Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter spoke with reporters Monday at his weekly press conference. He provided his thoughts on this week's opponent, Arizona, a Sun Devil injury update, and much more.
On the extra implications of the UA game:
"It's huge. The winner is going to be guaranteed a bowl game. The loser of this game could be left out depending on what happens with the UCLA/USC game. We could have as many as eight teams in the Pac-10 with six wins and there are only six guaranteed bowls. There are some other scenarios out there, but those will all be played out down the road. For our bowl season, it's pretty simple: Either we win or we aren't guaranteed."
On Arizona's recent strong play:
"There's no question that the number one stat in winning games is turnover margin and they are plus nine in the last three games. They have skyrocketed to plus seven on the season which leads the Pac-10. Those nine takeaways have all led to a lot of points and that clearly is the defining thing about the run they are on now. "
On how much this game will define ASU's season:
"I think this game has a lot to do with defining ASU's season every year."
"I'm a big fan of Willie Tuitama. Obviously, he has had some tough breaks with injuries this year. Willie is a guy who gives them a real threat at quarterback. He is a pure passer. I've always liked him."
On not going to the shotgun versus UCLA:
"The shotgun in of itself doesn't decrease pressure. It's just a formation, it doesn't decrease pressure. You still have to block blitzers, no matter if you're in the shotgun or not. If you notice, when a quarterback starts his drop, he takes a 5 or a 7 step drop, he usually ends up at the same depth as a shotgun quarterback catching the ball and taking a 3-step drop. That's kind of a misnomer that the shotgun eliminates pressure."
On preparing differently for Arizona without an extra week:
"Gameplan-wise, you have to speed it up. The players are already used to a three-day work week. Monday off, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practice routine. So that part is not different. But the gameplan part for the coaches has to be extremely accelerated. In the past five seasons we have had two weeks to do a gameplan for Arizona. When you are sitting there with 11 game films to study, you had a lot more time to look over them. You can be very thorough and pick your spots as far as putting in special plays maybe, and really picking it apart. Now we are limited by time and you're got to let some of that game film go. There aren't enough hours to watch it all."
On opening the newspaper and seeing speculation about his future:
"I don't open the newspaper. No offense to anybody."
On the struggles of the passing game against UCLA compared to the success versus Washington State:
"UCLA plays a much different style of defense than Washington State does. UCLA is much more aggressive with their secondary where Washington State was a lot more of a more zone team. UCLA plays man to man and a lot more match-up zone where they're really on top of your receivers and make it a lot more difficult for your receivers to find those holes. The other thing is that UCLA has two of the best defensive ends in the country. That really stresses your tackles and puts a lot of pressure on them and puts a lot of pressure on the edges of the pocket for the quarterback. He can't sit back there and hold the ball forever. We had some chances to make some plays in the passing game but they didn't work out. Those young receivers are getting a baptism by fire, so to speak. They're making progress."
On which team Arizona's defense is more similar to, UCLA or Washington State:
"Probably closer to UCLA. Although Arizona is primarily a zone team, they have tremendous experience in their secondary and outstanding players back there. For years now, that's been the strength of their defense. I think both those corners have like 34 starts in a row. It's two of the best corners if not the best corner tandem in the Pac-10."
On his gut feeling about Zach Miller's decision to stay in school or enter the NFL draft:
"I do not have a gut feel on that. We are just totally focused on what is going on this season and that is how Zach has been. Zach has said all along that after the Arizona game he is going to turn his paperwork into the NFL. That will be just a few days to turn that around, a couple weeks at the most. The NFL's advisory panel will give him an idea of where he stands. He and his family will sit down and make a decision and he has up until January 15th."
"Rudy has gotten a lot of different types of experiences than he had last year. Rudy came in and played with a lot of skilled playmakers around him last year where Rudy just had to drive the car. This year, because of graduation injuries and some other factors, Rudy's been counted on more to be the center playmaker, rather than the guy who just distributes the ball. We're just a different style of offense this year. We're more of a run first pass second style of offense. That has forced Rudy to sometimes probably try to do a little more than he should. He has had some ups and downs. I still wouldn't trade Rudy for any other quarterback. He is a heck of a quarterback. He is a great competitor, an excellent leader. He is a tough guy. He cares a lot about what's going on in our program. For a guy in just his second year playing he is doing an excellent job."
On whether it's possible for a player like Rudy to be too hard on himself:
"Rudy is very hard on himself, often times too much so. I also think that's Rudy's style. It has worked for him through his high school career, throughout his life. That is who is he is. He is not pretending. That is Rudy Carpenter."
On this rivalry as compared with others:
"All rivalry games are huge for the programs involved. I would say that this particular rivalry seems to be a little bit more intense than most. I think that has to do with the demographics of the state we live in and how things are spread out. How the alums are mixed together. That definitely spills over into the players. It starts with the fans and the water cooler talk throughout the year and definitely spills over to the people involved in the game."
