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Arizona State Sun Devil Preview: Defense

The Sun Devils have a strong collection of experienced linebackers who will challenge UCLA's true freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen.

Antonio Longino and the ASU defense will try to derail the UCLA Bruin attack this Saturday
Antonio Longino and the ASU defense will try to derail the UCLA Bruin attack this Saturday
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of Arizona State’s defensive. We previewed the offense yesterday. Today we will look at ASU’s defensive statistics through four games, breakdown each subgroup of defense, and analyze how the Bruins offense might matchup against the Sun Devils’ D.

2015 Defensive Statistics

Total Defense

Arizona State is ranked #66 nationally in total defense, yielding an average of 376.3 yards per game, and five yards per play. By comparison, UCLA is #55, yielding 361.5 yards per game, and 4.66 yard per play.

Red Zone Defense

ASU ranks #17 in red zone defense, but the numbers are a little misleading. Opponents have driven the ball inside ASU’s red zone 14 times, resulting in eight touchdowns and two field goals. Four times ASU escaped unscathed. By comparison, UCLA’s bend-don’t-break defense is tied for #38 in the red zone, with 5 touchdowns and 5 field goals in 13 tries. Even though ASU’s red zone defense is ranked higher than UCLA’s, red zone defense is based on the percentage of scoring vs. not scoring once in the red zone and, as such, this statistic treats field goals the same and touchdowns. I like UCLA’s numbers better. The Bruins have only allowed 5 touchdowns in 13 attempts by their opponents in the red zone, as opposed to ASU, which has allowed 8 touchdowns in 14 attempts.

Rushing Defense

Gone are the days of Will Sutton and Vontaze Burfict. The Sun Devils are tied for #83 in the nation in rushing defense, yielding 180.5 yards on the ground per game. ASU, however, has a pretty good per carry average against the rush, 3.70 yards, but their ranking is poor because teams have rushed the ball a lot against the Sun Devils (195 times in four games, 4th highest in FBS, for an average of almost 49 rushes per game). By comparison, UCLA’s rushing defense, as you can imagine after last game, is flat out bad, ranked #98, yielding 198.3 yards per game, with 4.48 yards per carry. Of course, the season-ending injuries on defense have contributed to that.

Passing Yards Allowed

Arizona State is ranked #47 in passing yards allowed, yielding 195.8 yards per game, averaging 7.39 yards per passing attempt, and 14.24 yards per completion. The yards per passing attempt and yards per completion are very high (bottom 20%) by FBS standards, so why is ASU ranked at #47? ASU’s four opponents have only thrown the ball 106 times against them in four games, an average of a little more than 26 passes attempted per game.

Thoughts on the Stats

ASU opponents average 49 rushes against them per game, and 26 passes against them per game. This seems strangely out of balance as teams are running against the Sun Devils two-thirds of the time. Of course, being down 35-0 to Southern Cal at the half means a ton of Trogan rushes in the second half and not many passes. The Texas A&M game was 17-14 going into the fourth quarter, so this game should not affect those numbers much. Comfortable wins against Cal Poly and New Mexico should mean that those teams were passing more and running less, not the other way around. This is very curious to me.

Defensive Line

Arizona State plays an interesting defense, with two of its linebackers playing "hybrid" positions. Let’s look at the front three, which consist of two interior linemen and one defensive end. Redshirt senior Demetrius Cherry is listed on the depth chart as starting nose tackle. Cherry started six games last season at defensive end. This season, he has recorded six tackles. Tashon Smallwood, a true sophomore, mans the "tiger" position, which is the interior line position that Will Sutton played for ASU a few years back. Smallwood has 16 tackles on the year. True freshman, JoJo Wicker, out of Long Beach Poly, should start at the defensive end position. Wicker has already recorded two sacks on the season.

ASU has a true freshman, a true sophomore, and a redshirt senior who played a different position last season on the defensive line. These guys aren’t chopped liver by any stretch, but UCLA’s experienced offensive line should be able to match up well against this unit.


Antonio Longino, a redshirt senior, plays the "devil" position for ASU. The "devil" is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. (If UCLA were to give fancy names to its positions, I would think Deon Hollins would play "devil"). Longino has 20 tackles on the season, four of which were tackles for loss. Redshirt junior Viliama Moeakiola play the "spur" position for ASU. The "spur" is a hybrid linebacker/safety, who can provide run support and drop into coverage. Think Myles Jack (sheds a tear). Moeakiola has played very well this season, with 28 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and one sack.

Salamo Fiso, a redshirt junior, plays the SAM linebacker, is perhaps the most experienced starter on defense, and has been referred to as the quarterback of the defense. He received an ALL PAC 12 Honorable Mention in 2014. This season, Fiso has 36 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and an interception.

Although sophomore D.J. Calhoun is listed on the most recent ASU depth chart as the WILL linebacker, he only has six tackles on the season. Christian Sam, a true sophomore who is listed as a backup to both Fiso at the SAM position and Calhoun at the WILL position, will get tons of playing time. Sam leads the team in sacks with three and has recorded 34 tackles, 3.5 of which were tackles for loss. ASU has experience, depth, and talent at the linebacker position.


The star of the secondary is redshirt senior, Jordan Simone, a safety who leads the team in tackles, with 37. Simone also has two interceptions. As a junior, Simone also led ASU in tackles, with an average of 8.3 tackles per game. The other safety position will likely be manned by sophomore Armand Perry, who has recorded 15 tackles on the year.

Senior Kweishi Brown will start at cornerback. Brown, who started his first game against UCLA last season, has nine tackles and an interception on the year. The other cornerback, Lloyd Carrington, a redshirt junior who started every game last season, is banged up, but is expected to play.

Carrington’s health, however, has led to the ASU coaching staff moving running back Gump Hayes to cornerback in practice this week. Hayes could get some defensive reps this Saturday, as the depth in the ASU secondary is thin. Coach Mazzone should keep an eye open if and when Hayes is in the game, as the UCLA offense could try to exploit this matchup.

Strategy and Analysis

ASU’s defense appears to be solid, not spectacular. The clear strength of the defense is the linebacker position. UCLA would be wise to try to exploit matchup advantages between the UCLA offensive line and the ASU’s inexperienced defensive line. To this end, UCLA may be wise to rely on a "between-the-tackles" running game, which suits Paul Perkins and UCLA’s offense.

On obvious passing downs, I would expect ASU to show exotic looks and varied blitzes in attempt to confuse Rosen, similar to what BYU did two weeks ago. Hopefully, UCLA will be able to stay out of those obvious passing downs. Josh Rosen will need to be the "Arizona game Josh Rosen," not the "BYU game Josh Rosen." I also hope that UCLA shows more balance on offense than ASU’s past opponents this season, who ran the ball two out of every three plays.

Finally, I think ASU might be susceptible to the deep ball, as the Sun Devils give up a very high 14.24 yards per completion. I would love for Coach Mazzone to try to get the ball to Nate Iese on a wheel route or two.

That’s it for Bruins Nation preview of Arizona State’s defense. If you have any more input or thoughts, please add them in the comment section below.

Only two more days until another beautiful Saturday at the Rose Bowl! Go Bruins!