Defending Oregon State

For the first time this year, the Sun Devils showed flashes of the 2013 defense with a plethora of turnovers against Notre Dame, forcing Irish quarterback Everett Golson into mistakes all over the field and solidifying the turnaround constructed by Todd Graham. What will Graham and the No. 6 Arizona State Sun Devils have in store for Oregon State this week?

The confidence of the Sun Devils’ defensive unit is at an all time high after recording seven sacks, four interceptions – two for six – and a fumble recovery against Notre Dame a week ago at Sun Devil Stadium in the 55-31 rout of the Irish.

The question marks coming into the season have turned into mere memories.

How will the secondary respond after losing three star seniors? Can the defense get consistent pressure on the quarterback? Does the defensive line have enough depth to compete in the Pac-12?

All of those have been answered and backed up in the last handful of games, especially the question of depth along the front four. In the last two weeks – and almost certainly this week – the Devils have been without a starting defensive lineman, but have yet to miss a step along that front.

Last week against the Irish, starting nose tackle Jaxon Hood was absent due to personal reasons, and freshman Emanuel Dayries was asked to step into the two-deep to spell starter Ami Latu. According to ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, Dayries filled in nicely and will see more time moving into the latter weeks of the season.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s got a lot of potential,” Patterson said. “I thought he handled it extremely well for a freshman. He has a huge upside and is only going to continue to get better each week. He’s big, athletic and he can move so he provides something for us that increases our size up front. The more experience he gets, the better he’s going to be.”

Dayries was a part of that defensive line that was seemingly pressuring Everett Golson all day long last Saturday. They’ll have a shot to do the same this week against Oregon State, which is allowing 3.11 sacks a game – though it should be mentioned that quarterback Sean Mannion has a +18 TD to INT rate against the blitz since 2013.

That last stat won’t stop Todd Graham and Patterson from dialing up the blitz. According to the defensive coordinator, Arizona State pressured on 130 plays of the 156 total in the last two games; these guys stick to their guns.

“That’s one of the things we talked about after the UCLA game; this group really feeds off the pressure for whatever reason,” Patterson said. “We’ve pressured always, but never to the extent to what we are doing right now. We’ve always tried to design our defense to compliment our offense. When you play an up tempo offense, you want to try and create momentum for those guys.”

Pressuring on 83% of the plays puts a lot of stress on a defense. Everything has to be meticulously planned, and getting to the quarterback quickly is a must. Often times, blitzing thins out the coverage on the back end and allows less room for error.

“We have probably put more pressure on the back end this year more so than any other year that I can remember,” Patterson said. “I think our guys in the back end have such a confidence – they know the ball is coming out quick so therefore they don’t have to cover someone for four or five seconds. Whatever it is, our DBs play with ice water in their veins and they like it. The pressure has got to hit home obviously; we have got to be able to get the guy to move his feet and impact that quarterback.”

Added safety Jordan Simone: “It puts us in a tough situation, but we are coached for it. We are always ready to be in zero coverage or just be in man (coverage) all game. It’s exciting and I would hate to be a quarterback back there.”

Getting ready for Oregon State

Although the Beavers are 4-5 and 1-5 in the Pac-12 this season, going into Corvallis and grabbing a win against a Mike Riley coached team will be difficult. Quarterback Sean Mannion has been one of the nation’s top passers in the last several years, and although he doesn’t have the same caliber of playmakers as he’s had in the past, he should still be considered a threat.

“He’s really good man,” Simone said. “He’s got great accuracy and throws a good ball. We have faced some pretty good quarterbacks in the Pac-12 though so I think every week you have got to prepare for the best.”

Just like every other week, ASU will focus on stopping the run and keeping the opposing offense behind the chains to force difficult 3rd and long situations.

“It’s probably more important this week to stop the run early, so that we can be aggressive,” Patterson said. “To me the biggest thing is you can’t sit there and let the quarterback comb his hair in the pocket. You have got to make him move his feet to try to throw the football.

“They play with multiple tight ends, try a lot of motions, shifts, trades and adjustments to try and get you outflanked and create an edge to run the football. We have to keep him in the pocket and create negative yardage plays in the early downs.”

Oregon State will come out in 12 personnel often – one back, two tight ends and two wide outs. That’s the combination that Riley has gone to the most this year, but has been implementing more three tight end sets on early downs. The Beavers are comfortable passing out of heavy sets and have been fairly successful at it this season. Senior tight end Connor Hamlett is the team’s third leading receiver with 27 receptions for 306 yards.

“They are good at getting the ball to their tight ends and their running backs out in space,” Simone said. “I think those are things that we have practiced really well on. I think the biggest thing is to stop the run and control the pass.”

Obviously another benefit to the two and three tight end formations is the extra weight to run the ball. Yet with that said, Oregon State is second to last in the conference in total rushing yards with just 977 on the year. What you should get from that: The run game for the Beavers is mainly used to set up the play action pass.

The one thing that stands out when watching the Beavers is how often they call for a wide out to sprint across the formation, often called a jet sweep. Let’s take a look:

Here we see the Beavers in 12 personnel with the two tight ends to one side of the formation – you’ll often see a wide receiver go in the jet sweep motion toward the tight end heavy side.

Before the snap, the wide receiver on the weak side of the formation heads into motion. Right as he crosses the left tackle, Mannion calls the snap and hands it off (a lot of the time he will fake the give to set up a pass or a run to the RB).

Malik Gilmore takes the ball around the edge and follows his blockers for a gain of 13. You’ll see plenty of the jet sweep action on Saturday. It forces the defense to stay disciplined and switch coverages as well as run fits on the fly.

Perhaps no other team runs the jet sweep action as well as Oregon State, and it has been a staple of Mike Riley’s offense for quite some time. Remember James and Jacquizz Rodgers? They ran it to perfection.

“They still bring a lot of guys in motion and try to confuse you,” Simone said. “But we have seen it before and we are ready and prepared for it.”

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