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UCLA Football Preview: Arizona State’s Defense is Starting to Click

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Doubling their interceptions and beating the Utes last weekend showed the true potential of the ASU defense.

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona State
ASU freshman safety Aashari Crosswell pulls off one of the best interceptions of 2018.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils have had issues with defense this season. In their first eight games, they only had three interceptions, and this was one of the issues that was holding them back from making significant progress under first year head coach Herm Edwards.

Defensive Coordinator Danny Gonzales has brought his unique 3-3-5 defensive scheme with him from San Diego State—three lineman, three linebackers, and five in the secondary. They had some growing pains at the beginning of the season and their low projection for success had more to do with their lack of defense than their lack of offense. Well, all that has recently changed.

Last weekend against #16 Utah, the Sun Devils doubles their interception numbers for the season in a single game. They had three takeaways which would lead them to a 38-20 win over the Utes, who only scored three points in the second half and put up a measly 325 total yards. It looks as if the Sun Devils are on the kind of upward trajectory that Bruin fans hoped Chip Kelly would bring to Westwood.

This is not looking good for this weekend.

We take on the Sun Devils at home in an early game at 11:00 am. Let’s take a look at the defense ASU brings to the table.

Defensive Line

With three men up front, ASU will most likely start redshirt junior Jalen Bates and sophomore Shannon Forman on the ends and redshirt senior Renell Wren at nose tackle. This unit has played in all nine games so far, and Bates has the most tackles with 27 on the season. Wren is the defensive captain and has the talent to be a force on defense, and with Forman’s experience playing last year as a freshman, we have the recipe for an extremely strong defensive line.

It just took time to gel.

There were definitely bright spots early on—in ASU’s first game of the season, UTSA was only able to put up three yards rushing (yes, I double checked that), and ASU was able to lay five and a half sacks on the Roadrunners. So, the men up front were doing their job and doing it well. There was just a learning curve that has come to fruition just in time for the arrival of our Bruins.

Linebackers

ASU lost nine total linebackers this season to either graduation, the NFL, or transfers, but the men that are left are stepping up. True freshman Merlin Robertson snagged his first interception of the season last weekend and he starts alongside fellow freshman Darien Butler and redshirt junior Malik Lawal. Butler is third on the team in tackles with 42 total including seven for a loss, and Lawal is second on the team in sacks with 3.5. The signs of growth are apparent and are early indicators that the new systems are clicking.

Secondary

The secondary has three interceptions last week, with freshman safety Aashari Crosswell pulling off one of the craziest interceptions in college football this year.

This particular play actually should have been a sack, but, instead, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley threw the ball deep downfield only to have it bounce off his receiver’s chest and into the arms of Crosswell. Junior cornerback Kobe Williams also grabbed his first pick of the season off of backup quarterback Jason Shelley on Utah’s final drive of the game.

Redshirt senior Jalen Harvey ranks first on the team with 50 solo and 66 total tackles, good enough for 24th in the country. Defensive backs Chase Lucas and Demonte King rank fourth and fifth on the team in tackles with 40 and 36 respectively, and it looks like King and Harvey trade playing time in this unit.

This group is going to give our quarterback trouble, no matter who it is.

Analysis

if you had asked me about the outcome of this game earlier in the season, I may have told you we actually had a solid chance of winning. Both teams are rebuilding and their defense had been struggling. Now it looks as if ASU is making progress and unfortunately, we aren’t. We had our two wins and even looked solid against a nationally ranked Washington, but the recent regressions we’ve seen on both sides of the ball aren’t good signs of what we’re going to see on Saturday. Add that to the fact that we’re playing an early away game and it’s not looking like a positive situation. But, like I’ve said before, what I love about college football is that anything can happen.


Go Bruins!