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Roll On: Previewing the Arizona State Defense

Coming into the season, hopes of a successful campaign for Arizona State rested on the assumption of an above average defense. And through the first half of the season the defense more or less held up its end of the bargain. And then everything feel apart. Nobody is going to blink when you give up 41 points to Oregon, but just look at what opposing offenses have done in their last three games:











11.5 (8.3)






12.9 (7.8)






7.6 (7.7)

There's very little above that looks very good, but look at the column in bold. Those numbers in parenthesis are the season averages for the teams Arizona State faced. ASU got gashed by Kevin Prince and a redshirt freshman making his first career start! True, Nick Foles had an average game, but it seems like the Arizona offense performs exactly the same no matter the team they're playing.

Were I feeling the desire to defend Dennis Erickson, I’d start be pointing out that the Sun Devil defense has clearly been smote by the God of ACLs. Arizona State is missing their best cornerback in Omar Bolden, veteran linebacker Brandon Magee, and two 2nd string players in the secondary, and it seems like those losses have had an undeniable impact on the defense. Still – as of right now there are six seniors, two juniors and three sophomores starting. There are another five upper-classmen on the two deep. Shayne Skov, Tony Dye, Chris McCain, Cliff Harris – every team has players that get sidelined by injuries or terminal immaturity. At first glance this actually looks like a team that should be well-prepared to handle a few injuries. But that clearly hasn’t been the case, which is just one reason why most ASU fans are busy calling for a new head coach.

Defensive Line: DE – Sr. Jamaar Jarrett ; DT – So. Will Sutton ; DT – Sr. Bo Moos ; DE – So. Junior Onyeali

Tough to assess this unit. Onyeali is an impressive young talent but missed a number of games with an injury and it's unclear how effective he has been upon returning. Nobody on the line has more than 2.5 sacks and their ability to create pressure has been inconsistent all year. They certainly got to Matt Barkley, which indicates they have the ability to bother most offensive lines, but like the rest of the defense the results just haven't been there in recent weeks.

Linebackers: OLB – Sr. Shelly Lyons ; ILB – Jr. Vontaze Burfict ; OLB – Sr. Colin Parker

I'll be the one to say it - am I the only person who expected more from Vontaze Burfict this year? He's averaging a bit less than 6 tackles/game, and he has 1 interception and zero forced fumbles. Those don't really sound like the numbers of a player who received near universal pre-season all-american honors. True, he does have five sacks to lead the team, but other than that one great game against USC I feel like I've barely heard his name this year.

Really, his partners Parker and Lyons have been almost as productive, particularly in regards to forcing turnovers. Perhaps teams are running plays away from Vontaze, but a good middle linebacker can't really be schemed against.

Secondary: CB – So. Osahon Irabor ; FS – Sr. Clint Floyd ; SS – Sr. Eddie Elder ; CB – Jr. Deveron Carr

This unit has seemingly finally fell victim to mounting injuries, and the results have significantly declined. Irabor in particular has been taken advantage of this season as he has likely been thrust into a starting role sooner than coaches would have preferred. Floyd and Elder both have a ton of tackles, which is probably an ominous sign for a team that gives up too many big plays. Elder does have three picks this year to lead the team.

Against the run

4.05 yards/carry, 58th in the nation

This isn't a bad number, but considering that the Sun Devils were 8th in the country at 3.27 ypa last year it has to be pretty disappointing. And with 5 upper classmen in the front seven? It's a rather perplexing regression from what was a truly fearsome run defense last year. Maybe the coaches do need to convince Vontaze to play like a crazy person again?

Against the pass

7.8 yards/attempt, 96th in the nation

Again, another pretty steep drop from last year when ASU was a whole yard better per play. This is presumably where the loss of Omar Bolden presumably looms large. It's not like Andrew Luck bombing away killed their stats - it was guys like Kevin Prince.

Stats of Dubious Predictive Value


28 total turnovers forced (15 fumbles, 13 interceptions), 8th in the nation

How is the team that is 2nd in the conference in turnovers gained and 1st in turnover margin floundering around .500?

3rd Down

33.77% opponent conversion rate, 19th in the nation.

Seriously, another good looking situational stat. Why is this defense struggling?

Red Zone

52.5% opponent touchdown rate, 26th in the nation

OK. This defense is full of veterans, they have an NFL caliber middle linebacker, they force tons of turnovers, stop teams on 3rd down and hold on in the red zone. Yet they're just 50th in scoring defense. How are they not more awesome? Why have they been so bad the last three weeks? I just don't get it.


Here's a reason. So far in 11 games Arizona State has allowed 106 plays of 20 yards or more. That's nearly 10 big plays a game. It's a defense prone to overpursuit, missed assignments, and questionable secondary play. And that's exciting, because I think we have the coaching staff and skill position players to take advantage of those types of weaknesses.

Frankly, other than a great game bothering Matt Barkley this defense hasn't done much to impress. Keenan Allen and company should really be able to get some big plays off against an iffy secondary. The question is what to expect from the running game. Isi wasn't shut down against Stanford, but it wasn't nearly the performance he had against Washington State and Oregon State either. ASU is a good test for the running game since they fall somewhere in between those extremes.

It's going to be another test for Maynard. In the aftermath of the Big Game Cal fans wanted to say that Zach 'turned a corner.' But many pointed out how they thought Kevin Riley had similarly turned a corner against Stanford in 2009. If Zach has turned a corner he should put together an even better game against a weak secondary in better weather conditions.

This isn't a huge game in terms of national implications, but it will mean a lot for fans psychologically. Since the UCLA debacle the Bears have more or less looked better each week. Another game of improvement and a win over Arizona State coupled with a nice bump up the bowl ladder would be a wonderful boost of optimism for the fanbase and help build some much needed enthusiasm for next year. Let's take that step, Bears!