We take a look at Arizona St.'s new coaching staff and the improved Sun Devil defense.
After getting off to a great start, Arizona St. ran into an Oregon team last week that simply showed how much further along the Duck's program is at this point. The final score was 43-21, but anyone who watched the game knows that Oregon stepped off the gas partway through the second quarter when the score was 43-7. Yes, in the second quarter.
Prior to that game, Arizona St. looked like very good team. They were 6-1 and ranked #18 in the country. Afterwards, it's hard to tell if the record was a mirage, built on beating up on weaker teams, and if Arizona St. is a contender or a pretender in the Pac-12 South. However, it's hard to discount what they did prior to running into Oregon. They beat Cal 27-17 on the road, a team that destroyed Coach Mora's Bruins a week later. They also beat Utah 37-7, a team UCLA beat 21-7, and beat Illinois and Colorado by a combined score of 96-31.
Arizona St. is coached by the nomadic Todd Graham, who famously, or infamously, took the Sun Devils head job after spending a single season at Pitt before letting his team know that he was moving on via text message. The Pitt fans didn't riot in the streets after Graham left the way the Tennessee faithful did after Kiffy pulled a similar stunt in Knoxville, but the fan base was equally betrayed. It wasn't Graham's first time leaving a program after a single season- he left Rice after one year as well.
Despite his faults, Graham is a good coach. He was successful at Rice and Tulsa, where he guided Tulsa to three 10+ win seasons in four years. His teams have been synonymous for explosive, spread offenses, but his background is on the defensive side of the ball, which is where the Sun Devils have really showed strong improvement this season. Prior to the Oregon game, Arizona St. hadn't given up more than 332 yards in a game, and Arizona St. is allowing only 18 ppg this year after giving up 28 ppg last year. They are ranked first in the country against the pass, giving up only 130 ypg, #13 overall with 298 ypg, but #76 against the run, where they allow 168 ypg.
Offensively, the Sun Devils are coached by Mike Norvell, who has been with Graham for the past five seasons at Tulsa and Pitt. Norvell's spread has led Arizona St. to 37 ppg with a balanced attack that is gaining 168 ypg through the air and 188 ypg on the ground. They run roughly 75 plays per game, which is just shy of UCLA's 80 plays per game.
Paul Randolph, who has also been with Graham for the past 5 seasons, coordinates the defense. Randolph runs an aggressive 4-3 defense that, as mentioned above, has played well outside of the game against Oregon. In addition to the yardage statistics, Arizona St. has 27 sacks, good for 4th in the country, and 67 tackles for loss, which places them 2nd in the country. The penetrating front has helped the Sun Devils gather 10 interceptions, though 6 of them were in the first two games of the season.
That concludes Part 1 of the Arizona St. Sun Devils Preview. Feel free to fire away with any additional thoughts and comments.