Defense doesn't rest on its laurels

You would be hard pressed to find a major statistical category where the ASU defense is ranked worse than third in the Pac-12. Yet, it would be just as hard to find defensive coordinator Craig Bray or one of his players content with what appears so far to be one of the best defensive efforts from a Sun Devil squad in recent years.

The ever perfectionist Bray said that all aspects of the Arizona State defense "keep me up at night", but that is not to imply that he isn't cognizant of the some of his group's achievements.

"What I like about the defense is that we've been lucky and we have come up with a lot of key turnovers," Bray stated. "We're still not playing at the level I would like us to play at, but the bottom line is that we are doing what it takes to win at this point of time."

There is little doubt that the Sun Devils have been extremely lucky to overcome serious injuries to starters Omar Bolden, Brandon Magee and Junior Onyeali, yet Bray isn't sure how many more injuries the team could sustain without a decline in production.

"Some people pray and I'm not a real praying man but I'm about ready to start," Bray quipped. "We just hang in there, move people around. We put (Alden) Darby to help us in the linebacker position and that has helped us a great deal. The whole deal for us that we talk about is improve every week.

"If we improve every week and our offense is playing well we have a chance to win a lot of games."

***

Collectively the Sun Devil nation may assert that the defense's performance at Utah last week, a 35-14 ASU victory, may have been the finest effort from this side of the ball all season. Despite the five forced turnovers and overall stout performance, Bray begs to differ.

"It was disappointing," Bray stated. "After watching film there were a lot of little things that were disappointing. The fact that we got some key big plays which we have done in the last three weeks has been good. If it can stay that way – then we'll be OK."

"I don't think it was the best performance we had," senior safety Eddie Elder (pictured)agreed. "We did look a little sluggish. It wasn't our best performance but at the same time for everyone that was watching it, it was a great performance. But to us, we know we can do better than that. Coaches have been on us all the time to step it up."

In that contest the Sun Devils were able to shut out their hosts for nearly the entire game, but ironically the Utes' only scores came on their first possession of both the first and the third quarter. This is something Elder hopes doesn't become a trend for himself and his teammates.

"We can't start off slow," Elder admitted. "We are the ones that have to punch the offense in the mouth. Hopefully, it changes Saturday."

***

This weekend that wish is maybe easier said than done as ASU travels to Eugene to meet the league's best offense. Bray knows that there are various challenges that await the Sun Devil defenders.

"They are really fast. Not only fast with perimeter and interior speed but they are also extremely fast paced," Bray explained. "They don't give you a chance to substitute or to get a lot of different calls in, so you have to be very sound in what you do. You're not going to out scheme them because they just move too fast."

The ASU defense, which is ranked first in the conference in third-down conversions, has proven to be effective while maintain aggressiveness. Nonetheless, against an explosive offense such as Oregon's the ASU defense needs to make sure that their assertiveness doesn't become their shortcoming, as wrapping up players and rallying to the ball is paramount against the Ducks.

"If the first person misses, there should be three people in his (offensive opponent's) face trying to make a tackle," Elder said. "Unfortunately, if we miss a tackle and nobody is around everybody on their team is going six. You have to stay disciplined."

***

Many have labeled the ASU defense as the proverbial bend but not break group and Bray is comfortable with that characterization.

"I think that is a realistic goal," said Bray of that categorization. "As long as we don't break and play good red zone defense and come up with turnovers…people are going to move the ball on us. We're not at the point where you can say we're dominant. But we just keep hanging in there and fighting and something good will happen if you keep on fighting and that's what we have been doing."

"We are bend but not break," Elder agreed, "but we want to be more than that. We want to be a defense that is feared and that is what we try to pride ourselves as."


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