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Thrown for a Loss

Arizona State's Walter hasn't lived up to Heisman hype this season

October 03, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter began the season with all the accouterments befitting a Heisman Trophy candidate.

There was the buzz created by his record-setting season in 2002. Regularly scheduled individual news conferences. And the requisite school-sponsored Web page detailing his achievements.

So far, though, the 6-foot-5, 221-pound junior from Grand Junction, Colo., has struggled to recapture the form that helped him put together the third-best season by a passer in Pacific 10 Conference history.

Arizona State enters Saturday's Pac-10 game against 10th-ranked USC coming off consecutive poor performances against Iowa and Oregon State.

Walter, who passed for more than 400 yards four times last season, has yet to reach the 300-yard mark in a game. He is ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and sixth in total passing yardage.

"I'm the same player I've always been, the same player who set records for ASU," Walter said. "This is a different team, different feel, different players, and we're a little out of sync right now.... This off-season, I wasn't the one writing about myself or hyping the way things were going, those were outside perspectives."

The hype seemed legitimate based on Walter's rise to prominence last season.

After he redshirted in 2000 and started two games in 2001, Walter came off the bench in the fourth game against San Diego State with the Sun Devils trailing, 22-0, in the second quarter.

His first pass resulted in a 72-yard touchdown to wide receiver Shaun McDonald. His second went 33 yards to McDonald for another score. He finished with four touchdown passes in the Sun Devils' 39-28 victory.

A month later, Walter threw for a Pac-10-record 536 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-42 upset over sixth-ranked Oregon. He went on to break nearly every Arizona State season passing record, amassing 3,877 yards and 28 touchdowns with 15 interceptions.

This season, Walter appeared to have picked up where he left off when he passed for 224 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over Northern Arizona. The next week, he passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 win over Utah State.

However, Arizona State's offense failed to score in a 21-2 loss to Iowa on Sept. 20. Walter completed 25 of 44 passes but accumulated only 160 yards with an interception. In last week's 45-17 loss to Oregon State, he was 17 of 42 for 231 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.

"What has happened to him the last two weeks is normally what happens with great players ... Andrew takes way more blame than he needs to take," Arizona State Coach Dirk Koetter said. "He feels the pressure to turn every play into a great play. He tries to do too much and it hurts him overall."

As Arizona State began preparing for USC, Walter said the Sun Devils were still trying to identify reasons for their struggles in the passing game.

"A lot of it is trust with the receivers and the quarterback," Walter said. "I don't know what the exact problem is, but I think we're close to figuring it out."

The most obvious problem for Walter is that McDonald is no longer running routes for the Sun Devils. McDonald had 87 receptions for 1,405 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as a junior, then made himself available for the NFL draft and was selected in the fourth round by the St. Louis Rams.

"Our guys know that we don't have the game-breaker that Shaun was.... I know I can't just throw it expecting his burst of speed to go get it," Walter said.

Last season against USC, Walter passed for 297 yards and a touchdown, but he had two passes intercepted in a 34-13 loss.

Saturday, he will face a Trojan secondary that is coming off one of the worst performances in Coach Pete Carroll's two-plus seasons. USC gave up 326 passing yards in its 34-31, triple-overtime loss to California and is well aware of Walter's ability.

"He's big, he can see the field and he's got an arm," USC cornerback Marcell Allmond said. "The guy doesn't even look like he's throwing the ball. He's just slinging it out there."

Walter is hoping to get back on track against USC, which is playing on the road for the second week in a row. He was not surprised that Cal upset the Trojans.

"Every week in the Pac-10, someone could be knocked off, that's the way this league goes," he said. "We'll watch the tape and hopefully get something out of it. Cal must have done something right, so hopefully we can learn from them."

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(Begin Text of Infobox)

Good, Not Great

A look at Andrew Walter's statistics through four games:

GAME 1: ASU 34, NORTHERN ARIZONA 14

*--* Att.-Comp-Int. Yds TD Long 24-15-0 224 4 40

*--*

GAME 2: ASU 26, UTAH ST. 16

*--* Att.-Comp-Int. Yds TD Long 37-20-1 277 2 44

*--*

GAME 3: IOWA 21, ASU 2

*--* Att.-Comp-Int. Yds TD Long 44-25-1 160 0 16

*--*

GAME 4: OREGON ST. 45, ASU 17

*--* Att.-Comp-Int. Yds TD Long 42-17-3 231 2 34

*--*

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