On the theory that a rivalry win in and of itself constitutes a successful season:
"Depends on if we win or lose. I hear that a lot. As a coach you prepared hard and as a player you prepare hard to win every game. There are plenty of people who believe that and I certainly believe it this week."
On whether he prefers playing Arizona without the added week:
"I think the two-week build-up in the past definitely adds to the heatedness -- if that's a word -- of the rivalry. The players already know how to get ready for a game. They've been doing it for the last two months. In the past, the two weeks of fan and media coverage and build up has thrown fuel to the fire. As I said earlier, when you have 11 game films and you are trying to get through them in a couple of days, it adds more stress on the coaches to come up with your game plan. In the age of 12-game seasons, it's here to stay."
On whether he agrees with Arizona coach Mike Stoops about quarterbacks sometimes struggling more in their second seasons:
"I don't really think of it like that. I'm not disagreeing with him, that's his experience. I think if you look at both Rudy and Willie Tuitiama, their struggles, if that's what you want to call them, this year come from different reasons. Willie -- his struggles are primarily due to injury. Rudy's struggles are primarily due to the fact that we have a different type of offense and different players around him, compared to what we had a year ago."
On addressing the red zone issues from last weekend:
"A lot of that has to do with the defense that you're playing against. This season we haven't gotten to the red zone enough times and when we have gotten there we have been a good touchdown scoring team, and we preach that. Last week against UCLA we were not good. We had to settle for four field goals. Of course, great job by Jesse Ainsworth to knock those four in. All four of those drives in the red zone, we had opportunities to score touchdowns but we just didn't capitalize and make the plays. Defenses have different strategies, some defenses go all-out blitz in the red zone. Some defenses play tight zone coverages because they don't have much field to defend. The way you attack in the red zone is somewhat predicated on the style of defense you're playing."
On the emotional state of the team:
"Our team was very disappointed after the game on Saturday. We felt that was a winnable game for us. Our guys played very hard. They put it on the line in the game and there was a lot of disappointment in the locker room afterwards. The day after the game on Sunday, especially since it was a late game, our guys were tired, beat up. Our guys know what's on the line this week, as far as the rivalry, the season, the bowl game. By the time we left last night after our work out I thought our guys were up beat. That's one of the reasons why we take Monday off, so the guys get a chance to separate for 24 hours and then come back, get ready to get back at it on Tuesday."
On selected player injuries:
"Rudy Burgess continues to be bothered by the dreaded high ankle sprain. I wish there was more to it than that but these high ankle sprains are hard to shake and he's day-to-day. They're trying different braces, different tape jobs, different things to get him back, and it is just been slow going. Tranell Morant is doubtful with a knee injury in the game the other night. It doesn't look like it's going to require surgery but they are probably going to keep him out of this game. Terry Richardson last week returned to practice. He practiced very well on Tuesday. His knee was bothering him Wednesday so he didn't practice. He came back practiced a little bit on Thursday. We thought he was going to be able to play, but then he came down with the flu on Friday and Saturday. Although he dressed for the game he wasn't able to play. I would anticipate Terry will be back."
On the play of Justin Tryon as a return specialist and whether he will play there again Saturday:
"I thought our special teams overall, Ainsworth, Jonathan Johnson our punter, Josh Barrett as a gunner covering punts did a great job and then Justin Tryon as a return man. He has been progressing all year. We've said this guy is getting better and better and better and he really did a great job of bursting at the hole and bursting right at the right time. UCLA, I don't think, has given up any kickoffs past the 25-yard line all season in something like 60 attempts and he took two past that point. Some of the credit needs to go to [special teams coach Tom Osborne] on the scheme and certainly to the other 10 guys blocking up front. We are excited about J.T. as a return guy and there is a possibility you will see him back there."
On his team's performance relative to expectations and change from last season:
"Injuries. Definitely. Think about it this way, our defense has improved. Our defensive numbers are way better than they were last year. We've moved up fifty-some spots (nationally). If you look at the numbers, as good as I think Arizona's defense is, we are right there with Arizona's defense. Our defensive scoring average would be a lot less if our offense hadn't put our defense in some bad positions in some games. The biggest difference in our team from September, we had Andrew Carnahan, Stephen Berg, Terry Richardson, Jamaal Lewis and Rudy Burgess. That's five pretty good offensive football players that aren't with us right now. That's over half our offense. Approximately half our offensive line and three of our top playmakers.
"Kyle has really, really come on the second half of the season. These last four games have really been the best four-game stretch of Kyle's career. He's healthy for the first time this year. He is playing with a lot of enthusiasm, hustling to the ball. The fact that we can rotate two-deep on the defensive line has really helped all of our defensive line, but Kyle especially He played with a ton of passion and emotion last week. He had two tipped passes that he got his hands on. He is tremendous bull-rusher, very powerful. I'm happy for Kyle but it's a shame that we've been missing a player as talented as Kyle for the last two years due to injury. He is playing the best football of his career right now."