Quotes From ASU Football Coach Dirk Koetter's Monday Press Conference

Oct. 20, 2003

TEMPE, Ariz. -- 'A tremendous win for us against UNC. It was as thrilling of a game as I've ever been on the winning side of. The only other finish I've been involved with like that was the 5th-down game, Missouri versus Colorado, and we were on the wrong end there. To win on the last play, I've never been involved in that, I don't think many of the players have, but it was a lot of fun to finish that way.

'Several of the players have commented that, and I'll echo that, when we were standing on the sidelines and Skyler Fulton caught the last ball, you didn't know if he was in or out. It did seem like an eternity until the referee put his hands up in the air and then our bench exploded down to the corner of the field. I don't think anyone who wasn't at the game could truly describe it.

'But if you were not at that game I feel like you could never truly appreciate everything that our players had to overcome in that game. Not only have I never been involved in a finish like that, I don't think I've been involved in a game where so many things went against us, call wise. Whether those calls were legit or not legit is not my point, just a lot of them went against the Sun Devils. To overcome all that and to hang in there and win in the last play was tremendous.

'Our scout players of the week were Rudy Burgess, wide receiver on offense; Josh Barrett, safety; Jermaine McKinney, special teams. As far as game balls, one went to Daryl Lightfoot on special teams. Daryl had a big kickoff return at the start of the game that set up our first touchdown and the longest punt return of the season against UNC to begin the last drive and jump start us there.

'R.J. Oliver got a game ball on defense. When UNC had the lead, they were driving on the 20-yard line and R.J. tackled and stripped the ball out and got us back in the game and we were able to score and tie it up with a 2-point play. R.J. also had a real nice strip earlier in the game where there was a pass over the middle and R.J. stripped a ball out and we thought it was our ball but they overruled it saying it was incomplete. Nice work by R.J.

'Offensively, not a hard decision with the two game balls. Derek Hagan, a huge game for him from the opening drive to the last drive and everywhere in between. Two of Derek's biggest plays were crackback blocks on screens where he knocked their linebacker on the seat of his pants and did a real nice job. The other offensive game ball goes to Loren Wade who came in and ran hard, 130 yards rushing. He continues to get better and better. His shoulder is finally healthy and that has showed up in his play. The extra captains for UCLA besides Andrew Walter and Riccardo Stewart are R.J. Oliver and Regis Crawford.

'A quick note about UCLA: they're undefeated in the conference and tied for the lead. They're finding ways to win every week in conference play. They're very strong defensively. Their front four is playing well, their linebackers are playing well, their secondary is playing well. Offensively, they certainly have explosive players in the skill positions at tight end, wide receiver and tailback. They've struggled a little bit on offense but they've come up with plays when they've needed and had to. They had a setback when they lost their quarterback in the first or second game of the season, but they brought in Eric Olson and he's been efficient. Eric is a kid we know a lot about. I coached Eric's brother at Boston College and I think Eric is a fine quarterback and he's waiting to take that next step to becoming a real fine Pac-10 quarterback.'

What is the difference between the offense this year and last year?
'[The absence of] Shaun McDonald. Shaun is one of the fastest players I've ever seen in my life. Shaun consistently has just amazed you for the past two years preceding this season with his ability to get behind the defense even when they knew he was coming. He can do real acrobatic plays with both feet off the ground. A lot of guys can run fast but when they are airborne, they need the body control and concentration to catch the ball, and a lot of guys can't do that.

'Our offensive line is playing a lot better than at any point that we've been here at Arizona State. We are running the ball better than we had at any point last year. Right now, we haven't had the one play, 70-yard drives. We haven't had that quick strike one play drive. We've had to earn it with longer drives and we've improved a lot in that area. I think the longest pass play of the season is 44 or 47 yards but we've got some big plays where we throw the ball in the 20-25 yard range like with Derek Hagan's first touchdown and the one he had in the last drive there where he broke a tackle and ran for extra yards.'

Is this a better offense this year?
'We are what we are and the thing that does matter is that we have gotten better every week and the players have hung in there and made the adjustments that they've needed to. The guys have stepped up. Andrew [Walter] has made changes that he has had to make and we're worried about how this year's offense plays.'

