touchdowns against six interceptions on the year and is averaging 252.2 yards per game. Against the Tar Heels, Walter will attempt to throw for over 300 yards for the third consecutive game. With his 316 yards last week, he moved into fifth place on ASU's all-time career passing list with 5,936 yards. In the game with Oregon in 2002, Walter threw for an amazing 536 yards.
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Five different receivers led the Sun Devils in six games so far this season. Skyler Fulton (6-1, 208, Sr.) has five touchdown receptions and is averaging 70. yards per game. Last season, Daryl Lightfoot (5-9, 163, Jr.) caught 40 passes for 552 yards, but has just seven catches so far this season. Derek Hagan (6-2, 188, So.), who has paced the team in the last two contests with 15 catches for 278 yards, has caught three scoring passes. The Sun Devils had three players turn in career highs in receiving Sept. 20 at Iowa, led by Matt Miller (6-2, 173, So.) who caught seven passes for 45 yards.
Heading into 2002, five graduated seniors – four of whom were drafted in the National Football League – had to be replaced at the beginning of the season. But depth is not a concern this year, as all five starters return, including guards' Regis Crawford (6-3, 315, Sr.) and Tim Fa'aita (6-1, 310, Jr.), tackles' Chaz White (6-4, 290, So.) and Tony Aguilar (6-3, 299, Sr.), and center Drew Hodgdon (6-3, 291, Jr.). However younger players' Andrew Carnahan (6-8, 288, Fr.*) and Grayling Love (6-3, 298, So.) have taken over as the starters at each tackle position, with White and Aguilar still figuring prominently in the rotation.
The ASU defense ranks second in the PAC-10 with 21 quarterback sacks, including nine against Utah State. While it was impossible to replace All-America end Terrell Suggs – now an outside linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens and the most decorated player in Sun Devils' history - they've got a number of players that will try to fill his shoes. Ends Jimmy Verdon (6-4, 283, Jr.) and Ishmael Thrower (6-1, 241, Jr.) have combined for six sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Tackles' Brian Montessanto (6-5, 258, Gr.) and Shane Jones (6-2, 306, Sr.) have been a key components to the team's success.
ASU plays just two linebackers in most situations, with Jamar Williams (6-1, 235, So.) and Justin Burks (6-1, 247, Jr.) as the starters. The tandem has a combined total of 80 tackles – six for loss – and three sacks. With the departure of three talented seniors, Williams has assumed the leadership role among the linebacking corps. Barton Hammit (6-0, 222, So.), who played in seven games as a true freshman in 2001, has returned from knee surgery and has looked impressive.
In the Sun Devils' five-back scheme, safeties' Jason Shivers (6-0, 192, So.) and Riccardo Stewart (5-10, 210, Jr.) are the second and third most prolific tacklers in the PAC-10 and each has three interceptions. Shivers and cornerback R.J. Oliver (5-9, 170, Jr.) are candidates for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back. The other corner, Emmanuel Franklin (5-11, 190, Jr.), has started four of six games this year, after missing the 2002 season following brain surgery. Safety Brett Hudson (6-2, 223, Sr.) is fifth on the team in tackles.
Lightfoot represents his surname well, returning eight kickoffs this season for 189 yards. He has yet to take one to the house however. Punt returner Josh Golden (5-10, 174, So.) is averaging 11.9 yards per return. Punter Tim Parker (6-0, 197, Sr.) ranks fourth in the PAC-10 and 20th in the nation with a 43.8-yard average. Jesse Ainsworth (6-3, 206, Fr.) took over as the starting kicker during the Sept. 27 game with Utah State, and has since made 3-of-5 field goals and is perfect on extra point tries. His career-long is 45 yards.