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Arizona State Position Previews - Defense

Can Washington's run game finally get on track?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Washington couldn't run on Oregon at all. It wasn't quite Stanford-game level futility, but 133 yards on 36 attempts is still an unacceptable 3.69ypc. In fact, now that we're through seven games, Washington's total rushing averages and totals are thrown way off by an explosive performance on the ground against Eastern (356 yards, 7 TDs) and another 245-yard night against Illinois, arguably the weakest team in the Big 10.

In conference play (Stanford, Cal, Oregon), the Huskies are 10th in the conference with a meager 108 rushing ypg, and a god awful 2.9ypc average. WSU is the only team averaging fewer yards per carry at 2.47. In those three games, the Huskies have only two rushing TDs.

Cyler's fairly conservative style of play seemed perfectly fine in the context of a run-heavy offense leaning on a stable of four experienced backs. But now Callier is out for the year, D. Washington is hurt (it's unclear if he'll play this week), Deontae Cooper has made a minimal impact, and Lavon Coleman has been fairly underwhelming as the primary back.

Not that Coleman and the other RBs deserve all the blame for the struggles of the ground game. The offensive line, after all the talk of experience finally correlating with improved performance, did not give the run game a chance despite Oregon struggling all year to stop opponents from running up the gut.

An offense made up of a conservative passing game, an under performing offensive line, and an ineffective and injury-struck backfield is, at a certain point, just a bad offense.There is talent and potential for much more, but for now, that's where Washington stands.

Defensive Line

ASU runs a pretty interesting 3-3-5 defense, with the fifth defensive back blurring the line between safety and linebacker, but they have also lined up in a more traditional 4-3 as the year has gone on and the line has struggled against the run.

NT Jaxon Hood (Jr., 6-0, 300) plugs up the middle, and he's the only starter on the line that held down a starting spot last season. Meanwhile, Tashon Smallwood (Fr., 6-0, 275) splits time at DT with Vilami Latu (So., 6-2, 265). Marcus Hardison (Sr., 6-4, 300) is listed as the starting lone DE, which means that Latu and Smallwood could semantically be deemed defensive ends if the scheme is truly a 3-3-5. Demetrius Cherry (Jr., 6-5, 300) is the first lineman off the bench.

Hardison has 2 sacks and 4 TFL, but no one else on the line has been especially disruptive. This may be the weakest unit on the team, and it shows in ASU's numbers against the run.


WILL Antonio Longino (Jr. 6-2, 230) is a JC transfer in his first year as a starter. SAM Salamo Fiso (So., 6-1, 235) started ten games last season. Both are tied for 3rd on the team with 35 total tackles. The starter at the DEVIL position (a rush end roughly equivalent to UW's BUCK position) is listed as a toss up between the aforementioned Demetrius Cherry and starting tight end De'Marieya Nelson. DJ Calhoun (Fr., 6-0, 215) has been a major contributor off the bench.

The coaching staff has rotated through a ton of bodies along the defensive front seven. This is partially a result of a lack of individual impact players (the defense is relatively young after losing a lot of players last year), but at a certain point it also contributes to it. Longino, Fiso, and Calhoun have each recorded a single sack, while the three have combined for 9.5 TFLs.

Overall, the Sun Devils are 10th in the conference with 12 sacks, but 5th with 42 TFLs.

Defensive Backs

It's fairly arbitrary to include Viliami Moeakiola (So., 6-1, 215) as a defensive back considering that he's second on the team with 5 TFLs and tied for 1st with 2 sacks. He has probably been the defensive MVP so far.

Damarious Randle (Sr., 5-11, 190) and Jordan Simone (Jr., 6-0, 195) start at safety. Randle started last season and recorded 74 tackles. He's already pacing the team with 58 tackles, while his 1 interception represents 50% of the team total. Simone is from Skyline, and figured to serve as a reserve LB and S before stepping into a starting role.

Lloyd Carrington (So., 6-1, 192) and Kweishi Brown (Jr., 6-0, 205) start at cornerback. Both bring above average size and length for the position. Neither started last year, yet defending the pass has been the strength of this defense.


ASU has been solid against the pass, giving up 7.2 yards per attempt both over the whole season and in conference play. The real problem has been defending the run. On a per carry basis, ASU's 4.77 average is nearly the worst in the Pac-12. Only Colorado has been more generous to opposing backs. Same goes with conference play, though the number grows to 5.23ypc.

Combine poor run defense and an inability to generate turnovers, and you get a mediocre defense, even with the solid defensive backfield.The problem is that Washington could not take advantage of Oregon's weak run defense either, and Lavon Coleman and Deontae Cooper are the only healthy backs available.

The offensive line simply needs to win the line of scrimmage, something they haven't done very often. It's the only way this run game will consistently produce, which is absolutely necessary in order to keep Cyler from facing 3rd and long over and over again. If the current rainy weather carries over to Saturday, this will be especially important.

If the line fails to generate push or allow Cyler time to get comfortable in the pocket, this could be a remix of last week. Nobody wants that.

One major variable in this whole discussion: the possibility that Redshirt Freshman QB Troy Williams could get the start over Miles, who suffered a concussion late in Saturday's loss. Williams undoubtedly possesses greater arm talent than Miles, but in fall camp he was labeled a bit of a "gunslinger." He threw the most long touchdown passes, but he also threw the most picks.It seems that Cyler's ability to take care of the football earned him the job, but coaches have praised Williams' play over the last month, and he has already overtaken Lindquist for the backup role.

Given Cyler's limitations and the poor health and performance of the run game, there's an argument to be made that Washington needs big plays as much or more as it needs to minimize the risk of turnovers, and that Williams taking over for an injured Miles might provide a spark that has been missing. Or not. I won't pretend to know, considering I hadn't seen him play at all until Saturday.

Due to the staff's injury reporting policy, we likely won't know who will start until the Huskies take the field for their first offensive drive against the Sun Devils.