Sun Devils’ attack could vex Huskies

  • John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Friday, October 26, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By John Sleeper

Herald Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter would love to believe that last week’s resounding victory over Oregon State was the beginning of a trend.

The fact is, it’s too early to tell, although Washington will get a decent idea tonight when the two teams clash at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Sun Devils outscored the Beavers 21-0 in the fourth quarter on their way to a 41-24 victory. In that time, ASU’s running game, spearheaded by the oft-injured Delvon Flowers, ran over the increasingly spent Beavers defense while the defense shut down OSU’s high-powered passing attack.

“That was our most complete game of the year,” said Koetter, in his first year with the Sun Devils after three seasons at Boise State. “We played with the most emotion and the most enthusiasm. We made mistakes, but we made mistakes going full speed. I think we’re getting better.”

The Sun Devils needed to. Their first two Pacific-10 Conference games were dismal showings on the road at Stanford (a 51-28 loss) and to USC (a 41-17 defeat). This after an unchallenging non-conference schedule that included big wins over San Diego State, San Jose State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

So Koetter really didn’t know what he had. And maybe he still doesn’t. Is this the Sun Devils squad that surrendered 548 yards against Stanford or the one that held OSU to just 79 yards on the ground?

Koetter insists that the Sun Devils’ recent success on defense is a result of his players getting accustomed to a 4-2-5 alignment, an attack-style defense that will remind Husky fans of Jim Lambright’s eight-man-front scheme in the ’90s.

The problem, at least one of them, is a secondary that starts three freshmen. Stanford’s Randy Fasani and USC’s Carson Palmer combined for 746 passing yards and four TD passes in their blowouts. So whatever push the ASU pass rush got up front was negated by shoddy pass coverage by its secondary.

And Koetter heard about it. An impatient alumni and skeptical media questioned Koetter’s “new” defensive scheme. The thrust: Sure, it worked at Boise State, a Big Sky Conference program just five years out of Division I-AA, but will it work in the big time?

The criticism suddenly vanished this week after the win over Oregon State.

“From a confidence standpoint, (the Oregon State game) was something we really needed,” Koetter said. “We know the scheme can work in the Pac-10 as well as it will anywhere else. We just didn’t have the success on the field.”

Numbers suggest the Huskies might have answers from an offensive standpoint. Quarterback Cody Pickett, just two weeks after he sustained a third-degree shoulder separation against USC, threw for a school-record 455 yards against Arizona in a 31-28 victory Saturday. The Huskies, in contrast to the grind-it-out, ball-control ground game of the past two years, have started to fling the ball in the air and are featuring a flight of fast receivers in Reggie Williams and Paul Arnold.

Conventional thinking suggests Washington could burn the ASU secondary, which, though learning and maturing, is still young. But the Sun Devils have compensated with a fearsome pass rush, led by defensive end Terrell Suggs, the Pac-10 sacks leader.

“They have a lot of inexperience in the secondary, so they are not spending a lot of time trying to get four guys ready,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “They are playing with three on the back end and trying to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They come off the edges with a lot of consistency and try to make sure those guys (in the secondary) don’t have to cover for that long.”

Of greater concern to Neuheisel is finding a way to stop the ASU offense. The Sun Devils have made the big play a cornerstone with quarterback Jeff Krohn and fleet wideout Shaun McDonald.

That scheme only has been enhanced by Flowers, who missed the entire 2000 season with a knee injury. He ran for 226 yards against OSU.

The concern on the Washington end: The Huskies have been run over the past two games by UCLA’s DeShaun Foster (301 yards) and Arizona’s Clarence Farmer (147 yards).

“It’s like facing a pitcher who just came off a one-hit shutout,” Neuheisel said of Flowers.

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