By JOHN SLEEPER
TEMPE, Ariz. – By any measure, Arizona State shouldn’t be at the lofty heights it enjoys today.
Illnesses, suspensions and injuries were supposed to have taken care of the Sun Devils, leaving them a second-tier team in the Pacific-10 Conference. Yet ASU is solidly in the Pac-10 title chase at 1-1, and its 4-1 overall record has observers baffled.
“This team, right from Day One, has had a lot of adversity,” ASU coach Bruce Snyder said. “This has been a very resilient football team. If we have an identity as a team, I think it’s that our internal structure is strong. The fellas just go out and play.”
Tonight, the unranked Sun Devils test their resilience against No. 11 Washington (1-1, 4-1).
The Sun Devils are on their starting third quarterback, Griffin Goodman, after three-year starter Ryan Kealy was suspended for a DUI arrest and later suffered a career-ending knee injury. Jeff Krohn, who started the season, came down with mononucleosis and has missed the last two games.
All Goodman did Saturday was burn Cal for 394 passing yards on 11 completions.
In the first days of fall camp, tailback Delvon Flowers, considered one of the three best runners in the conference, blew out his knee and was lost for the year. His replacement, Davaren Hightower, came down with pneumonia, lost 12 pounds and has played little.
So, the Sun Devils have started a true freshman at tailback, Mike Williams, and have spelled him with walk-on Tom Pace. Pace, who is not even listed in the ASU media guide, played one year at Idaho, left on a Mormon mission, went to ASU to complete his education, married a model and joined the team after fall camp ended.
“He’s really quite a story,” Snyder said.
While Williams and Pace have performed ably, ASU has had to rely on an offense based on the long pass. And while neither Goodman nor Krohn complete half their passes, ASU has racked up 374 passing yards against Utah State, 365 against UCLA and 420 against Cal.
“It’s been a real interesting fall,” Snyder said.
The defense has had fewer adventures.
Led by middle linebacker Adam Archuleta, the Sun Devils enjoy an attacking defense whose premise is to pressure the quarterback. ASU leads the conference in sacks with 20, led by freshman end Terrell Suggs with five and Archuleta with three.
Archuleta, at 6 feet, 208 pounds, is a strong candidate to pick up the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honors. He leads the Pac-10 in tackles with 52, 42 unassisted. NFL scouts are looking at Archuleta closely as a safety.
“Archuleta is a speed merchant,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “He’s like a bullet on the field. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in unbelievable effort.”
To Snyder, the word “resilient” may come to mind.
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