"The Missouri game was the same way as the Arizona game in terms of us refusing to let each other down, so I think that's really where the victory came from," said senior defensive tackle Bo Moos after practice on Tuesday. "It all came down to camaraderie and how we felt about each other because we were a close team when we played Arizona and you know if you're on a close team you have everyone's back and you continue to do so in tight situations like that, which we did."
The Sun Devils made it a little more difficult to enjoy for themselves and their fans, squandering a 14 point 4th quarter lead before finding the strength to fight back for the victory they so desperately sought.
"It should have never got that close," Moos admitted. "Defensively, I thought we let down a little bit after the punt. I don't think we went back on the field with the right mentality.
"But obviously we're going to take that win, and we know now that we have what it takes to win close games."
Leading up to last week's nationally showcased matchup with the Tigers, the Sun Devils conducted themselves in a "business as usual" manner, refusing to buy into the hype, while also remaining well aware of the importance of the game. The result was a well executed game plan and a comfy new position in this week's national polls.
"We expected to get that win," stated a confident Moos. "We got it and reached our goal, so obviously the locker room (after the game) was exciting.
"That was a game we were looking forward to for a long time and everything was in place for us to succeed, so it would have been terrible if we walked away without getting that win."
The scene at Sun Devil was only enhanced more by the "black out," which saw the energy and excitement reach levels that haven't been experienced for years in Tempe. For Moos, it was the kind of environment he and his teammates relished playing in front of and hope to see again this season.
"That was the loudest I can ever remember it being playing in there," he reflected. "Obviously it's loud whenever we're (defense) on the field, but I've never seen it like that before in my entire life.
While the Sun Devils may have been able to secure the victory last Friday against Missouri, a concern for many in Sun Devil nation was the way the defense faltered against the Tigers. Missouri was able to rack up over 500 yards of offense and 30 points, something the Sun Devil defense doesn't give up too often.
"I think last week, we as a defense are kind of disappointed with how we played," said Moos. "We didn't need to give up that many points and the tackling situation wasn't a good deal.
"We counted 28 missed tackles, so we've got to get that corrected," he added. "We're a physical defense so that's not like us. We're coming out this week (in practice) and wrapping up on the ball carrier and trying to get that corrected.
Moos indicated that the 28 missed tackles led to approximately 140 extra yards rushing for the Tigers. Not only did it lead to points, but it wore out the Sun Devil defense as the game went on, no doubt contributing to their near 4th quarter demise.
"We were thinking too much maybe at the point of attack and just not finishing," he said. "Their scheme was a little different and their backs were shifty when they got the ball and sometimes they got the ball at full-speed.
"But those aren't excuses, because in the end you have to make plays."
With Missouri now in their rearview, the Sun Devils will turn their attention to preparing for Illinois, a Big 10 foe that features more of a power run offense, similar to many of their conference counterparts. To their credit, the Illini have been one of the better running teams in the Big 10 in recent years, and should present a challenge that the Sun Devils are normally well suited to compete against.
"That's what I love, so I'm excited for this game," said an enthused Moos. "It's all about getting your fits. The linebackers will have to come up and make plays and we'll have to be the physical defense we pride ourselves on being.
"In last week's game, there were certain situations that took us out of that element because of what we had to do in the pass coverage, but this game, they're going to bring it at us with the power run, and we've just got to be ready to stop them."
Similar to Missouri, the Illini also feature a quarterback with the potential to make things happen with his feet in sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase. Adding a new wrinkle to the defensive assignments for the Sun Devils will be Illinois' propensity to run the option play, something the Devils don't often see in the traditional, pass-heavy Pac-12.
"We're an attack defense so we're always going to attack them," stated Moos. "It's more about just knowing your responsibilities and getting it done. If you know your responsibilities and execute, then the option isn't something too difficult to deal with.
"But once you start getting outside of our assignment and confused on any given play, that's when they can get the big one on you."
The Sun Devils got back to work on Tuesday with renewed energy, hoping to shake off the bad habits and get back to their strength, which is flying to the ball and doling out big hits. Whether last week's game is an aberration remains to be determined. What is understood though is that Moos and his defensive teammates are focused on correcting their mistakes while keeping their eyes on the prize.
" I think as players we failed with some of our responsibilities at key moments last week, so a lot of what you saw was more so us not being assignment-sound and them taking advantage of open lanes. And that's the big thing, just being able to remain assignment-sound and making plays at the point of attack.
"We're getting it corrected. We know it was inexcusable what happened last week."