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UCLA Football vs. Arizona State Preview: New Look Sun Devils Feature a Pair of New Coordinators

Todd Graham hired Baylor’s former DC to run ASU’s defense.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to tell what type of football team this year’s Arizona State squad is just from looking at their record. The Sun Devils are currently 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12. They’ve beaten Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Washington, but lost to Stanford and Southern Cal in conference games and San Diego State and Texas Tech in out-of-conference games. Of course, the Sun Devils will come to the Rose Bowl this weekend hoping to leave bowl eligible.

Let’s look at the coaching staff.

Coaching Staff

The Sun Devils are still led by head coach Todd Graham. Graham looked like he may have started wearing out his welcome in Tempe after ASU finished 6-7 in 2015 and 5-7 in 2016. That led Graham to make some changes to his coaching staff for 2017.

Former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey departed Arizona State to become the new offensive coordinator at Auburn while last year’s defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is now serving on the ASU staff coaching as linebacker coach.

In their places, Graham has hired Phil Bennett as the team’s new defensive coordinator and Billy Napier as the new offensive coordinator.

Prior to joining ASU, Bennett served as the defensive coordinator at Baylor for six years under Art Briles. He’s been a defensive coordinator at seven other schools as well and he was the head coach at SMU from 2002 to 2007. Bennett was Baylor’s defensive coordinator when the Bears played UCLA in the 2012 Holiday Bowl.

Meanwhile, Napier comes to Tempe from Alabama where he served as wide receivers coach. This isn’t Napier’s first stint as an offensive coordinator. Prior to joining Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama, Napier spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator for Dabo Sweeney at Clemson in addition to the three seasons he served as tight ends coach at Clemson.

Special Teams

Placekicking duties will be handled by freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz. So far this year, Ruiz has made 14 of his 20 field goal attempts and 30 of 31 extra point attempts. He also handles kickoffs for the Sun Devils.

Redshirt sophomore Michael Sleep-Dalton is ASU’s punter. Because he is an Australian native, expect him to punt rugby-style, but don’t expect him to pin the Bruins deep most of the time. Sleep-Dalton only has one touchback so far this year and only 14 of his 47 punts have been inside the 20-yard line.

Meanwhile, punt returns will be handled by Ryan Newsome. Bruin fans will remember Newsome as a wide receiver who had committed to UCLA only to be flipped by Texas after making his commitment to come to UCLA. After giving things a go in Austin, he opted to transfer to ASU. His longest punt return this season is just 16 yards.

Kalen Ballage has handled 65% of kickoff returns this season. His longest return went for 51 yards. Look for him to take most of the kickoffs this weekend.

And, that wraps up our look at the coaching staff and special teams.

Go Bruins!