Tim Healey: 'Gone To The Dawgs'
Oct. 16, 2000
If you happened to catch my column late last week previewing the Sun Devils' game with Washington, you may recall my description of the contest as Arizona State's 'Saturday Night Live,' an opportunity for the heretofore overachieving Devils to strut their stuff against a top 10 opponent, in front of a nationwide TV audience.
So what did we learn? For one thing, the ASU defense is without question a 'ready for prime time' bunch. For another thing, we found out that (at least for the time being) the Sun Devil offense is merely 'off-Broadway' material, if that.
First, the defense. You couldn't possibly have expected Phil Snow's group to play any better than it did Saturday night against the Huskies. That defense took what was the Pac-10's top ranked offense and made it look fairly ordinary, holding Washington to 296 yards, 119 below the Dawgs' per-game average, while forcing six Husky turnovers. Were it not for the 86-yard touchdown run by UW freshman back Rich Alexis (which, unfortunately for ASU, proved to be the difference in the outcome), the Huskies' total offense would have amounted to a paltry 210 yards. Think about this: Washington did not really fashion a sustained scoring drive all night long. The Huskies only had to go a mere five yards for their first score (after local product Marquis Cooper blocked a Nick Murphy punt), and a mere 14 yards for their second TD (after Justin Taplin fumbled a UW punt). The third, and decisive score was Alexis' bust-out run two-and-a-half minutes into the fourth quarter.
So much was made of the considerable skills of Husky quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, and yet the Sun Devils did a superb job of containing him. Tuiasosopo began the weekend averaging a Pac-10-best 263 yards a game in total offense, and last year torched conference champion Stanford's defense for an astounding 509 yards (passing for 302, rushing for 207). Tuiasosopo's output against Arizona State Saturday night: 134 yards (110 through the air on 13-of-30 passing, and just 24 net rushing yards on 12 attempts, 22 of the yards coming on one play). When Marques wanted to throw, he was under constant duress from the Devils' blitzing defense. When Tuiasosopo tried to run the option, ASU's lightning-fast linebackers beat him to the outside.
In particular, sophomore LB Solomon Bates was spectacular, making nine tackles (including eight solos for 'Solo'), four of them behind the line of scrimmage. He also forced one of the Huskies' five lost fumbles. The defense was even able to withstand the loss of its sensational freshman defensive end Terrell Suggs, who exited the lineup in the first half with a rib injury. His replacement, redshirt frosh Chad Howell, stepped in with a pair of tackles-for-loss and an interception!
No, I don't think you could have asked for any more out of the Arizona State defense. As for the Devils' offense, it lived up to its name. It was truly offensive.
After averaging 511 yards in their last three games, ASU totaled just 262 yards of offense against Washington. Coming into the game, the Huskies were dead last in the Pac-10 in run defense, yet the Devils could only accumulate 60 net rushing yards in 38 carries. How can you expect to win football games averaging 1.6 yards per rushing attempt? In addition, the Devils' newfound 'big play' passing game went bust, as Griffin Goodman and Jeff Krohn combined to misfire on 31 of 46 passing attempts. Krohn, in particular, experienced a harrowing evening on his return from a two-week bout with mononucleosis. He was just 12-of-33, was sacked three times, fumbled the ball away twice, and threw a pair of interceptions to a Husky defense that had picked off just one pass in the previous five games. In fairness to Jeff, timing and physical recovery from his serious illness had to be issues hindering his performance Saturday.
There were times during the game (especially in the first half) when the Devils seemed to be stubborn to a fault, in attempts to making the vertical passing game work. Virtually every throw in the first half was a deep ball, with miserable results. The Devils had one string of 19 pass attempts in the second and third quarters, in which they completed just two! However, it must be noted that on many of those deep pass plays, ASU's receivers were open, a step or more ahead of the nearest Washington defender (on one fourth quarter play, Donnie O'Neal was at least five strides separated from his man, who slipped and injured a knee on the play). Time and time again, however, the incoming pass was off the mark. Goodman was overthrowing his targets, while Krohn kept underthrowing his passes. With receivers as fast and athletic as ASU possesses, it's tantalizing (and sound) to periodically attempt to stretch the defense and go deep. However, you have to be able to have success on the short and intermediate routes, as well. And, to make all that work, it would be nice to be able to run the football, and the Devils just have not been able to sustain a successful ground attack all season long.
And then there were the turnovers. Ugh! Four lost fumbles and a pair of interceptions pretty much sabotaged all the good work the defense did by prying the ball loose from the Huskies six times. The Devils' misdeeds also included the blocked punt and nine penalties. First order of business this week is to check for body parts, since the Sun Devils shot themselves in both feet, legs, arms and hands against the Huskies!
Time to abandon ship? Hardly. In fact, the very best quality this ASU team possesses is its resiliency. Even though the offense was having a miserable evening against Washington, the Sun Devils never stopped battling, and still had a shot at victory in the closing minutes. Following an unusual safety (the Huskies were penalized for holding in their own end zone), the Devils drove 68 yards in eight plays, as Krohn hooked up with Justin Taplin on a sensational 45-yard completion that led to a Todd Heap TD reception with three minutes left, cutting the margin to 21-15. Though their comeback attempt failed, the Sun Devils fought till the end.
ASU's resiliency will be tested this weekend, when the Devils head to Pullman for a date with the suddenly explosive Washington State Cougars. Internally, ASU seems to me to be a very sound team, I don't think you'll see or hear Devil defenders pointing fingers at the offense, saying, 'we did our jobs, why don't you guys do yours?' This is a 'team' in the true sense of the word, and that type of bond, that type of solidarity can't be anything but helpful in the weeks ahead.
Defensively, I continue to believe the Sun Devils can contend with any offense in the league, including the Washington State group that currently leads the Pac-10 in scoring. The nagging question I have concerns ASU's own offense: do the Devils have the necessary talent and depth at quarterback and tailback to make theirs a consistently formidable unit? We've seen spurts of brilliance from Jeff Krohn (4 TD passes vs. Utah State), Griffin Goodman (394 passing yards and 3 TDs against Cal), Michael Williams (240 rushing yards against Colorado State and UCLA), and Tom Pace (93 yards on the ground against California). What we haven't seen is the kind of game-in, game-out offensive consistency a championship-caliber team requires.
At the season's midway point, the Sun Devils certainly merit an 'A' for effort in what at times has been a turbulent 2000 season. Here's hoping that starting next week, we can add a couple of 'Es' to the ASU report card, for offensive Execution and Efficiency.
Tim Healey is the radio play-by-play voice of ASU football for the Sun Devil Sports Network. Tim can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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