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Arizona State Preview: Defense

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Arizona State likes to blitz. A lot.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State came into the season with somewhat high expectations.  Head Coach Todd Graham called his team his most talented since he was hired to coach the Sun Devils.  They started the season with a marque match up against Texas A&M.  The Aggies won that contest decidedly 38-17.  Then came a 42-14 loss to USC, followed by victories over UCLA and Colorado.

They've now lost 3 in a row, including their last outing in the Palouse against WSU, 38-24.  So here the Sun Devils sit, with an identical 4-5 record to that of the Huskies.    The desperate devils have history on their side, as they've beaten Washington an astonishing 9 times in a row.  The last time the Huskies beat ASU was actually in Tempe, back in 2001.  Let's take a closer look at the Sun Devils 96th rated scoring defense.

Defensive Line

NT Demetrius Cherry (SR, 6-6, 300), TIGER Tashon Smallwood (SO, 6-1, 280), DE JoJo Wicker (FR, 6-3, 275)

Demetrius Cherry is a versatile lineman with the ability to play any of the spots.  He's a strong and explosive athlete that uses his athleticism to create pressure.  He has swatted 2 passes and made 2.5 tackles for loss on the year.  Tashon Smallwood leads all Sun Devil linemen in tackles this year, with 16.  He's a very physical player who had a career best two tackles for loss against UCLA.  Joseph Wicker is a true freshman from Long Beach Poly High School, which traditionally churns out D1 prospects on a yearly basis.  In his first career start against USC, he finished with 2 tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble.  Arizona State has quietly put together a solid season in terms of rush defense.  They currently rank 24th nationally and give only 3.38 yards per rush.  While a lot of this has to do with their blitz happy pressure scheme, it starts up front in this game, and the defensive front does a nice job here.

Linebackers

DEVIL Antonio Longino (SR, 6-2, 230), SPUR Laiu Moeakiola (JR, 6-1, 215), SAM Salamo Fiso (JR, 6-0, 230), WILL Christian Sam (SO, 6-1, 240)

Expect to see these guys flying at the offensive line play after play, especially Fiso.  He averages two tackles for loss per game, and I would expect ASU to blitz him quite a bit.  This defense is ranked 5th in the country in tackles for loss, and a big part of that is Fiso's impact. Not technically a starter, there's also DJ Calhoun who has made a big impact on this defense as well.  His 5.5 sacks have all come in Pac-12 conference games, and lead the team.  He's not on the field all the time, but when he gets plugged in he makes an impact.

Defensive Backs

BC Lloyd Carrington (SR, 5-11, 182), BS Jordan Simone (SR, 6-0, 195), FS Kareem Orr (FR, 5-11, 195), FC Kweishi Brown (SR, 5-11, 209)

ASU utilizes interesting positions for their 4 secondary players.  They employ a boundary corner (BC), bandit safety (BS), field safety (FS), and field corner (FC).  Essentially, the boundary/field designations tell them which side of the field they line up on, depending on where the ball is placed.  The field corner typically has less safety help over the top, as they're covering more ground.  Vice versa with the boundary corner.  Skyline High's Jordan Simone leads this group.  After transfering from WSU and earning a starting spot as a junior, he's lead the team in tackles for 2 years straight.  He boasts an impressive stat line this year: 86 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defensed.  He makes his presence known all over the field and is one of their best players.  Kareem Orr is the other big play maker in the back end.  He has 4 interceptions this year, which for a true freshman is very impressive.  The Sun Devils as a whole struggle taking the ball away from the other team, but Orr has excelled in this regard.  The ball hawking youngster also has defened 6 passes.

Final Thoughts

ASU does not have an intimidating defense outside of their sack and tackle for loss numbers.  Because of their  pressure heavy style, they are prone to giving up big plays and getting beaten over the top.  They've given up twice as many touchdowns as UW has (38 vs 19) and 22 have come through the air.  It's a feast or famine type of defense, which makes sense when they blitz so frequently.  Chris Petersen said as much in his press conference this week, noting that while most teams on a 3rd and long would sick back and defend the long field, ASU will likely send the house.  Ultimately, despite their high sack and tackle for loss numbers, they're giving up over 400 yards and 30 points per game.  They're equally poor in the red zone, giving up 18 touchdowns on 32 attempts.  As can be expeted with this young offense, they'll go as far as the offensive line takes them.  While ASU certainley does not dominate on defense, or come close, they present a unique challenge in how often they blitz and bring exotic pressures from all over the field.  UW's offense is just seeming to find itself and get a groove going, so it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure.  I think a lot comes down to Johnathan Smith's play calling, and timing his screen passes and deep shots well.  ASU is prone to giving up a big play, but can the Huskies execute when they need to?