As the Sun Devils finish off of what Todd Graham refers to it as an “extra week” on his program’s schedule, we have broken down each and every position group on the football team giving a recap of performance with an GIF to match.
While the “final chapter has not been written” on the 2015 season according to Graham, the defense has been one of the shining lights making up for an offense that has struggled mightily through the first seven games of the season.
If there’s been one position group for the ASU football team that’s lived up to its pre-season billing and then some, it’s been at linebacker. Coached by second-year defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, the third to man the post since Todd Graham took over in 2012, this group of highly recruited athletes provides the defense with a wide range of skills and week-in and week-out has stood out among its peers.
Like the rest of the the Sun Devils defense, the current crop of ASU linebackers peaked in Los Angeles in a 38-23 win over then No. 4 UCLA. A game that saw the defense hold the Bruins to converting just 21-percent of their their down opportunities while recording eight tackles for loss.
It was also a game that showcased the rising talent that is junior SAM linebacker Salamo Fiso, whose 8 solo tackles led the Devils, and whose 50 solo tackles has him tied for the conference lead with teammate Jordan Simone. Fiso’s ascendance into becoming an all-conference type player with his excellent open field tackling to go with his read and recognition skills was the glue this position group needed to fit in with their unique skill sets.
Sophomore Christian Sam oozes talent and athleticism and might just end up as one of the best linebackers in the the Pac-12 before his time is up in Tempe. Currently manning the WILL position, he ranks within the conference’s top-10 in both solo tackles and tackles per game. He is joined at the Spur position by junior Laiu Moeakiola who has battled both arm and knee injuries through the first seven games of the season. Moaekiola’s presence in the field can’t be overstated when you look at his production and the results of the team. In the Devils 4 wins, Moaekiola has totaled 25 tackles. In the 3 losses (many of which have come when Moaekiola has missed time due to injury), he has totaled just 12 tackles.
And then there is senior Devil backer Antonio Longino, who Todd Graham has admitted is playing out of position but played his best game of 2015 against Colorado when he totaled seven solo tackles and a tackle for loss. Longino doesn’t fit the mold of the prototypical pass rusher Graham wants at the position from a height/weight/speed standpoint, but he’s currently the best of the best to keep the seat warm until a player like Israel Murphy-Richardson is ready down the road.
Graham asks a lot from his linebackers. Making quick decisions on run fits in the trenches, covering receivers between the hashes, and making open field tackles head the the punch list and it can be argued that this group rivals that of those in 2013 as the best since Graham took over. Better yet, there’s a good chance three of the four starters will return for 2016, but before that happens this group will have to play even better to keep this team in games until the offense finally finds its rhythm down the stretch.