4-2-5 Kind Of Guy

Coming into this season, the Sun Devil defense was considered by far to be the strongest link on the team. However, after three games the defense has been having some rough times along side with dominating performances. In this Q&A, Defensive Coordinator Brent Guy analyzes his unit to date, and offers an outlook for the rest of the season.

DevilsDigest: Coach Guy, let's start with the more recent outing of the defense. How would you grade their performance against San Jose State?

Brent Guy: We went into that game wanting to make a statement to stop the run. When you can't control your opponent's ground game, like in the Stanford game, you'll have problems. We wanted to make sure we were able to stop the lateral running in particular. In San Jose we had an excellent running back in Whitaker come into our place, and we challenged him. We did a good job stopping him, but San Jose did a good job adjusting on offense and threw a lot of passes and out routes against us. But overall, we were pleased that we executed our game plan, and tackled much better.

DD: You mentioned the success San Jose had in the passing game, but the majority of their passes were not long ones and had very little impact on the game. Do you take some comfort in the fact that even though you surrendered a lot of passing yards, that your defense held up when it was all said and done?

BG: Well, we had two true freshmen start the game – Shivers and Baker. We knew that San Jose would go after them, and they did so, especially on third down. But for the most part, we did give up only one big run play and three passes over 20 yards. Like you said, there were a lot of seven or eight yard passes, and they did a nice job running routes. Again, with our game plan of stopping a run, it's natural that you'll give up some passing yards.

DD: You mentioned the inexperience factor in the secondary. How do you feel about the performance of all these youngsters?

BG: Those guys are young, they're learning under fire, and they will get better next week and in the weeks to come. You can't substitute game experience. We're going to play a Louisiana Lafayette team that will throw a lot, so those freshmen will be tested even more this week. As long as these guys continue to get better each and every week, that's all we can expect from them. They're not gonna play like juniors or seniors. We know that they'll be growing pains. But we were pleased with the effort, and their aggressiveness.

DD: You mentioned that you like to see an improvement from week to week, but it's no secret that the Stanford game was a very though one for the defense, and was really a regression from the San Diego game. Is that your opinion too? BG: You try to learn a lesson from every game, and our guys are still learning the (4-2-5) scheme and the specific plays in each position. Against Stanford, one of the long runs by them could have been stopped by two of our defenders. However, they were out of position, and that's part of adjusting to a new system and not being familiar with all the ins and outs of the scheme. We'll continue to get better, and as time goes by we'll see less of those types of mistakes. We'll also become a team that it's hard to sustain long drives against.

DD: I know that you're probably not watching a whole lot of Pac-10 film right now, but from the little that you do see, how do think our defense stacks up to the rest of the conference?

BG: The Pac-10 in general has always been a very good offensive conference that passes a lot. This year it's the same story. What's deceiving about it is that we do have a lot of great running backs in the conference, and teams in the Pac-10 do run the Football well. Usually, you try to stop either the run or the pass. But if you're able to stop the pass, it doesn't mean that teams won't hurt you with the run and vice versa. I always believed we could compete in the Pac-10, and I still do so now. We will play better than we did against Stanford. We're looking forward first to our out of conference game this week, but we're also looking forward to our conference games. We're excited to play our competition.

DD: We're a 34-point favorite against Louisiana-Lafayette. Do you think this game can still be a good test going into Pac-10 play?

BG: No question. These guys are throwing 65% of the time; we'll get mostly 4 and 5 WR looks. And also like I said before, we need game experience for our young guys. This time last year, Shivers and Baker were still playing high school ball here in Phoenix. Now they're starting on a Pac-10 team, and that's a huge jump. We played seven true and redshirt freshmen last game, and they'll only get better with more games under their belt.

DD: Shifting away from the secondary, how would you judge the defensive line right now?

BG: I think that's one of our strengths, because of all the veterans there. If your main goal is to stop the run, you have to have quality players up front, and we do. I thought last game Wallin and Townsend did a great job stopping the run. Suggs is always a threat in both pass and run defense with his speed. Montesanto and Verdon continue to get better at the other defensive end. Verdon is one of those redshirt freshmen that also needs to play more so he can improve. Once we get into Pac-10, he has to be a factor for us.

DD: You mentioned the defensive line being the strongest unit on defense, but it would seem like the defensive end opposite Suggs, whether it be Montesanto or Verdon, isn't quite producing like the rest of the line. Deep down, are you worried about that specific defensive end position?

BG: No. We don't need to have in our scheme dominate defensive ends that will overpower tight ends. We move them a lot, and protect them with safeties. We need to have good blue-collar guys that stay in a gap, do their job, and be effective pass-rushers. We zone blitz enough, for the ends to make plays. Don't get me wrong, we're very happy to have a player like Terrell Suggs and I wish we had three more of him on defense – but those type of players are just not out there. Here too we have a lot youth like Montesanto and Verdon, and a good player for the future in Pryor who will probably redshirt. I'm happy with the guys we have, and we'll continue to recruit speedy guys that we can plug into our scheme.

DD: How about the linebacker position? It seems that they had to make the biggest adjustment going from a three-linebacker alignment to a two?

BG: I do have a group of guys that played together a lot, so that's a plus. Unck played a great game last week, and Bates is one of the smartest players on the team. Amboi will play more as the season goes on. Fields is a valuable asset because he's a veteran who played a lot for the team. The new alignment does cut down on playing time for some on defense, but all four of these players play quite a bit on special teams. So we do have a lot of rotation in this position, and the players have to learn to come back quickly in the rhythm of the game, after being on the sidelines or on special teams. They do like the fact that they get to pressure the quarterback a lot. We do have the ability to go to a three-linebacker set, and if the game dictates it, we won't hesitate to do so.

DD: Playing seven freshmen on defense must be quite a challenge for you. Have you ever encountered such a situation in all of years of coaching? How is the best way to deal with it?

BG: It is a big challenge. High school players come from schemes that are much less complex than the college level. On the other hand, it's nice that they come to us with no old habits so we can mold them into our scheme. Old habits aren't necessarily bad ones, but when you teach a new scheme it's the older guys that sometimes take longer to learn. For example, our safeties play much closer to the line of scrimmage and the ball gets to them much quicker, compared to the old scheme they were used to. From a technique standpoint, I would say that our safeties Williams and Daniel have had the biggest adjustment in their game.

DD: Last question, when you look at the first three games and see what lies ahead of you the rest of the season, are you're happy where the defense is at right now?

BG: I'm real pleased right now. I was really concerned about Whitaker last week, because he's a guy that ran for a lot of yards against a quality team like Stanford. If he had a good day, he could have thrown us off balance, like Stanford did to us. But we did a great job on him, and I was pleased with that. We do need to sack the quarterback more, even though teams may max protect the quarterback with play-action passes. But when an offense throws a lot, you have to sack them more. We need to make sure that we get off the field after third down, and not keep the opponent's drives alive.

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