(Photo: Christian Coates/WCSN)
The No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils had a strong offensive performance against the stout defense of the No. 23 Stanford Cardinal, but it was a tremendous showing on a defense that led the way in a 26-10 victory for ASU.
“People came in talking about their defense, left talking about ours,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said.
After allowing at least 13 points in 18 consecutive games, the ASU defense found plenty of success with a re-worked lineup that held the Stanford offense scoreless in the first half. With Mo Latu and Demetrius Cherry inserted into the starting lineup, the unit was significantly heavier than usual and the Stanford offense struggled to find a rhythm against it.
“I don’t think I had to come up and make a lot of tackles against the run,” ASU senior safety Damarious Randall said. “That helps me with the pass. With our new big guys up there, Mo [Latu], [Demetrius] Cherry, Marcus [Hardison], Jaxon [Hood], they actually filled up a lot of gaps today. That was great.”
Randall entered the game with 47 solo tackles and led the nation 9.4 solo tackles per game. While he accumulated seven solo tackles on Saturday night, it was Antonio Longino who led the team with eight total tackles. The junior linebacker was inserted in to the starting lineup as a weak-side linebacker after previously rotating in as a Devil-backer.
“Antonio [Longino]…we just felt like he was a guy that needed to be on the field,” Graham said.
Also playing well on Saturday night in the reworked front seven of the Sun Devils was linebacker Laiu Moeakiola, who missed time in each of the three games prior due to injuries.
“He’s a silent leader with our guys and he gives us confidence,” Graham said of Moeakiola. “We don’t have confusion so I think that was a key component that has been really big, because his absence has really been a distraction for us. He’s so stable and consistent.”
While the defensive performance of the front seven was impressive, the best defensive performance may have been the one put on by cornerback Kweishi Brown. The junior college transfer worked his way into the starting lineup just a few weeks ago, but managed to break up five Stanford passes on Saturday night.
Through five games, D.J. Calhoun, Lloyd Carrington and James Johnson were tied for the team-lead with two pass break-ups each. After the game, Graham called Brown’s performance “phenomenal.”
“At the end of the game [Brown] was about to fall down and kept looking to me like I was going to take him out,” Graham said. “That didn’t cross my mind. I think he’s really grown up…he’s such a solid person.”
While Graham said after the victory that the beefed-up defensive lineup was specifically designed to slow the rushing attack of Stanford, the question will be whether the team decides to stick with the successful group for the remainder of the year.
ASU will next travel to face the Washington Huskies, a team that entered Saturday with the nation’s 36th-ranked scoring offense at 34.8 points per game, but managed just 20 points against No. 9 Oregon.