ASU Seeks Revenge

Temperatures may still be in the upper 90s, but the Sun Devil faithful are breathing a lot easier these days in the Valley of the Sun. A resounding 59-14 win over Oregon was not only the team's best display this season, but also halted a three-game skid. Beaming with confidence, ASU (3-3, 1-2 Pac-10) goes on its longest road trip of the season to Chapel Hill. analyzes North Carolina's upcoming opponent.

Earlier in the year, quarterback Andrew Walter was on the Heisman watch of many College Football pundits. While the team's misfortunes quickly took him out of the race, his outing against Oregon was reminiscent of his record-breaking year of 2002. His 316 yards last week were a season high for him, as he threw for three scores and no picks, completing 18 out of 28. Thus far in 2003, the junior has completed 53.5% of his passes for 1,513 yards for twelve touchdowns, and six interceptions. Walter will look to prove that his last game is a sign of things to come rather than an aberration.

In his defense, much of his struggles earlier this season were tied into to the many woes in the wide receiver unit. Nevertheless, this group has improved leaps and bounds the last couple of weeks. Heading this resurgence is sophomore Derek Hagan, who has 278 yards and one touchdown in the last two games. Walter's main target, senior Skyler Fulton, has been the most consistent of the group, and leads the team with 28 catches for 424 yards and five scores. Junior Daryl Lightfoot is true to his surname, and acts as the team's deep threat. He's been hobbled with various injuries, but much like Hagan he seems to have finally caught his stride these days. Two other players that have started to pick up their game are redshirt freshman Terry Richardson and sophomore Matt Miller. One can expect those two to be inserted in the game early and often.

ASU's running game has been sore subject for all of the 2002 season, as well as most of this year. Nevertheless, sophomore Hakim Hill is starting to stabilize this once troubled position. The sophomore has rushed this year for 320 yards and is averaging a solid 3.8 yards a carry. Hill who's also an excellent receiver from the backfield is arguably the biggest playmaker on the squad. Oddly enough, he scored his first two touchdowns in the 2003 campaign just last week. Redshirt freshman Loren Wade is the first off the bench to relief Hill, and he is an accomplished ball carrier in his own right. Fullback Mike Karney is one of the best in the nation at his position, and has a significant part in opening the running lanes for ASU's ground attack.

The tight end position hasn't been used extensively, to say the least, in the passing game. Sophomore starter Lee Burghgraef blocking skills are far superior to his catching ones. JC transfer Aaron Austin and redshirt freshman Jamaal Lewis figure to be the big targets down filed that Walter may seek. The strength of the Devils' offensive line is in its interior with senior right guard Regis Crawford and fellow classman left guard Tim Fa'aita, as well as junior center Drew Hodgdon. ASU's tackles, sophomore Grayling Love on the right and redshirt freshman Andrew Cranahan are not as seasoned but have played admirably this year.

There seem to be many differing views concerning the Sun Devil defense and their performance this season. Some will say that this group hasn't been a difference maker and continues to give up more plays than it creates. However, no one can dispute their masterful performance against Oregon, where one interception was returned for a touchdown, while another pick set up a short scoring play – all this occurring in the first three minutes of the game.

The Sun Devils' defensive line has done a fine job amassing sacks, and has 21 quarterback drops in six games. The defensive ends, junior Jimmy Verdon and JC transfer Ishmael Thrower have done a good job rushing from the edge. Stopping the run has been an area begging for improvement, and surrendering 130 yards a game, as ASU does, is damming evidence to that deficiency. In defense of senior defensive tackles Brain Montesanto and Shane Jones, this group has been extremely thin to various off the field incidents that have sidelines players.

Only two linebackers are employed in ASU's 4-2-5 scheme, and despite their lack of numerous Pac-10 games under their belt, they have been performing at a high level. JC transfer Justin Burks is fourth on the team in tackles, and along with sophomore Jamar Williams possess lighting speed at the position, which helps them reach opponents' backfields quite often. Reserve redshirt freshman Jordan Hill is more of a run stopping linebacker, and will be the first one off the bench.

The strength of the Sun Devil defense clearly lies in its trio of safeties. Junior Riccardo Stewart leads the team tackles with 54, while fellow classman Jason Shivers is second with 49. Both safeties lead the Devils in interceptions with three a piece. Senior Brett Hudson is the most versatile player on defense, and is fifth on the team's tackle rankings. He may end up playing many more snaps at cornerback rather than safety. Reserve Matt Fawley will see extensive time, as he's enjoying a very fine season – ranked third in tackles with 39.

Playing cornerback in the high passing Pac-10 is a thankless job. That being said, there hasn't been much to cheer about among the Sun Devils when it comes to this position. Standout cornerback junior R.J. Oliver has been banged up for a few games now, but he does figure to start against the Heels. If Hudson doesn't get the nod opposite Oliver, look for JC transfer Chris McKenzie and is blazing 4.1 speed to take the first snap of the game. Sophomore Josh Golden and junior Emmanuel Franklin are players with extensive experience, who haven't play consistently thus year.

Senior punter Tim Parker is one of the leaders in his position in the Pac-10, averaging 43.8 yards a punt. True freshman Jesse Ainsworth has been outstanding on his kickoffs, and hasn't attempted enough field goals to really give an indication if he mastered that craft as well. Nonetheless, against Oregon he converted his longest attempt to date in the maroon and gold – a 43-yarder. Lightfoot and Golden are very astute at returning both kicks and punts. The glaring Achilles heel of this group is their coverage teams.

A cross-country road trip to a non-conference game in the middle of the season is less than ideal to say the least. However, it seems that the fans are more concerned about this than the coaches and players. Even though this game obviously has no impact in the Pac-10 standings, the Sun Devils know that a loss this week could only further hamper their chances at an invitation to a bowl game. On Saturday, ASU will strive to prove that they can continue and build on last week's victory, while revenging the 2002 home loss to North Carolina.

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