(Photo: Jannah Din/WCSN)
Football is a chess match. Not only do you have to game plan against the other team but also manage your own team properly.
The Arizona State offense runs an up-tempo style of football. The objective is to score quickly and often. Take last week for example; the Arizona State offense scored six of their seven touchdowns in drives that took under three minutes. More impressive, half of those six touchdown drives took less than a minute.
The relentless pace at which the Sun Devils play is meant to fatigue the opposing team’s defense, in hopes the tired defense will get sloppy. But has the pace also negatively affected the ASU defense?
ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph would answer emphatically.
“Oh, absolutely not, no!” Randolph said. “We are an up-tempo defense so it doesn’t matter what our offense does. We love them playing up-tempo offense because we are scoring a lot of points, they are doing a great job over there.”
While I don’t believe Coach Randolph would make an excuse for the poor run defense, there has to be something to it. As talented as the ASU defense is, they are not by any standards considered a big or physical team. This is a unit that relies on speed, athleticism, and pursuit to get the job done. Being a little undersized on defense makes it all the more important to be sound in technique, which ASU has not been. And no one knows that better than ASU linebacker Chris Young.
“Its just focus. Focus on our alignments and our keys in the game,” said Young. “It is all mental, and when we are given those opportunities we just got to make sure we take them.”
With ASU scoring often, 12th in country with 44.3 points per game, the defense must play more snaps. More exposure on the field for the defense means more potential for wearing down as banging with bigger, stronger men starts to take a toll. The ASU defense has great conditioning, but against bigger teams expect to see the Sun Devils struggle at times against the run. Strength will sometimes prevail.
But what the Sun Devils have got to is beating themselves by taking poor angles, missing tackles, and missing assignments. Their failure in these aspects in the first half of the USC game perhaps explains the shuffling of positions at linebacker and field safety for this week’s game against Notre Dame.
Look for Chris Young to be lined up at the SPUR linebacker position instead of the WILL linebacker position as he had been all year. Young played SPUR in every game last season. ASU is hoping the move gives them that run-stopper on the edge. ASU has struggled to stop runs that bounce to the outside, specifically in the direction of the field side defense.
“They are attacking our field side defense,” Randolph said. “That’s all it is, they are attacking our field side defense.
“So we just thought that adding Chris back over there we added a little more girth, a little more size and a guy that got a whole season of reps on that side of the defense.”
Anthony Jones was starting at SPUR, but has struggled with missed tackles and poor angles. Salamo Fiso and Carlos Mendoza will work out of the WILL position in place of Young.
So what should the ASU defense expect to see from the Notre Dame offense?
Notre Dame has struggled to get any resemblance of an offense going all season. The Irish rank 85th nationally in points per game with 25.4. Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has yet to find his touch in the passing game, and that’s putting it lightly. Rees is only completing 53.5 percent of his passes despite having talented receivers. The senior is stepping in for the academically ineligible Everett Golson. Rees struggles on his progressions and can get rattled. His strength is on play-action passes, and quick throws to the outside.
But if you are the Irish, you should be wishing for a steady run game. Up until last week the Irish could not establish an effective run game that would help Tommy Rees, but that was not the case last week against Oklahoma. The Fighting Irish rushed for 220 yards as a team, led by George Atkinson III who rushed for a career-best 148 yards.
Randolph says the team has been working all week to stop the run.
“Everyday, Everyday,” he said, “since the season ended a year ago we have been preaching stop the run, stop the run, stop the run.”
When Notre Dame and ASU face off in “Jerry’s World”, ASU will have the chance to prove their run defense has improved.
“Tackling is about focus, purpose and having an attitude about getting the guy down on the ground,” Randolph said. “That’s just fundamentals and you gotta get better at fundamentals, and that’s what we worked on.”