(Photo: ASU Athletics)
Head coach Todd Graham admitted after the football team’s first scrimmage of April that he was worried about the defense. With the departure of nine defensive starters following the 2013 season and with one of the nation’s top offenses returning stars like Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong, it’s easy to see why Graham would be concerned.
Instead the defense was the better unit in the scrimmage and stymied the offense in the subsequent Saturday’s practice as well.
“Our guys came out here today and competed, especially our guys on defense,” Graham said after the first scrimmage. “They had something to prove today and defense dominated the day.”
Domination of Arizona State’s offense was a rare sight during the 2013 season, as the Sun Devils scored the eighth-most points in the nation and eclipsed 50 points in six games. Graham expected that explosiveness to show in the spring against an inexperienced defensive unit.
“I really felt like our offense would dominate our defense a lot more than what it has. Because it hasn’t…at all,” Graham said. “In the two scrimmages we’ve had, we’ve given up 20 points with the [first-team defense].”
The slow start to the offseason for the offense hasn’t concerned Graham at all though, as he’s confident that the team will score plenty of points in the fall. Senior offensive lineman Jamil Douglas, who is in the process of transitioning to left tackle after previously starting at guard, also isn’t worried.
“Our biggest thing is they’re not messing us up, we’re messing ourselves up,” Douglas said. “We’re not executing on certain plays, so once we get that fixed we’ll be fine. We know we’re an explosive offense and we know our ability.”
One of the keys to the early success of the defense has been the immediate emergence of a new leaders. Safety Damarious Randall and defensive end Marcus Hardison have received consistent praise from the coaches for their play and leadership in the spring.
“I’m ready to step up,” Hardison said. “I’m ready to step up and be a leader, so that’s definitely one of my goals.”
Hardison said the defense held a team meeting before the first scrimmage.
“We said we’ve got to step up today,” Hardison said. “We’ve got to prove a point, this is the first scrimmage and we’ve got to let them know we aren’t somebody to just push around. So we came out here and made a point.”
In the first scrimmage, Hardison made the play of the day, shrugging off a block attempt from Douglas before deflecting and intercepting a pass. The play provided a glimpse of the elite talent that made Hardison one of the most highly-touted junior college transfers in the nation.
With that came plenty of expectations that Hardison certainly didn’t live up to as a junior. During the 2013 season, he struggled to find his way into the backfield and finished with just one sack. With a year of experience under his belt, his expectations are that he’ll bring down opposing quarterbacks with a much higher frequency in 2014.
If he does find success it wouldn’t be a surprise to Douglas, who isn’t disappointed by the offense’s difficulty to find the end zone against the first-team defense.
“They’re going to be good,” Douglas said. “Coach Graham is going to coach that defense up and we just have to make adjustments.”
The final opportunity for the ASU offense to make adjustments and find the success that most expected from them in the spring will come on Saturday during the annual Spring Game at Sun Devil Stadium.