Arizona State Preview

Contenders or pretenders? Following a trashing of Iowa, that question weighs heavily not only on the minds of the Arizona State team and its followers, but also probably on the rest of the Pac-10 who expected the 2004 version of the maroon and gold to be no better than a middle of the road team. Dirk Koetter's squad faces a tough Oregon State team for its Pac-10 opener, and DevilsDigest is here to introduce you to the Beavers' next opponent.

Going into this season, fifth year senior quarterback Andrew Walter needed only 11 touchdowns to break Jake Plummer's school record for career touchdowns. Some aren't surprised that it took Walter only three games to achieve that remarkable feat. The signal caller needs just a shade less than 400 yards to pass Plummer for the school's career passing yards as well.

Against Iowa, Walter may have played his best game ever throwing for 425 yards, five scores and one interception. Sustaining that tremendous momentum will go a long way to secure an ASU win. Walter is heavier and stronger than ever, and has shown more mobility than years past. Nevertheless, his NFL strength arm still remains his strongest asset, as well as the foundation on which the Dirk Koetter offense is built upon.

Junior Derek Hagan, the team's 2003 leading receiver, is Walter's favorite target, and has started this season in impressive fashion. In three games, he has caught 24 balls for 385 yards and five touchdowns.

Hagan is a lanky wideout who has deceiving speed, and will undoubtedly be the focal point of the Beavers' defensive preparations. Sophomore Terry Richardson is a player who has finally started to realize the vast potential and high expectations he has brought with him from Los Angeles. On the year, Richardson has 183 yards on 14 catches, and a pair of touchdowns to his credit. The sophomore is probably the most athletic of the Sun Devil arial targets.

Slowly but surely, junior Moey Mutz is becoming the team's third wideout, and he has been reliable thus far with an average of 40 yards receiving a game. Matt Miller is emerging as the speed burner of the group, and against the Hawkeyes he had two down field catches of 41 and 65 yards.

ASU's offense line has a good mixture of youth and experience. Junior right guard Grayling Love is the leader of the group, and while redshirt freshman center Mike Pollak is the youngest of this unit, his play does exhibit maturity beyond his years.

The maroon and gold are hoping that starting center Drew Hodgdon will see some action on Saturday. Sophomore Stephen Berg has been solid at left guard, and along with left tackle Chaz White and right tackle Andrew Cranahan and the rest of the line didn't surrender a sack last week, despite the 43 pass attempts by Walter.

The Sun Devils line up in a two-tight end set, and this group is highlighted by Zach Miller, the number one tight end prospect of the 2004 recruiting class. The Phoenix high school star caught his first ever touchdown against the Hawkeyes, and is evoking memories of Todd Heap in that position. Junior Lee Burghgraef is a prototypical blocking tight end, and not as flashy as Miller when it comes to the passing game.

At running back the Sun Devils feature, what the fans and the media affectionately call – a ‘three-headed monster.' The trio of Loren Wade, Randy Hill and Hakim Hill provide quality depth and versatility to this position.

The three did very little last week against a solid Iowa run defense, and will look to exhibit their skills at home this week. Wade, last year's top rusher, leads all ball carriers with 185 yards. The tall Randy Hill provides a good change of pace rusher, while Hakim Hill despite being third of the depth chart may be the biggest home run threat of the group.

The Devils' defensive line was an area of much concern coming into 2004, giving up over 160 rushing yards a game. This group has shown improvement, and is ranked in the middle of the conference giving up only 126 yards a contest.

Jimmy Verdon, a converted defensive end who brings much athleticism to the position, and sophomore backup turn starter Jordan Hill, has done a solid job plugging the middle and eliciting double teams from opposing offensive linemen. The defensive end position is paper thin, but starters sophomore Kyle Caldwell and senior Ishmael Thrower are raking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Case in point, the Sun Devils are second in the league with nine sacks.

JC transfer linebacker Dale Robinson has been an absolute phenom from the day he set foot in fall practice. The outside linebacker, who leads the team in tackles with 32 (fourth in the Pac-10), and sacks with three (tied for second in the conference) has a great blitzing ability to go along with a knack for punishing hits.

Senior middle linebacker Justin Burks and junior Jamar Williams round up one of the better groups in the Pac-10 conference, and one that should benefit from shifting back to a 4-3 alignment. Williams was voted the league's defensive player of the week, following Robinson who was given that award the week before.

The secondary has also seemed to benefit from a more traditional alignment, and as a result are ranked second in the league and 15th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The season ending injury to senior cornerback R.J. Oliver has been hard to overcome, but fellow senior Chris McKenzie has complemented his blazing speed with refining his skills at cornerback.

Thus, teams have been inclined to go after the less talented junior Josh Golden. ASU fans will always be on edge when it comes the durability of senior safety Riccardo Stewart. However, they can always count on him for pivotal and game altering plays. Fellow classman and safety Emmanuel Franklin has two interceptions in 2004, one of them, which he ran for a score against UTEP. Franklin is versatile enough to play cornerback if needed.

Kicker Jesse Ainsworth has been enjoying a sensational sophomore season. Ranked second in the nation with 2.67 field goals made a game, Ainsworth has had 12 of his 24 kickoffs go for touchbacks, and has already twice reached his a career-long field goal of 48 yards.

Redshirt freshman punter Chris MacDonald may have an unspectacular 42.9 yards average (fifth in the conference), but has been skillful in angling six of his 15 punts into the 20-yard line. Redshirt freshman Rudy Burgess has been the main return guy, and is averaging 10.3 yards a punt return and 26.2 yards a kick return. However, he has shown a tendency to mix in fumbles with dazzling display of quickness and field vision.

The Devils' punt coverage team is by far this unit's Achilles heel, and it manifested itself last Saturday when Iowa's only points of the game were scored on a punt return with 40 some seconds left in the game.

ASU holds a 21-8-1 all-time advantage over Oregon State, and has won the last 15 contests played at Sun Devil stadium. With the euphoria around the team at a season high, some expect these Sun Devils to buckle under the pressure just like they did in 2002. A loss to the Beavers could provide validation to those sentiments.

This week's game will require as much, mental preparation as it does physical preparation. A fine line separates swagger and over confidence. The outcome of this game will ultimately decide which side of the line Dirk Koetter and his team reside.

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