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THE SUN DEVILS COULD BE IN FOR ANOTHER SEASON OF SHOOTOUTS IF THE DEFENSE DOESN'T MAKE STRIDES
2005 RECORD 7-5 (4-4 in Pac-10)
RETURNING STARTERS 14
KEY RETURNEES QB Sam 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.) His 94 catches over the past two seasons were more than any other tight end's in the nation S Zach Catanese (Sr.) A shaky secondary needs his leadership
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS Multitalented junior Rudy Burgess is the catalyst for the offense--and perhaps the defense now that he's also being worked at cornerback. The Sun Devils plug him in wherever they need him, which is usually at wide receiver (59 receptions last year) or running back. The 5'10" 180-pounder rushed for a season-high 102 yards and two touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 45--40 Insight Bowl win over Rutgers.
There were any number of enjoyable ways for Arizona State fans to pass the time while their defense was on the field last season. For instance, they could discuss the relative merits of their two fine quarterbacks, Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, or they could calculate the offense's impressive yardage totals and scoring average--36.8 points per game, seventh best in the land.
Just about anything was more fun than watching the defense, which gave up 29.9 points per game and a Pac-10 worst 468.8 yards. With both passers returning and a variety of other offensive weapons available, the chance that the Sun Devils will improve on last year's record hinges mainly on the defense. Arizona State could have as many as seven new starters on that side of the ball. "We were not satisfied with how our defense ranked," says coach Dirk Koetter, "and we're doing what's necessary to get our best players on the field to help us improve it."
Toward that end, the coaches gave the versatile Rudy Burgess a long look at cornerback in spring practice 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 game last season (ranking 112th among 119 Division I-A teams).
Part of the reason for the secondary's poor showing was that the front seven generated little pressure on opposing passers. The Sun Devils' 22 sacks last season tied for the fewest in the conference. Three transfers on the line, ends Tranell Morant ( Florida) and Loren Howard (Northwestern) and tackle Michael Marquardt (BYU), should make the pass rush more potent and free linebackers to stop ballcarriers closer to the line of scrimmage.