Scouting the Devils

TEMPE -- At 4-4 with three games left, Arizona State is not just looking to play spoiler this weekend to co-league leader Washington State. They're looking to get themselves in position for a bowl-game invitation.

And with each of their four wins this season coming at home, the schedule couldn't be much better. WSU this week and Arizona next week must travel to Sun Devil Stadium. The Devils close out the regular season at UCLA in a game rescheduled from earlier in the season.

The Sun Devils' fortunes, though, are inextricably tied to the health of starting quarterback Jeff Krohn. He's been plagued with a variety of injuries over the last two seasons. Two ear-ringing hits last week knocked him out of the Oregon game.

In simplest terms, the Devils sink or swim with the 6-foot-2 sophomore. "ASU has suffered crushing defeats when Krohn had to leave games due to various injuries," says Hod Rabino of Krohn's backup, Andrew Walter, is a redshirt freshman.

As the Pac-10 leader in pass efficiency, it is easy to understand Krohn's importance to Sun Devils.

His ability to bounce back from the Oregon hits could spell the difference in the Cougars' championship hopes. If he does, keep an eye on Shaun McDonald. He leads the Devils with nine touchdowns, while amassing 799 yards receiving for an average of 99.9 yards a game.

As for the running game, the Devils are like the Cougars: inconsistent. While they rank as fourth-best in the conference, they've sputtered a bit of late. Delvon Flowers is their big gun, with 716 yards on the season, and Tom Pace, who scorched WSU for more than 100 yards a year ago, is a solid option too.

ON DEFENSE, the Devils have been much-maligned for the most of the season. The debut of Dirk Koetter's 4-2-5 scheme has had veteran defenders going through some serious growing pains. The Devils rank near last in the conference in takeaways and red zone defense.

One player who has been able to shine in this taxing year is defensive end Terrell Suggs. The 2000 Pac-10 freshman of the year is second in sacks in the conference in sacks behinds WSU's D.D. Acholonu, as well as second in tackles for loss, and fumbles forced. The last two games, however, have seen him largely neutralized due to double teams.

The most pleasant surprise on the Devils defense has been true freshman safety Jason Shivers who leads the team with 65 tackles -- seventh overall in the Pac-10. Shivers has been a rare bright light in a secondary that has been giving up passing yards by the bushel. In fact, you could hardly blame Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser if he's licking his chops in anticipation of facing this struggling defensive backfield.

ON SPECIAL TEAMS, ASU punter Nick Murphy and kicker Mike Barth are two of the best in the conference. The Devils' kickoff and punt return teams are extremely efficient, and their punt coverage team doesn't lack much as well. On the other hand, kickoff coverage has been a sore spot all season long. Overall the ASU special teams unit has been playing pretty well as of late, and could be deciding factor in a closely contested game.

Washington State fans cringe while remembering their game in Tempe in 1997, where a dramatic shootout ended in a heartbreaking loss that prevented the Cougars from having a perfect Pac-10 season. On Saturday, ASU will try to foil Washington State's aspirations for another Pac-10 championship. At this point of the season, the Cougars are no longer a surprise team, but rather a legitimate conference powerhouse. Thus, a win by ASU could sweeten what has been so far a disappointing campaign.

NOTABLE NOTES: Mike Price says the Cougar O has looked much sharper in practice this week, so perhaps the sluggish last weeks can be firmly put in the past. RB David Minnich's status is still uncertain, but don't be surprised to see him take at least a handful of carries. LB James Price is definitely out, so look for Alex Ngaue and Al Genatone figure to be right in the thick of the fight again.

WSU senior safety Lamont Thompson needs one more INT this season to break the Pac-10 record for career air thefts. He's tied with former Arizona and Green Bay star Chuck Cecil with 21 apiece.

The game will be regionally televised. Kickoff is 3:30 PT, 4:30 MT. Barry Tompkins will be calling the game with Warren Moon on the color commentary (if you can really call it that; yawn, yawn).

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