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Jake, The Quirky 'Snake' : Plummer Finds Himself a Heisman Contender

December 15, 1996|MEL REISNER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

If Jake "The Snake" Plummer didn't exist, someone would have invented him to jazz up the Heisman race.

Quirky. Intuitive. Brilliant. Emotional. The adjectives run together like watercolors under a tap. The one that gets used over and over: most valuable.

The No. 2 Sun Devils (11-0) have won 15 of their last 16 games under Plummer, who will make his 40th consecutive start at quarterback for the Sun Devils against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

"I may go another 34 years of coaching without running into another guy like this in terms of where things really, really counted, when our backs were against the wall, he consistently--and I'm talking 100% this season--did whatever needed to be done," Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder said.

That means evade almost any rush, as he did so effortlessly in a the Sun Devils' 19-0 upset of then-No. 1 Nebraska on Sept. 21.

Although he adopted his nickname after reading Ken "Snake" Stabler's autobiography, "The Snake" aptly describes Plummer's intuitive ability to elude pursuers.

Just ask UCLA coach Bob Toledo. He stood by helplessly as Plummer threw a TD pass, caught another and ran for a third in the final eight minutes of a comeback 42-34 win over the Bruins.

"I never felt our lead was safe with Plummer," Toledo said.

It's a safe bet you won't see Plummer take the field without red, white and blue sweatbands above the elbow of both arms, a habit he picked up when he wore one in 1994 against Brigham Young and had a career-best, 327-yard game. And the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior never goes anywhere without a white ASU baseball cap, worn backward.

Plummer says he just likes hats, but acknowledges that he wore the same one for months without washing it after a professor in one of his classes chided him for forgetting to wear it one day.

"I washed it after the season," Plummer said. "I hope that doesn't have anything to do with the bowl game."

He also likes extra-long socks, and nearly panicked when a trainer told him there were none available before the Sun Devils' game against Arizona.

"But we went out there and kicked them around, so obviously it was not the socks doing it for us," Plummer said.

In many cases, it has been Plummer doing it for the Sun Devils this season, leading them to their first undefeated season in 21 years.

When Arizona State upset Nebraska, he threw for 292 yards, the fourth highest total of his career. But that was overshadowed by Arizona State's defense, which rattled the Cornhuskers into three safeties and the achievement of felling the two-time national champions.

Back then, not many football fans even knew who Plummer was. He had never taken the team to a bowl game, and his record as a starter through last season was 13-15.

But his stock has risen fast.

The week after Arizona State beat UCLA, he had career highs in passes (44) and completions (26) in a double-overtime victory over Southern California.

In the 56-14 rout of Arizona that capped the regular season, the Sun Devils rushed for 450 yards, but Plummer still threw for three TDs and 201 yards on 10 completions.

The Football Writers Association of America named him to its All-America team on the same day USA Today moved him to first in its list of Heisman candidates.

"Being considered is good enough," he said. "If you're a candidate, you're one of the top five, so right there that's an accomplishment and something to feel honored about."

Plummer doesn't have the best numbers among the competition, but he's a big reason Arizona State is ranked No. 2 for the first time since 1975, when the Sun Devils beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-0.

His talent has thrust him into the spotlight even in Snyder's run-oriented system.

"We haven't given him the chance to put up the stats like Danny Wuerffel or the other guys who just have a passing attack," said right tackle Grey Ruegamer. "I think we have a better all-around quarterback. He can run, he can scramble, he can throw the ball, he's accurate. He makes plays."

Plummer's next TD pass will be his 65th, enough to pass Danny White as the school's career leader. Plummer already owns most of the others, including yards (8,626), attempts (1,107) and completions (613).

Plummer was a fifth-grader in Boise, Idaho, when he started playing Pop Warner football. Because he was tall and skinny, he was penciled in as a receiver until he retrieved a ball and threw it 30 yards to his coach.

"He had me throw him some patterns, and that's how I became a quarterback at an early age," Plummer said.

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