Arizona State, at 5-1, enters their Thursday night showdown against Oregon riding high. Winners of their last three games by almost 25 ppg, the Sun Devils are a well-rounded, fundamentally sound, and discipline football team. Wait, what? Yes. ASU is playing smart, relatively penalty free football. They match their quick strike offense with a fast, physical defense. Sounds weird, huh? It’s true, however, and ASU has not only minimized penalties, but they are playing smack-you-in-the-mouth defense. Through six games, Arizona State ranks 9th in the country in scoring defense and is giving up only 14.2 points per game.
Despite giving up over 42 ppg against the Ducks the last three years, there is optimism amongst the Sun Devil faithful that they can limit the high powered attack that the Ducks bring week in and week out. Even while struggling at times, Arizona State always had plenty of speed on defense under former head coach Dennis Erickson. That speed and that talent is now being harnessed and the Sun Devils defense is better than it has been in years under co-defensive coordinators Paul Rudolph and Ron West.
As UCLA has a well-timed bye week, we suggest you tune in Thursday night and prepare for what is in store for the Bruins on Saturday, October 27th at Sun Devil Stadium. Yesterday, we gave you three things to watch from ASU’s offense vs. Oregon’s defense. Let’s now take a look at the three things to watch from ASU’s defense vs. Oregon’s offense.
- How good is Will Sutton? Last week, we talked glowingly about the sheer dominance of Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei. This week, it’s Will Sutton. From a production standpoint, Will Sutton is off the charts. At 6-2 271 pounds, he may not be the physical force that Lotulelei is, but he is challenging him as the best defensive lineman in the conference, and possibly the country. As an interior defensive lineman, the numbers Sutton is putting up are astronomical. He has 40 tackles and 8.5 sacks already. He is very fast off the ball and has a strong motor. He is one defensive lineman who could keep up with the pace that Oregon plays. Will his teammates help him? Can he do it for four quarters? We’ll find out.
- Is the ASU defense very good or have their opponents been very bad? Statistically, Arizona State is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Led by Sutton, they pass the eye test, as well, and look to have a defense that can sustain success throughout the meat of the Pac 12 schedule. However, they haven’t played anybody worth a lick. Their one loss came to an SEC school, but it is newly minted Missouri, who has struggled to adjust and is 0-4 in conference play. They gave up seven points to Utah, which is the same as the UCLA defense(minus the Manfro muffed punt/TD). They gave up 17 to Colorado, while UCLA gave up 14. They did hold Cal to 17, while UCLA gave up 43. Are they similar to UCLA or are they as good as their 9th ranked defense indicates? If they can hold Oregon under 35 points, it will prove they are at the very least a solid defensive team.
- How will they handle De’Anthony Thomas? DAT. The Black Mamba. Call him whatever you want, but don’t let him out of your sights. In the blink of an eye, he’s gone. De’Anthony Thomas is considered by most the fastest player in college football. Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has been reluctant to overwork the sophomore speedster because of his slight frame, but as the season goes on, the Ducks will need to give Thomas 20+ touches per game to keep their national championship aspirations alive. How will the Sun Devils handle him? That’s what every opponent asks each week. Will they punt to him? They shouldn’t. On defense, do they have the speed to play man coverage when he’s at receiver. ASU loves to blitz, but do they lay back to avoid getting beat by The Mamba? Do they have the discipline to keep outside contain and not let him get in the open field? Tune in tomorrow night and find out.