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Phil Taylor
September 04, 2006
Signal Switch After calling an audible and naming Rudy Carpenter his starting QB, Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter is taking heat
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September 04, 2006

College Football

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Signal Switch
After calling an audible and naming Rudy Carpenter his starting QB, Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter is taking heat

Although Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter has a reputation for offensive creativity, his latest innovation--the quarterback reverse--likely isn't one he's eager to add to his playbook. Two days after naming senior Sam Keller the Sun Devils' starting quarterback on Aug. 18, Koetter announced he had made the wrong choice and handed the job to sophomore Rudy Carpenter. The switch prompted a miffed Keller to transfer to Nebraska, where he will redshirt this season.

Koetter's about-face left his team, a projected Pac-10 contender, in upheaval heading into its opener on Thursday against Northern Arizona. Instead of having enviable depth at quarterback, the Sun Devils are now paper-thin; true freshman Danny Sullivan is Carpenter's backup. And suggestions that Koetter caved in to pressure from some of his players in switching from Keller to Carpenter have raised larger questions about the coach's leadership. "It's like a little Peyton Place," Keller's father, Mike, told The Arizona Republic before his son transferred.

Keller, who began 2005 as the starter, threw for 2,165 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions before a right-thumb injury ended his season in the seventh game, when Arizona State was 3--3. Carpenter took over and led the Sun Devils to a 4--1 finish as a starter, including a 45--40 Insight Bowl win over Rutgers. He had 2,273 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and his 68.4 completion percentage made him the nation's passing-efficiency leader.

Koetter announced at the start of preseason practice that the job was up for grabs. After an intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 18, he declared the 6'4", 230-pound Keller the starter based on his seniority. The next afternoon Koetter met with members of the Sun Devils' leadership council, an informal group of about 15 players, for more than an hour. That evening the coach informed his two quarterbacks of his change of heart. Those involved in the meeting have been tight-lipped about what was discussed, but it's clear that the majority of the players present felt Carpenter deserved the job. "The players didn't make the decision; I made the decision," Koetter says. "They gave good input as to what was best for our team. I'd be foolish not to listen to that."

His players' opinions may not have been the only factor that persuaded Koetter to change his mind. Carpenter, who has three years of eligibility left, acknowledged last week that he had considered transferring after he was initially named the backup.

Now Koetter and Carpenter must make sure the season doesn't become a referendum on whether the coach made the right choice. "With any quarterback competition there is always a split," Carpenter says. "It's natural for people to choose sides. But guys have been telling me that they're behind me all the way. Everyone realizes that we have to get past personal preferences and do what has to be done to win games."

The 6'2", 207-pound Carpenter can begin mending whatever rift exists by leading the Sun Devils to a fast start. With a wealth of returning players on offense, an improved defense and a forgiving early schedule, they could challenge four-time defending Pac-10 champion USC.

Keller, meanwhile, will spend the season learning Nebraska's West Coast offense. Although current Cornhuskers starter Zac Taylor is a senior, Keller will have to compete with three returning quarterbacks next season. "I hope Sam goes to Nebraska and tears it up," Koetter says. "I wish him the best. But I can look myself in the mirror and know I did the right thing for ASU football."