CAMP TONTOZONA - The way Dirk Koetter sees it, he will not have to worry much about the Arizona State defense if the unit can slow down the Sun Devils’ high-powered offense in practice.
And the defense did just that during ASU’s first preseason scrimmage on Saturday, keeping the first- and second-team offense out of the end zone for much of the session and exciting a crowd of about 700 with a number of loud, jarring hits.
“The defense got the best of it,” said Koetter, the Sun Devils’ coach. “The guys on defense have shown a lot of resiliency, and I love the enthusiasm they have been playing with all camp. When our defense needed to make plays, it did.”
Also, there seemed to be no separation in the quarterback battle between Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter. Koetter said that he was still undecided and probably would not announce his choice until after ASU scrimmages for a second time at Sun Devil Stadium on Friday.
Koetter said that he thinks the pressure of their competition is affecting the play of the quarterbacks.
“I thought they played fair to average, for them,” Koetter said. “I know they can both play better. They’re both fighting for a job, and I think they are pressing a little too much. They are both trying to do more than they have to.”
Carpenter threw for 123 yards and a touchdown, Keller 97 yards and an interception. But neither QB engineered a score until red-zone work, when the offense started at the defense’s 20-yard line.
“We should have executed better on offense as a whole,” Keller said. “We played worse than the defense. Traditionally, the defense is further ahead at this point, but with our offense, it should be about even.
“Our offense is really good, and there is no excuse for what went on here, with the mistakes and penalties. We have a few practices here, and then we come back for the second scrimmage. We’ll be a lot better by then.”
Keller was picked off by cornerback Justin Tryon, but Carpenter took the biggest hit by a QB when defensive end Kellen Mills leveled him on a sack.
“I told Kellen it doesn’t matter how much he can lift, he doesn’t hurt me. I was only joking,” Carpenter said. “It was a pretty good hit. I have to give it to him on that one.”
The biggest oohs and aahs from the fans on Saturday came when safety Jeremy Payton walloped tight end Tyrice Thompson after he took a pass from Keller.
“I do a big-hit tape every night,” Koetter said. “We give away a big hit of the day here at camp, and there are going to be some tough choices after this one. There will probably be six nominees, at least.”
The only touchdowns scored during regular scrimmage time were by the third-team offense.
Freshman tailback Dmitri Nance bounced off two tacklers on a 37-yard TD run, causing one spectator to remark, “That must be the new Reggie Bush.” Nance wears No. 5, as Bush did at Southern California.
Later, Danny Sullivan, a freshman quarterback, threw a gorgeous bomb to Brandon Smith for a 70-yard score.
Nate Kimbrough, one of 15 players to catch a pass on Saturday, led all receivers with five catches for 45 yards. Nance ran for 45 yards on seven carries, and Keegan Herring had 34 yards on seven tries.
But the day belonged to the defense, which needs to raise its level of play after finishing 114th among 117 Division I-A schools last season.
“In a scrimmage, it’s hard to determine if you got done what you needed to until you see the film,” defensive coordinator Bill Miller said. “But as an observer from the sidelines, I’d have to say it looks like we did.”