ASU game chance for seniors to end careers on winning note

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

When the group of seniors that was around at the beginning of "Desert Swarm" enters Sun Devil Stadium to play its final game Friday, it won't be for a chance at a bowl bid it will be just for pride.

"After all this group of seniors has done for the Arizona program, we feel we have to send them off at least with a winning record," UA junior running back Gary Taylor said.

When the Wildcats (5-5 overall, 3-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference) travel to Tempe to face Arizona State (6-4, 4-3), it will be trying to avoid its first losing season in four years.

"Having a winning season is something we would really covet," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "Also, beating ASU would help leave a better taste in our mouth after this season."

But ASU is not the only thing the Arizona football team has had to deal with this week, as it has also had to battle ongoing police investigations involving three of its players.

"You never know how it will affect the team until the game is played," Tomey said. "We had a good practice on Monday, if that's any indication."

The Sun Devils have been just short of flawless over the last four weeks, going 4-0 and putting them in contention for a bowl bid. The heart of this team has been junior quarterback Jake Plummer, who has thrown for 2,059 yards with 17 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. In addition to leading his team, Plummer has also begun to receive praise from Pac-10 coaches.

"I thought he was a good player coming into our game with ASU," UCLA coach Terry Donahue said following his team's 37-33 loss to the Sun Devils on Nov. 4. "I said he would be the key to this game and sure enough he was. They had a couple of other guys who played well, but Plummer was the guy who led to our demise."

Plummer's arsenal includes junior wide receiver Keith Poole and junior tight end Steve Bush. Poole is averaging 95.6 receiving yards per game, good for 13th in the nation, and has seven touchdowns. He was elevated into national prominence when he had six receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns against No. 1 Nebraska.

Bush has been a consistent offensive threat with 25 catches for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

"Poole is a great receiver. He's very fast and is their big-play guy," Tomey said. "He's the kind of guy we'd all like to have."

While the passing attack has been a major asset to the Sun Devils, they are at their best when they are running the football. Senior Chris Hopkins and sophomore Michael Martin have combined for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns.

"This team is more persistent about running the ball than any other team in the league," Tomey said. "I have enormous respect for Chris Hopkins based on the games he's had against us. Martin is a bigger guy and a little tougher to tackle."

Arizona will send the conference's top defense to battle the Sun Devils. The leaders will again be seniors Tedy Bruschi and Brandon Sanders. Bruschi's league-leading 12 sacks make up over half of Arizona's 23 sacks, while Sanders is leading the team with two interceptions.

"I've never had two guys like Tedy and Brandon on the same team," Tomey said. "Tedy's been a great leader by example and has always had a great amount of intensity in practice. You can't really judge Brandon's worth by his statistics. He's been a leader ever since he's been here. In fact, his freshman year he got nine votes for captain when I told everyone to only vote for seniors."

The UA offense needs a drastic improvement after scoring only 21 points in its last two games, against Oregon State and Oregon. The reemergence of junior wide receiver Richard Dice would help, but he is listed as doubtful for the game.

"Richard tweaked his knee in practice last week, and now we are just trying to get him back to where he was," Tomey said. "If we feel he can play we will play him, but we're not quite sure he can right now."

With Dice's situation in mind, it looks as if senior quarterback Dan White and Taylor will have to continue to try to jump start this offense. White has thrown for 1,566 yards and 12 TDs, but has nine interceptions.

Taylor is the team's leading rusher with 666 yards on 164 carries, but has entered the end zone only twice.

"I don't think Dan's stats this season are a good indicator of his ability instead I think they reflect on the fact that he has 10 new guys on the offensive line," Tomey said. "He has responded well to being benched earlier in the season, something that a lot of other guys could not have done."

But the top motivator for the Wildcats might be the frustration they have faced as a team this year.

"The way I look at it is, if we can't go to bowl game, we shouldn't let ASU go to a bowl game," Taylor said.

Read Next Article