Is the pressure that UCLA brings more from their line or blitzing linebackers?
'Both. UCLA is a big zone blitz team. They either bring 2 linebackers off the side or a linebacker and a safety off the side. They're going to pressure you. The front four, led by Ball and Leisle are talented. They're as good of a pair of defensive linemen as there are in the league. They can get to you in a four-man rush, but they do bring pressure with their zone blitzes a lot.'

Do you have a safety or linebacker cover UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis?
'It would depend if we were in man or zone. If you are in zone, the responsibility falls on the linebackers and safeties. If you are in man, obviously it's more of the safeties covering him. I think they have three or four big play guys with Marcedes Lewis, Craig Bragg, who is having an excellent year, and Tyler Ebell, who had a great freshman year at tailback. They are rotating their tailbacks right now. Maurice Drew is also returning kicks for them, who is very explosive. Marcedes Lewis is dangerous on every single play there is no question about that.'

What has been the key to Derek Hagan's emergence?
'Derek struggled dropping some balls early in the season. We challenged Derek to play better in practice and he has done a great job at that. The better play in practice has translated over to the games. That's three weeks in a row where he has really played big.'

Your team was penalized 16 times, does the matter of penalties need to be addressed?
'It needs to be addressed, because sixteen penalties is too many. We had four possessions inside the five-yard line when, in three of the four drives, penalties took us out of scoring opportunities. So it certainly needs to be addressed. I find it comical we would be criticized by anyone who wasn't at the game for having too many penalties. Our average number of penalties the last two years is in the seven to eight penalties-per-game range, somewhere in the middle of the Pac-10 penalty wise. I don't believe that you go out and commit double the amount of penalties in your seventh game of the year than you've been committing the rest of the season, I just don't buy that.

'Does it need to be addressed? Sure. In some of those penalties the guys were doing exactly what we coach them to do. I sent a tape to the Pac-10 supervisor of officials to get his read on some of those plays to see if we need to be teaching them another way. For instance on our last punt on fourth-and-20, our two gunners, Jason Shivers and Emmanual Franklin, were right in position to make the tackle. The guy was allowed to catch the ball and they tackled him. The explanation we got on that penalty was not a good one. The guy used the 'halo' word, and there is no halo rule anymore. It needs to be addressed, yes, and I promised myself I'm not going to tell you how many of those penalties were legit of that sixteen; some, definitely, all, no. Anyone who was at the game, I think, could all stand up here and line up and take a lie detector test and see if we had sixteen legitimate penalties on us.'

Comment on your improvement in the Red Zone.
'We executed those plays a lot better. I think we've gone in the last three weeks from 50% efficiency in the red zone up to 76% or 77% if I'm not mistaken. That's still a little bit too low. Against Oregon, they credited us with six out of six, this last week against North Carolina we were credited with five out of six in the red zone. That's where that stat is a little misleading. We get credit for being five out of six, but when you have to settle for some field goals, when you are inside the five, those should all be touchdowns. Those have got to be touchdowns inside the five-yard line. The one play we ran on the one- or two-yard line and they called one of our offensive lineman for holding and his whole upper body was in the end zone. I have never seen that before. Holding could probably be called on every play in college football.'

Comment on the play of your defensive line.
'Our D-line, is playing very hard. We are rotating eight guys. Ali Likio was able to join us and contribute on this trip, Kyle Caldwell is getting better and better. Shane Jones might have had one of his best games and Gabe Reininger came back and contributed a lot more than he had in the previous week versus Oregon.

'Ted Monachino is doing a great of rotating our guys. I'm proud of how hard that front four is playing. We weren't able to pressure with the four-man front, but once again this didn't turn into a drop back and pass game with North Carolina like it did last year. We anticipated them relying a lot more on Durant than they did. I'm wondering out loud if Durant might have been hurt a little bit. He didn't seem to be as big of a focus in their offense as he was last year or he has been in other games. They were much more patient in sticking with their running game than they ever have been that we've seen. I think our D-line did what they had to do based on what the gameplan was, which was to contain Durant.'

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