Jared Cooper

Coop’s Corner: Wreaking Havoc

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Creating pressure on defense has been engraved in the DNA of this Arizona State defense since Todd Graham took over in 2012.

Last week, Arizona State defeated Utah in an overtime thriller by a score of 19 to 16 at Sun Devil Stadium. The defense for the Sun Devils was the big story coming out of the game, only allowing 241 yards of total offense, with only 57 of those yards coming on pass plays.

One of the main men who has been disrupting offensive lines and quarterbacks all season long is the six-foot-five, senior defensive lineman, Marcus Hardison. Coming to ASU last season as one of the most heavily recruited junior college defensive line prospects in the country, Hardison brings versatility and speed to the defensive line. Through eight games thus far, he has 30 tackles, seven for a loss, five sacks, and one forced fumble and recovery.

Against the Utes, Hardison had one of his best games of his Sun Devil career, racking up seven tackles and one sack that came at a pivotal moment in the game. Hardison said what led to the sack was that Utah right tackle, J.J. Dielman, showed him that it was going to be a pass play, allowing Hardison to get a cleaner picture of what to do on his pass rush. “I hit him with the spin move, knocked his hands down, then I came in,” said Hardison. “To be honest, I didn’t think I had the sack, I thought he threw it. But, I got up and saw him still with the ball and I was like, ‘hell yeah!’”

You could say that some luck may have favored the Sun Devils as one of the best kickers in the nation for the Utes, Andy Phillips, missed two field goals (one coming before his own coach called a timeout) from 35 yards out in overtime to give ASU the chance to win. Following the missed opportunities, ASU’s kicker, Zane Gonzalez trotted out onto the field and nailed a 36-yard field goal for the overtime win. Although Phillips may have had his worst game, Hardison said, “They talk about how they have the best kicker, Zane’s the best kicker right now.”Hardison1

One of the big keys to the game against Utah for the Sun Devil defense was it’s ability to get off the field, stopping Utah time and time again on third down. The Utes went just seven for 20 on third down conversions. Utes quarterback Travis Wilson seemed to be running out and around the pocket throughout the game which is exactly what the Sun Devils wanted. “When you pressure a quarterback, he’s going to fold sooner or later,” said Hardison.

As has been the case since Todd Graham took over the program, ASU defense has seen it’s most success when wreaking havoc in the backfield.  That success being fueled by the blitz; calling a pass rush of five or more players on 52 percent of its opponents’ drop backs, the third highest percentage among power five defenses. When the Sun Devils bring extra pass rushers, opponents have averaged three yards per play, completed 47 percent of passes, and have 14 sacks. However, when ASU does not blitz, offenses’ average 9.5 yards per play,  percent completed 75.9 percent of passes, and tallied a mere three sacks.

After the jubilant win in Tempe last Saturday, the Sun Devils remain at home this weekend as they face their toughest opponent this year in what is one of the biggest regular season games in recent memory, against Notre Dame. After a new list from the College Football Playoff Ranking came out earlier this week, Arizona State jumped Notre Dame, giving the teams the nine and 10 spots respectively. The teams met last year in the Shamrock Series where the Fighting Irish defeated the Sun Devils in a close game, 37- 34. Although with two new teams this year, this could be just the game ASU needs to continue to inch closer to that coveted championship Todd Graham constantly refer.

The Fighting Irish come to Tempe as slight underdogs, sporting a record of seven wins and one loss with the one blemish coming in a controversial ending against Florida State on the road. Unable to play last season due to NCAA violations, quarterback Everett Golson will get his first opportunity to face the Sun Devils. Golson currently has 2,311 passing yards with 22 touchdowns and a 149 passer rating this season. What makes him so dynamic is his ability to move out and around the pocket, making him a difficult matchup for any defense. After watching and studying tape, Hardison said that the biggest thing the ASU defense needs to do is to contain the senior quarterback. “He’s an athletic quarterback but he tends to want to throw the ball before he runs. We just need to keep him inside the pocket; he’s dangerous outside of the pocket,” said Hardison.

One of the most intriguing match ups to watch during the game will be the head coaching battle between familiar foes in Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Arizona State’s Todd Graham. Both men have coached against one another for many years, giving them knowledge on how each of them plays. When asked about playing Kelly’s team and the game, Graham said, “These are the kind of games you want to coach in. It’s the kind of game our players want to play in, and obviously our fans want to see. I’m looking forward to seeing a packed house and creating a memory.”

The Sun Devils play the Fighting Irish on Saturday, November 8, at 1:30 P.M. at Sun Devil Stadium. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.

About Jared Cooper

Jared Cooper

Jared is an Intern this season for ASU Devils Den. He is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications studying Broadcast Journalism with a focus in sports broadcasting. In addition to interning at ASU Devils Den, he works in the Marketing Department for the Phoenix Suns. Jared is a former Sparky the Sun Devil, ASU's mascot, from 2011 to 2013.

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