Brian Forth: Test of Resilience
Oct. 19, 2000
The 2000 Arizona State Sun Devils had their opportunity to gain the support of Valley fans in last weekend's contest versus the Washington Huskies. A near capacity crowd filled Sun Devil Stadium to see what type of team this university had. A win would have kept the Devils in the Pac-10 championship race and catapulted the team into the top 25. Instead of continuing what has been a 'Cinderella' story so far this year, the inconsistent Devils of old showed up to play, especially on offense. Many of you are probably wondering what the loss means for this young Devil squad. Will the Sun Devils bounce back and win out the rest of their games and earn a berth to a respectable bowl game? Or will this team crumble under the disappointment of two conference losses? I have always been one who remains optimistic in the face of adversity. This team will rally around one another and play with the enthusiasm and passion needed to win games in this competitive conference.
There is no excuse for the poor performance the offense displayed Saturday night versus the Huskies. What could have gone wrong went wrong. Watching the game tape on Monday was very frustrating. There were so many blown opportunities for the Devils to break the game wide open. To begin with, the running game, on which this offense is predicated, was non-existent. 60 yards rushing on 38 attempts is not going to win many football games in this conference. It has been two games now since the rushing attack has broken a long run for a score. When we are struggling as much as we are right now with the running game, our opponents will drop more men into coverage, trying to stop our passing game. All week, the offensive unit has been working on our rushing attack. Mike Williams is questionable for this weekend's contest, but Tom Pace and Davaren Hightower will be ready to fill the void. Jeff Krohn took the majority of the snaps this week during practice and will get the nod at quarterback this week against Washington State. Against the Huskies, the ASU big play offense went bust. On numerous occasions, the deep balls thrown to the receivers were either under thrown or over thrown. What hindered the passing attack for the Devils was the lack of intermediate passes. Every ball throw seemed to be deep. The Husky defenders were able to play off the receiver to guard against these deep routes. What killed the Devils chances of winning the game was our carelessness with the football. I have never played in a sloppier football game than last Saturday's. Four lost fumbles, a pair of interceptions, and a blocked punt put our defense in too many difficult situations. We basically spotted Washington 14 points, which in the end proved to be the difference in the ball game.
My hat goes off to our defensive unit that continues to dominate our opponents. If it wasn't for the defense's performance thus far this year, this team may be staring at a much uglier record than 4-2. The defense disassembled what was considered the top offense in the Pac-10. Washington managed 296 yards on offense, 119 yards below their season average. A bulk of this yardage came on an 86-yard run early in the fourth quarter by Husky running back Rich Alexis. The defense did an excellent job of containing Husky quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. Adam Archuleta and the rest of the linebacking crew shut down the Washington option attack and kept Tuiasosopo under constant pressure when he dropped back to throw the football. The Huskies were unable to sustain any long drives against our defense. Turnovers put our defense on the field inside the red zone on two occasions. The swarming ASU defense recovered six Husky turnovers, none of which the offense was able to turn into touchdowns. The defense has a huge test again this weekend. Washington State has been playing great football the last few weeks. They have tremendous confidence in their offense, which is centered around quarterback Jason Gesser. Gesser is the top rated passer in the Pac-10 and also leads the conference in total offense. The defensive coaches for ASU say Gesser reminds them a lot of former Son Devil Jake Plummer in terms of mobility and competitiveness. The Cougars also have one of the most explosive receiving corps in the conference. Milton Wynn is the leading receiver on the team, third in the Pac with 32 catches. Marcus Williams and Collin Henderson round out the rest of this talented receiving corps that have an average height of 6'3'. Running back Deon Burnett had a career best 136 yards rushing last season versus the Sun Devils. This Cougar offense put up some impressive numbers last weekend against the Arizona Wildcats, ultimately losing in three overtimes.
Defensively, the Cougars strength is their secondary. Marcus Trufant leads the group and could be one of the best pass defenders in school history. WSU's defense has intercepted eight passes so far this season, all by their secondary. The defensive front is a young unit, but has been playing much more consistently in the past few weeks. There is no question that the Sun Devils offense will have their work cut out for them this week. Besides playing against a surging team, this will be the first game of the year the Devils will be playing on artificial grass. The weather will also be a lot different from that to which this team is accustomed. All of these factors add up to what will be a challenging game for ASU.
At the mid point of this turbulent season, it is time the 2000 Sun Devils to sink or swim. It is possible for this team to run the table for the remainder of their game and finish with a respectable 9-2 record. This team has had tremendous resiliency throughout the season. We have battled back after losing our star running back in Delvon Flowers and our starting quarterback Ryan Kealy. Although 4-2 seems like a decent record to many, this team could be undefeated right now. Take away three plays versus the Huskies and that game is a win for the Devils. If the Devils show up to play in the second half of the UCLA game, that game is a win. It is imperative that this team closes the gap on the mistakes we are making. The offense needs to become a consistent unit week in and week out. The defense needs to continue playing with the same aggressiveness they have all season long. It is not too late in the season to make a run. We have five games remaining on our schedule, and hopefully a bowl game after that. It all starts this weekend in Pullman, WA. I am anxious to see how this team responds!