By Connor Doyle
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday November 27, 2002
Center stage will be under center Friday when UA and ASU stage the latest act in the rivalry between the two teams.
UA's Jason Johnson and ASU's Andrew Walter have been among the Pacific 10 Conference's passing leaders most of the season and own the league's No. 1 and No. 2 single-game passing performances.
Johnson, whose 492-yard explosion against Cal on Nov. 16 is the second-best performance by a quarterback this season in the Pac-10, is third in the conference with an average of 278 yards per game.
Walter is right on Johnson's heels in terms of yards per game, placing fourth in the Pac-10 with a 274.1 average, and had the best single-game performance of the year with his 536 yards against Oregon on Oct. 19. He also holds the third- and fourth-best marks on the season, with his 477-yard and 474-yard performances against California and North Carolina, respectively.
What makes Walter's season even more impressive is that he wasn't the Sun Devils' starting quarterback until the fifth game of the season, yet has amassed 3,289 yards and 26 touchdowns with a 142.99 efficiency rating.
In the case of Johnson, his 3,058 yards and 15 touchdowns have come without the benefit of a running attack, as Arizona ranks last in the country in rushing. His efficiency rating of 134.14 isn't that far behind Walter, either.
While both quarterbacks are equally vital to the success of their pass-oriented offenses, Johnson said he and Walter differ slightly in style.
"He's taller than me, and he probably has a stronger arm than I do," Johnson said. "I've seen him try to hit some throws I wouldn't attempt."
Johnson said that while he prefers to pick defenses apart underneath coverage, Walter is a little more of a "home run" quarterback.
Coach John Mackovic said it's the ability to go long that has Walter on the short list of the Pac-10's best.
"They go deep better than anybody in the league. This year, they have connected with Andrew Walter throwing, many times against some of the best defensive backs in our league," Mackovic said. "Walter has excellent range; he can throw it far. He has a real feel for the deep ball."
Instead of a rubber arm, it's been Johnson's ability to bounce back from big hits that he most often is recognized for. He's been sacked 43 times this season ÷ most in the conference ÷ but hasn't missed a snap due to injury all season. Furthermore, his record-setting game against Cal came despite a bum ankle that held him out of practice the week leading up to the trip.
"Jason Johnson has had a tremendous year. I have a lot of admiration for how he stands in there and delivers the ball," said ASU coach Dirk Koetter. "For that guy to stand in there and take the hits he takes shows a lot of courage."
While the two quarterbacks playing Friday might have different calling cards, both coaches said they have one thing in common ÷ they're likely to determine who wins the Territorial Cup.
"The game will come down to which quarterback gives his team the best chance to win," Johnson said. "This should be a fun game to watch."