NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - Weston, Fla., Sagemont Upper School guard Prince Ali talks about his recent…
Nixon Helped Set an NCAA Record
"No not at all," laughed Nixon, "Early in the year it seemed like we couldn't catch a break on those tipped balls and the last couple games it came around." The first play was anything but a normal touchdown. ASU defensive end Dexter Davis came around the corner and hit Kevin Craft. The ball came loose and was picked up by UCLA running back Derrick Coleman. Coleman thought the play was dead, but Mike Nixon hit the ball out of his hands and Paul ‘Unga picked it up and took it to the end zone. "I was back side in coverage and I saw the sack and thought it might be a fumble and the way the running back picked it up I thought it was a dead play," said Nixon, "I just slapped it out of his hands for good measure, and Wooten kind of blew up the running back after." Nixon said that nobody was sure what was going on and that was why they didn't properly celebrate the senior ‘Unga's first career touchdown. "Paul picked it up and walked in and nobody knew what was going on, so the celebration wasn't what it should have been." Nixon was happy that ‘Unga got to score, especially on Senior Day. "A lot of those defensive lineman, they play such an unheralded role," explained Nixon, "They do all the dirty work so the linebackers and safeties can make plays. It makes us look great, but it's because of them. For a guy like Paul to work his butt off for four years and to score in his last home game is awesome." Nixon said after the first defensive touchdown, it fired everybody else on the defense up to try to get one themselves. "Once you get that first one, it wakes us up. The next one everyone wants one and it's contagious." Just a few minutes later, Travis Goethel caught the fever and took a tipped ball to the house to make it 14-3 ASU. "I don't know if we did anything different or luck is just on our side now," said Nixon, "You look back to the UNLV game, tipped balls were going into their hands. It is nice to be on the other side of the coin." The touchdown that changed the game was made by another senior, Troy Nolan. UCLA was driving deep into ASU territory, down just 17-9. With ASU's offense struggling, if the Bruins tied it, it could have almost ended the game. But Troy Nolan tipped a Kevin Craft pass and took it end zone to end zone for the decisive score. "Troy has been making big plays for us for two years now," said Nixon, "Right when he tipped that ball, I knew he was gone." Nixon said you could tell right away that it just took the life out of the UCLA team. "It deflated their offense; it deflated their team as a whole. Their defense played their hearts out but couldn't really overcome those turnovers. Early in the year, we were making those turnovers." After Nolan got his interception, Nixon knew he had to get one of his own. The two have a competition going and Nolan tied up Nixon with his pick. Nixon retook the lead in a big way. "Me and Troy have a friendly battle over interceptions, I was hoping they'd throw the ball my way after and I could take the lead again." Even though he didn't get involved in the scoring directly, most of the touchdowns were caused one way or another by the defensive pressure applied by star defensive end Dexter Davis. "Dex makes our job as linebackers in coverage so much easier. He just flies around that end, stepping up and forcing things early because of Dex, even when he isn't making sacks." Nixon said the defense fed off of the Sun Devil faithful. He had never seen a crowd be so supportive of a unit before and he said it fired them up to not let the fans down. "We got two or three standing ovations just for taking the field. When you know your fans are behind you, you don't want to let them down." By beating UCLA, it makes next week's Territorial Cup even bigger. ASU has knocked the Wildcats out of bowl games in each of the last two years and Arizona now has the chance to do that to ASU. But if the Devils defense has anything to do with it, ASU will finish above UA again in the Pac 10. "You can't ask for anything more, setting up the game in Tucson. We have one more week to handle business." "The last two years we have knocked them out of bowls. They have revenge on their minds. This is a big game if we are 1-10, but with bowl games on the line it is going to be huge." Nixon says you couldn't ask for better team spirits heading into the game of the season in Tucson next Saturday. "The locker room is pumping. Three games ago we weren't where we wanted to be; right now we have a shot for a bowl. That is all you can really ask for after our start to play for a bowl."
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