Sept. 12, 2001
A 'Healey's Highlights' recap of the ASU-San Diego State game
Chapter one of the Dirk Koetter Story at Arizona State is in the record books, and from a maroon and gold perspective, the Sun Devils' 2001 gridiron debut under their new head coach couldn't have unfolded much more favorably. A larger crowd would've been nice (announced attendance: 54,071, actual fannies in seats: fewer than that), but with more performances like the 38--7 thrashing of San Diego State Saturday night, the fans will come. Besides, the ones who did show up on a warm, dry desert evening gave the home team plenty of much-appreciated vocal support.
Though it was far from a perfect team performance, the Devils' positives far outweighed the negatives in the San Diego State win. The offense totaled 425 yards while merely scratching the surface of Koetter's fertile Xs-and-Os repertoire, while Brent Guy's aggressive 4-2-5 defense was superb, yielding just 190 total yards and recording five quarterback sacks. Perhaps best of all, the Sun Devils were able to earn for themselves a convincing victory, while making just enough mistakes to give Koetter and his staff plenty of good coaching ammunition for this upcoming week.
If his opening night performance is any indication, Jeff Krohn will flourish as the triggerman for Koetter's offensive machine. It's hard to imagine Krohn being any more efficient than he was against the Aztecs. In fact, Jeff was so efficient he made ASU history! By completing a remarkable 27 of 35 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, Krohn recorded a .771 completion percentage, which is the best ever by an ASU quarterback who attempted more than 31 passes in a game. What's more, Jeff netted 30 rushing yards in seven carries, including a pair of option runs that picked up first downs. As a result of his play against San Diego State, Krohn is the Pac-10 leader in total offense (301 yards) and ranks among the national leaders in completions (fourth) and pass efficiency (seventh). Koetter's one critique of his QB was that Krohn threw late on some of his deep balls, but Dirk says that is a common, correctable mistake.
Over the past two years, it has become quite apparent that Donnie O'Neal is Krohn's 'go-to' receiver. Having overcome a shoulder injury suffered in the Camp Tontozona scrimmage August 18, O'Neal equaled his career high with seven catches (two for touchdowns) and 101 receiving yards against the Aztecs. Donnie earned a game ball for his effort, and will serve as a game captain for the Sun Devils this week at UCLA.
The running game was solid, if not spectacular, totaling 154 yards, averaging just under four yards per carry. Most encouraging, perhaps, was the sight of Delvon Flowers back in uniform, back on the field, running crisply, confidently, with no apparent physical or mental after-effects of his knee injury of a year ago. Meantime, true freshman Daryl Lightfoot gave us a preview of coming attractions with four rushes good for 27 yards (most on handoffs as he went in motion toward the formation), and a pair of receptions, including a game-best 47-yard grab that helped the Devils escape the shadow of their goal line.
I've felt for quite some time that defense would be Arizona State's strength in 2001, and opening night did nothing to dissuade me of that opinion. To get an idea of how completely the defense dominated San Diego State, check out the Aztecs' first-half numbers on offense: one first down, minus one rushing yards, 19 total yards on 23 plays, and just eight minutes in time of possession. We mentioned last week that Koetter's goal is to have his defense make three big plays for every one it surrenders. Against San Diego State, that ratio was a stunning seven-to-one, in favor of ASU! SDSU had some success running the ball up the middle in the second half, but not nearly enough to influence the outcome of the game. Sophomore DE Terrell Suggs picked up where he left off in his Pac-10 Freshman-of-the-Year season in 2000, with two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble, earning himself a game ball. If he keeps up that pace, Suggs just might match his publicly-stated pre-season goal of recording 20 sacks! Koetter says safety Al Williams is a player who could flourish in the 4-2-5 defensive scheme, and Al showed why on a third quarter blitz that resulted in a crucial sack of Aztecs' QB Lon Sheriff, after San Diego State's first drive of the second half had reached the ASU 27 yard line. Suggs sacked Sheriff on the next play, and the Devils took over from there, driving to a touchdown that increased their lead to 24--0.
If Krohn was the focal point of pre-game attention on offense, the same could be said of the Sun Devils' youthful cornerbacks on defense. All five of ASU's corners (three freshmen, a JC transfer and a walkon) saw action, and all acquitted themselves in distinguished fashion. The highlight was certainly Emmanuel Franklin's ASU-record 100-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. However, Franklin, fellow starter R.J. Oliver, and reserves Lamar Baker, O.J. Hackett and Adrian Thomas combined to hold San Diego State's formidable receiving duo of Derrick Lewis and J.R. Tolver to a combined three catches worth 45 yards. The 'kid corners' will be tested by UCLA and by every ASU foe this season, but the first outing was a positive one.
Not only were the Sun Devils plenty good enough to win easily, they also were fortunate on several occasions, thanks to the Aztecs' consistent tendency to draw flags at inopportune times. San Diego State was whistled for 11 penalties totaling 132 yards. When the game was still scoreless in the first-quarter, a Jeff Shoate interception of Krohn was nullified by a defensive holding call on the Aztecs. Six plays later, Arizona State was in the end zone. Later in the period, a pair of pass interference penalties on SDSU prolonged an ASU scoring drive that produced Mike Barth's 38-yard field goal. In the fourth quarter, the Aztecs were called for roughing the passer on a third down Krohn incompletion. It took just seven more plays for Krohn to find O'Neal for a touchdown and a 31--0 lead.
All told, Koetter was able to use 63 players in the San Diego State game, providing many youngsters (including true freshmen Lightfoot, Lamar Baker, safety Jason Shivers and tight end Lee Burghgraef) with ample playing time that will only aid in developing ASU's depth. With the possible exception of defensive tackle Paul Glass, who aggravated a back injury on what Koetter described as a cheap shot by an unidentified San Diego State player, the Devils also emerged from their opening game as a healthy unit.
The going gets much tougher from here out, starting this weekend when the Sun Devils visit 14th-ranked UCLA. But like they say, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and Dirk Koetter's team helped make his first game as ASU head coach one Devil of a Debut!
Tim Healey is the radio play-by-play voice of ASU football for the Sun Devil Sports Network. Tim can be reached by e-mail at: TIMJHEALEY@aol.com.