Onyeali focused after breakout performance

Amongst many positives from the 42-0 rout of Washington State, true freshman Junior Onyeali burst onto the scene with his first signature game. The stocky 5-11 233 defensive end recorded three sacks and was in the Cougars' backfield for what seemed to be the entire sixty minutes.

"If (Onyeali) gets on the edge, you're talking about a guy that probably runs a 4.6 and his best (attribute) is when he's a speed rusher, getting on the edge and jut running by that (offensive tackle)," Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson said. "Now he's starting to develop a little more of a move where he goes outside and inside. Anything the offense does to go away from his side run wise he flies in and makes the play."

Although Onyeali is clearly undersized, the Denver, Colo. product plays with a fierce motor and possesses swiftness most defensive ends could only dream about. With his diminutive stature, his speed has become his biggest asset.

ASU QB Steven Threet, not known for his quickness, claimed that "If (Onyeali) was chasing me, I'd definitely be able to kick it into an extra gear." But other quarterbacks in the conference haven't been that lucky.

Onyeali found success immediately during summer ball and caught the attention of everyone present. He was so impressive that Erickson decided to forego redshirting him.

"It's been a nice transition." Onyeali proclaimed. "I wouldn't say it's been easy, but it's been a nice transition."

In his press conference yesterday Erickson said Onyeali reminds him of former TCU player Jerry Hughes, who was selected in the first round draft of this year's draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

"Obviously he's not there yet," Erickson said, " but he's a defensive end that's a little undersized, maybe not even a little undersized, but he can run around and fly. He's starting to get better and better all the time the more that he has learned."

Onyeali remained modest when asked about the lofty comparisons and deflected the praise.

"I know I'm nowhere close to those guys but I definitely want to get to that point," Onyeali admitted. "I take bits and pieces from all of them. I take bits from everyone's game."

Early in the season Onyeali was fighting to find the field and the defensive line struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Onyeali was inserted in the starting lineup for the game against Washington and the pass rush immediately improved as the Sun Devils recorded their first Pac-10 win of the season.

"I wasn't upset (about the lack of playing time early). I knew I had to keep working hard, keep fighting for it," Onyeali noted. "(Recently) Coach has given us a little more free range with our pass rush and it's just basically opened up with the defensive tackles and the stunts they've been running. They've been opening up gaps and we've been getting to the quarterback."

The pass rush opening up led to a career day last Saturday against Washington State for Onyeali. His three sacks and two forced fumbles helped to land him Pac-10 defensive player of the week honors. Erickson attributed some of Onyeali's success to the ever-increasing repertoire of moves Onyeali has been developing.

"I thought as an overall group, the offense, defense, the defensive line, we we're good (against WSU)," Onyeali commented. "We had great all around defensive line pressure. I just got lucky and my sacks. (The WSU win) gave us a little more confidence. Every week we get another win or we play good it's just more confidence and that's what we need. The weekend against Cal wasn't us. It wasn't us at all. We just tried to come back and give it our best."

"I have a bunch of moves but lately I've been working the spin move in with the speed rush and just little things like that."

On Tuesday, the Sun Devils began preparing for USC, a foe they have had a tremendous amount of difficulty beating in recent years. In fact, the maroon and gold is winless against the Trojans since the turn of the century.

While USC is in what can be considered a transition year and aren't eligible for the postseason, they remain dangerous and dismantled a Cal team that had no trouble polishing off the Devils a week later. The Trojans are led by first year head coach Lane Kiffin and talented sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley.

"I can't wait. It should be a fun one," Onyeali exclaimed . "We have to stop the run and get after Barkley as much as we can. He'll look off receivers and he doesn't need to take five or seven step drop backs to get open. Those two things are very important.

"They're a real good athletic team and they have some nice tackles."

Onyeali knows the Sun Devils have a tough test ahead of them this weekend, and the schedule doesn't get much easier, but he isn't intimidated and maintains lofty expectations for the remainder of the season.

"We're trying to win out and make it to a bowl game," he said.


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