THE SUN DEVILSCOULD BE IN FOR ANOTHER SEASON OF SHOOTOUTS IF THE DEFENSE DOESN'T MAKESTRIDES
2005 RECORD 7-5(4-4 in Pac-10)
KEY RETURNEES QBSam Keller (Sr.) Was having a spectacular season (2,165 passing yards, 20 TDs)until a thumb injury sidelined him in the seventh game TE Zach Miller (Jr.) His94 catches over the past two seasons were more than any other tight end's inthe nation S Zach Catanese (Sr.) A shaky secondary needs his leadership
BIG MAN ON CAMPUSMultitalented junior Rudy Burgess is the catalyst for the offense--and perhapsthe defense now that he's also being worked at cornerback. The Sun Devils plughim in wherever they need him, which is usually at wide receiver (59 receptionslast year) or running back. The 5'10" 180-pounder rushed for a season-high102 yards and two touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 45--40 Insight Bowl win overRutgers.
There were anynumber of enjoyable ways for Arizona State fans to pass the time while theirdefense was on the field last season. For instance, they could discuss therelative merits of their two fine quarterbacks, Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter,or they could calculate the offense's impressive yardage totals and scoringaverage--36.8 points per game, seventh best in the land.
Just aboutanything was more fun than watching the defense, which gave up 29.9 points pergame and a Pac-10 worst 468.8 yards. With both passers returning and a varietyof other offensive weapons available, the chance that the Sun Devils willimprove on last year's record hinges mainly on the defense. Arizona State couldhave as many as seven new starters on that side of the ball. "We were notsatisfied with how our defense ranked," says coach Dirk Koetter, "andwe're doing what's necessary to get our best players on the field to help usimprove it."
Toward that end,the coaches gave the versatile Rudy Burgess a long look at cornerback in springpractice and liked what they saw--he will most likely line up there part time.The pass defense can use the help after giving up 289.0 passing yards per gamelast season (ranking 112th among 119 Division I-A teams).
Part of thereason for the secondary's poor showing was that the front seven generatedlittle pressure on opposing passers. The Sun Devils' 22 sacks last season tiedfor the fewest in the conference. Three transfers on the line, ends TranellMorant (Florida) and Loren Howard (Northwestern) and tackle Michael Marquardt(BYU), should make the pass rush more potent and free linebackers to stopballcarriers closer to the line of scrimmage.
After opening athome against Northern Arizona and Nevada, Arizona State has a four-game stretchconsisting of road tests against Colorado, California and USC and a home dateagainst Oregon. Those games should tell the Sun Devils everything they need toknow about their defense--and their chances of going to a major bowl.