The Gomez Files: Defense Sets The Tone Early
Oct. 11, 2003
By Brian Gomez
Most Arizona State football fans anticipated the offense would catch firesooner or later, but the defense was the group that put the heat on Oregon onSaturday afternoon, turning in a gritty effort characteristic of the season'sfirst three games.
Sparked by first-quarter interceptions from junior linebacker Jamar Williamsand junior cornerback Chris McKenzie, the Sun Devil defense proved the 82points it relinquished over the last two weeks against No. 24-ranked Oregon Stateand No. 9 Southern California was the exception, not the norm.
The Sun Devils held the Ducks to 14 points Saturday, marking the fewest theyhave given up since the Sept. 6 season opener against Northern Arizona. Theyaccomplished the feat against a pair of Oregon quarterbacks that were similarin style, and discovered the same unsettling results.
'I'm sure both teams were a little nervous about what was going to happen ifthey fell behind because of the recent history in the last three or fourweeks,' ASU head coach Dirk Koetter said. 'We needed a confidence boost. We neededa game to come out and play like we knew we could play.'
The Sun Devil defense was so dominant early that Oregon didn't record itsfirst completion until the 2:27 mark of the second quarter. That came well afterOregon senior Jason Fife replaced Oregon sophomore Kellen Clemens, who threwinterceptions on his team's first two possessions.
Oregon's offensive woes started on the third play from scrimmage whenWilliams stepped in front of an errant pass and returned the ball 50 yards for atouchdown. ASU junior defensive end Ishmael Thrower created the initial pressureon Clemens by penetrating the pocket with a powerful rush from the outside.
'I just tried to make a break on it, and I didn't want to get tackled byanybody,' said Williams, whose interception return for a touchdown marked theteam's third of the season, the most since ASU ran back four picks for scores in1980. 'I saw the end zone, and I was trying my best to get into it.'
On Oregon's ensuing possession, the Sun Devils needed only two plays to forceanother turnover. McKenzie made the stop this time, intercepting Clemens'pass when he left his man at the line of scrimmage and dropped back into coverage.
'It was the defense that was called that put me in the right position,'McKenzie said. 'I just made a play on the ball. I wish I could have scored, but itset up our offense to drop the ball into the end zone.'
The Ducks failed to generate much momentum in the first half, mainly becauseASU's defense stiffened on third-down situations. Oregon drove into the redzone late in the first quarter, only to be held scoreless when juniorplace-kicker Jared Siegel pushed a 40-yard field goal wide left. On the previous play,Sun Devil junior safety Riccardo Stewart sacked Clemens from the blindside,halting Oregon's chances of prolonging the promising drive.
Midway through the second quarter, the Ducks moved near midfield, but wereflagged for a holding penalty before Thrower blitzed the gap untouched on thirddown and forced Clemens to throw the ball away.
Oregon scored on its opening drive of the second half, but ASU answered whenjunior quarterback Andrew Walter tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to sophomorewide receiver Matt Miller. The Sun Devils stopped the Ducks in their tracks onthe next possession, setting up Walter's 5-yard touchdown pass to senior widereceiver Skyler Fulton.
'Any time you start 14 points up, it's a huge cushion, but it then comes backto the killer instinct,' said Walter, who finished 18-for-28 for 316 yardsand three touchdowns. 'Are we going to quit and just coast, or are we going tokeep going? Today, we kept going.'
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