During the 1997 college football season, I served as ESPN SportsZone’s Campus Connection correspondent for the Arizona State University football team. This weekly notebook was posted on the ESPN SportsZone website on Sept. 10, 1997.
By Ed Odeven
ASU’s startling 19-0 whitewashing of the “invincible” No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers last September catapulted the program to an unbelievable regular season. The team’s season-long confidence and focus were two obvious side effects from that memorable contest.
Now, the Sun Devils (1-0) are faced with another seemingly impossible task – win at the Orange Bowl.
The host Miami Hurricanes (1-0) will face ASU on Saturday. The game will be the 400th regular-season game for Miami at the famed stadium.
But what may be even more impressive is No. 12 Miami’s success at home. The ‘Canes have won 11 straight home openers and have not lost a home opener to a non-Florida school since 1975. Overall, Miami owns a 264-128-7 record at the Orange Bowl.
ASU head coach Bruce Snyder noticed the similarities between last season’s Nebraska game and this season’s Miami game.
“I think there’s a parallel there,” he said Monday. “A lot of people will be wondering the result of it. I think it could have a similar effect on us. That (beating the Cornhuskers) obviously did a great deal for our confidence, and this could provide the same thing for us.”
First things first: The Sun Devils must find a way to win on the road.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Kealy leads a relatively young team on the road for the first time this season. It will be the first true test of his career, a test that has made Snyder anxious.
“It’s an awfully big step for a young football team,” He said. “But we are going to have to grow up Saturday. I don’t think it’s too big, but it’s big.”
For years, opposing teams, fans and journalists have described the “mystique” that surrounds historic stadiums like the Orange Bowl. For Snyder and company, the only concern will be winning the game, not history.
“You know any stadium carries a mystique that has a good team that lines up in it,” he said. “If a bad team lines up in it, it becomes just another place to sit fannies. … They (Miami) are going to line up good players. The issue is we have to focus on ourselves.”
Snyder’s players agreed.
“We are not even paying attention to the mystique and all that hype,” senior tailback Michael Martin said.
“We are going down there to win the game. We got confidence we are going to do it. And we just go to go down there and do it. I don’t care about the mystique, tradition. They put on their pants just like we do. They are going to be have to play just as hard to beat us. We are going to have to stay focused for four quarters. They are a (traditionally) trash-talking team. They do a lot of stuff to intimidate you.”
Said sophomore tailback J.R. Redmond: “Miami is another team that we watched film on that we are preparing for and are going to play. … You have to approach is like any other game. If (the mystique) is there, maybe it’s in the back of your mind. But you have to block it out once we get on the field. It’s just one game like any other.”
Last meeting: In 1994, No. 5 Miami capitalized on five ASU turnovers in the first half and passed for 396 yards to crush the host Sun Devils 47-10. That was the only contest between the two schools.
“They were a really good football team, and we weren’t,” Snyder said. “We were trying to beat our chests trying to convince ourselves that we were, and we weren’t as good as we hoped. And they were very good. And so it was a lopsided game.”
However, in this meeting, Snyder believes his program is more equipped now to face the ‘Canes.
“We are different now,” Snyder said. “We are different in terms of the maturity of the program, maturity of the players, and maybe more depth in (certain) spots. We are probably a bit faster, just pure foot speed throughout the roster. From that standpoint it’s just two different teams.”
Almost a Hurricane: Sophomore cornerback Courtney Jackson nearly signed with Miami in 1994. The product of DeSoto High School in Texas was all ready to put his John Hancock on a letter of intent when …
“It was a foregone conclusion I was going to go there unless somebody else won me over,” he told the Arizona Republic. “But when the coaching situation changed…”
Jackson was lured into becoming a desert dweller.
Contrasts in style: While many changes have occurred in the Valley of the Sun over the past few years, there remains one constant in south Florida.
“I’ve never seen a guy line up in a Miami Hurricanes uniform that wasn’t athletic,” said Snyder, who has coaches a fair share of superstars, including ex-NFL star Eric Dickerson in Los Angeles.
What has changed in Miami can be attributed to a change in head coaches three years ago when Butch Davis was hired.
“Their offense has changed,” Snyder said. “You can really see Butch’s influence. They now run the ball more than they used to under Dennis Erickson. Dennis basically ran the ball to set up the pass. … Right now they run the ball to be running it.”
Movin’ on up: ASU, which was excluded from preseason top 25 polls, climbed to No. 24 in the Associated Press’ latest poll on Sunday. It was the Sun Devils’ first top 25 appearance this season.
When asked why he thought the Sun Devils were missing from the preseason top 25, Snyder calmly stated his opinions.
“It is really difficult to be ranked high without an established quarterback, so that made sense to me,” he said. “Also, we lost a guy who I think is the best pass rusher in America (Derrick Rodgers) who might be the second-most important guy on a football team.
The Last Word
“Obviously a win can kind of slingshot us into the future, if you will. It will change the rankings. It will maybe change our impression of ourselves. So I can see where that’s really positive. If we get blown out, you have to come back and start piercing everything together again. It’s big from that standpoint.”
— Coach Bruce Snyder, on the magnitude of the Miami game.
“We are starting eight brand-new starters on defense, and they’ve got one game collectively as a starting unit after the Baylor game. I think they’re going to get challenged. Arizona State is going to be able to present a different set of challenges that certainly Baylor wasn’t able to do.”
— Miami coach Butch Davis, on his squad’s defensive challenge.
“It’s easier to teach off of a win. I know that.”