Devils' Defense Starts Strong, Falters Late

It was certainly a tale of two halves for the Arizona State defense on Saturday night against Northern Arizona. In the first stanza, it seemed nothing could go wrong for the Sun Devils, but the Lumberjacks had the ASU defense back on their heels in the second half, moving the ball at ease. This fact disappointed LB Mike Nixon who led the ASU defense with eight tackles in the season opener.

"I thought we came out with great intensity in the first half, obviously we had a shutout going that is a goal that we want throughout the game," said ASU senior linebacker Mike Nixon, "For whatever reason in the second half we didn't have that intensity."

"The 2's got in there to get some reps, whether it is mental reps or physical, the intensity wasn't there. We let them move the ball a little too much and we can't have that."

The Sun Devil starters held the Lumberjacks to just 98 total yards and just five first downs, while pitching a shutout. The visitors tried to employ a hurry-up offensive scheme to catch the maroon and gold off-guard, but it ended up finding themselves victims of their own doings.

"We were ready for it. Two years ago they got a cheap score on us running the hurry up, this year we were ready for it," said Nixon, "They just kind of spread the ball, they do a no huddle, but a lot of the time they take a full play clock."

ASU led 30-0 at the break and Dennis Erickson decided to give some of his younger guys game experience in the second half, that move left a lot to be desired as ASU's reserves struggled to contain NAU's option offense.

"We thought we played a real good first half, got out there and did what we want to," said Nixon, "Some of the younger guys got to play in the second half and we let them back into the game."

Nixon felt that the breakdown on defense simply came down to a lack of intensity and that the score got some of the younger guys complacent.

"There is a fine line in wanting to get guys ready for the Pac 10 opener and taking advantage of the opportunity at the end. I haven't seen the tapes yet, but I felt like they were moving the ball with ease and that shouldn't happen with our ones or our 2's. There are going to be injuries throughout the year and we are going to need guys to step up next week."

That Pac-10 opener comes early this year for ASU, as Stanford comes into Sun Devil Stadium next Saturday. The Cardinal shocked Oregon State in their conference opener in and won 36-28, collecting 210 yards rushing, with Toby Gerhart leading the way with 152 yards and two scores.

"After what Stanford did on Thursday, we are going to need a better effort," Nixon noted. "Last year we played a good game against them up there, but they were missing their running back (Gerhart). Thursday night we saw what he can do against Oregon State, one of the best run defenses. We are going to have to go out shut the run down, make them air it out and make them make plays."

For the Devils to succeed in the talented Pac-10, they will need to play four quarters defensively. Nixon knows that he has to get more consistent himself.

"I thought I did some good things, but got a little sloppy in the second half," he admitted. "I would like to have a more consistent game next week. For whatever reason, I don't know if we were a little fatigued in the first game or the scoreboard let us play on our heels. Against the Pac-10 teams we are going to need four quarters."

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