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ASU Football: Secondary faces first big test of season against Texas Tech

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

In Arizona State’s week one matchup with Northern Arizona, the team’s secondary, a unit that underwent a serious overhaul in the offseason, allowed 369 passing yards and a touchdown.

This week, the Sun Devils draw the assignment of neutralizing the Texas Tech passing offense, a unit that amassed 633 yards through the air in its first game of the season.

Not to mention a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, who defensive coordinator Keith Patterson compared to Magic Johnson.

“He [Mahomes] kind of plays football like Magic Johnson played point guard,” Patterson said. “He’s big, he’ll run up in there and all of a sudden you’ve got guys converging on him and who ever you left in coverage, he’ll just dump it right over your head. We have a plan to try and cast a net and keep him in.”

In Texas Tech’s week one matchup with Stephen F. Austin, Mahomes completed 30 of his 43 attempts for 483 yards and six total touchdowns before being pulled midway through the third quarter.

Between Mahomes and his backup Nic Shimonek, the duo targeted 17 different receivers on 71 total attempts. In addition, the Red Raider offense finished with 10 receptions for 20 or more yards.

Against Northern Arizona, the ASU secondary allowed nine plays of 15 or more yards. Despite the scary matchup, defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing remains confident in his group’s ability to limit the big play.

“We gave up one [against NAU], that 87-yarder, that one sucked,” Rushing said. “That was a miscommunication, blown coverage type deal that we can’t have. Other than that, they had that one big play going into halftime, it was unfortunate that we missed the interception, so we’re limiting those big plays and we’ll do better this week.”

Rushing deployed two new starting cornerbacks against NAU, redshirt senior De’Chavon Hayes and sophomore Kareem Orr, who each brought contrasting styles to the secondary. Hayes made his biggest impact in the passing game, breaking up a pass, but still admits he did feel the nerves in his first start.

“I think I did pretty solid,” Hayes said. “I came out there with a little jitters, you know, being in my first game starting at corner at this level, so I feel like I did pretty good. Coming into this game I feel like then I can just pick it up and have that swag like I’ve been having.”

Orr, on the other hand, finished the game with seven tackles and set a physical tone for the entire secondary.

“I thought I played pretty decent,” Orr said. “I held their best receiver to no touchdowns, other than that I just think I need to get better at my technique.”

Hayes and Orr will be tasked with setting the tone on the edges and will need to make strides in their coverage progression if the team hopes to pick up its second win of the season.

“We already know [Mahomes] is going to do what he does,” Orr said. “We’re just going to try and slow it down, you know, keep everything big in the front, and don’t give up any big plays this time.”

For Patterson, however, the challenge Mahomes presents is an opportunity that the defensive unit should look forward to.

“I kind of like playing teams like this to be honest with you,” Patterson said. “That’s what our whole defense is designed to play: spread, up-tempo offenses. So not much is going to keep me awake [at night].”

Practice Notes:

  • Zach Robertson looked hobbled by an ankle injury, as he was hardly putting any weight on it. He still practiced and even took first-team reps. A.J. McCollum was in at center for the first team and Cohl Cabral ran with the second team.
  • N’Keal Harry and Tim White remained with the first team, however it was Jalen Harvey, not Cam Smith, opposite of Harry. Smith took second team reps alongside Fred Gammage and Ellis Jefferson.
  • Salamo Fiso and Tyson Rising were both on Muscle Beach not participating in practice.
  • Laiu Moeakiola returned to practice following his absence against Northern Arizona.
  • AJ Latu practiced, whether that’s an indication of his return from suspension or not remains to be seen.

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