View from the desert

Can a team's first Pac-10 win be overrated? If so, don't tell that to the ASU Sun Devils. Entering the OSU game, the Devils were a very unimpressive 3-2 on the season. The three wins were at home against inferior out of conference opponents, and the two losses were crushing defeats by Stanford and USC on the road, where ASU was outscored 99-45.

Following a convincing 41-24 win over Oregon State and a perfect record at home, The Sun Devils are eager for their match against the Huskies.

When head coach Dirk Koetter was hired last December, the immediate expectation was for ASU's offensive output to be one of the conference's best. After six games, the first year head coach has delivered on that anticipation. The Sun Devils rank no worse than #3 in every major offensive category in the Pac-10. Sophomore Quarterback Jeff Krohn had his worse outing of the season against the Beavers last week, which didn't hurt his status as the Pac-10's leader in passing efficiency. The Devils have many receiving threats, but lately wide receiver Shaun McDonald has emerged as the main one. The sophomore has 502 yards receiving and eight touchdowns through six games. The win against Oregon State was primarily achieved through ASU's long time staple on offense – a punishing running game. Delvon Flowers, who has spent the last year or so recovering from various injuries, has finally delivered the performance that many have been expecting from him ever since he set foot on campus. The senior ran for 226 yards and two touchdowns, and the team as a whole ran for 314 yards against Oregon State. Fellow running back Tom Pace has been solid, and compliments Flowers for one of the best "1-2 punches" in the Pac-10. Many of the success on offense is due to an experienced offensive line, which coach Neuheisel has acknowledged as being the best in the conference. Washington's struggles in stopping the run the last few games could yield a repeat performance by ASU's ground attack. On the other hand, the Huskies success in defending the pass this season can create a major challenge to Krohn and his receivers.

The Oregon State win was easily the best defensive performance, against a quality opponent, by the Sun Devil defenders. One player who has been relentless all year is the Pac-10 leader in sacks, defensive end Terrell Suggs. The 2000 conference freshman of the year has nine sacks, and ranks first and second in the conference in fumbles forced and tackles for loss respectably. Senior Defensive tackle Kurt Wallin was one of the stars on defense last week, and he will be instrumental in stopping a Washington running game that ranks near bottom of the Pac-10. Junior linebacker Mason Unck is the tackle leader on this squad, and his fellow linebacker junior Solomon Bates showed last week signs that he may be ready to play up to his potential. The most surprising player on ASU's defense is true freshman safety Jason Shivers who is second in team tackles. The secondary mostly consists of first year players, aside from safeties, which are senior Willie Daniel and junior Alfred Williams who earned Pac-10 defensive player of the week. This tandem also enjoyed a revival of sorts in their play this past Saturday, and their ability to sustain that level of performance will be key to any defensive success the Devils may have this week. The Huskies highly potent passing game may be the biggest challenge this young secondary has faced so far.

Special teams for the Sun Devils are a mixed bag of goods. Junior kicker Mike Barth missed his first field goal of the season last week, but is still the most efficient kicker in the conference. Most of Barth's kick-offs have gone for touchbacks, but those that haven't stand a good chance to be returned for long distances against a struggling kick coverage unit. Senior punter Nick Murphy is ranked third in yards per punt average, and this coverage unit will have to contend with an extraordinary punt returner in Charles Frederick. ASU's Tom Pace is the conference fourth's highest kick-off return person. The Devils punt return should see a boost with the return of true freshman wide receiver Daryl Lightfoot. Junior Justin Taplin did nothing to hurt his status as the starting punt returner, with a 62-yard return last week. A strong emphasis was put on this unit when Tom Osborne, whose Oregon teams have been the model for special teams the last few years, was hired on the ASU staff. While this group hasn't hurt ASU so far, it hasn't helped much either. If the Washington match came down to a special teams play, ASU fans would probably not be overly confident in the team's ability to tilt the game in the Sun Devils favor.

The Arizona State Sun Devils know the importance of protecting their own back yard. With three out of the next five games at Sun Devil stadium, home wins will be at a premium as they can assure nothing worse than a seven win season and a bowl game. Washington has enjoyed a very fine season, and is anxious to remain in the thick of things in the conference championship race and quest for a BCS bowl game. While this match looms in the great shadow of the World Series which will be played 10 or so miles away in downtown Phoenix, the projected 50,000 plus fans recognize the great importance of this game. In the last few years, these two teams have had several closely contested and entertaining games, and this one figures to be just one more gem in the ASU – Washington series. Top Stories