ASU Football 2002 Report Card - Defense takes an in-depth look at the defense, and grades this unit position by position.

Defensive End grade – A

All-everything junior DE Terrell Suggs led this group. He posted an NCAA record 24 sacks, four more QB hurries, 31.5 tackles-for-loss, broke up three passes, forced six fumbles, and also had an interception. All of this was done while facing double and triple teams as the focus of the opponent's blocking schemes, allowing his teammates more room to operate. One word can describe his season, "domination."

The other starting DE was Jimmy Verdon. The sophomore posted respectable numbers, including four sacks and 48 total tackles, despite being moved to the offense's strong side in order to free up Suggs to wreak havoc in the backfield. True freshman Nick Johnson also contributed with four sacks, showing the explosiveness and speed that has ASU fans thinking he will be the next Sun Devil DE to post big-time sack totals. Suggs earned this grade on his own, although the contributions of the others solidified the mark.

Defensive Tackle grade – B minus

This position was done "by committee" for much of the season. Seniors Danny Masanai, Phil Howard and Khoa Nguyen and juniors Brian Montesanto and Shane Jones all played significant roles at the beginning of the season. At season's end, Masanai was suspended from the team and the juniors received the bulk of the playing time. Jones led the group with 44 total tackles, with Montesanto adding 30 more, including 5.5 tackles-for-loss. The seniors provided much-needed depth, although they did not post significant lines in the stats book.

The emergence of Jones as the season progressed and the sheer heart of Montesanto keeps the grade from falling into the "C" range. The grade probably would have been a low "C" if made at mid-season.

Linebacker grade – B

Experience was the key to this group's successes this year. Three seniors manned two positions for much of the season. Seniors Mason Unck, Josh Amobi, and Solomon Bates garnered most of the playing time at the position. Unck was second on the team in tackles with 111, had 14.5 tackles-for-loss, forced six fumbles, and also made an interception. When healthy, his name was called continuously each game.

Amobi and Bates also had solid senior campaigns. Amobi led the team with four fumble recoveries and also grabbed two interceptions, while Bates added 58 tackles and one interception. The trio of seniors was especially effective when playing the 4-3 defense implemented against teams that were primarily running teams (OSU and KSU).

When injury or exhaustion allowed others to get playing time, true freshman Jamar Williams took advantage of his opportunities. He tallied 37 tackles, showing the "sideline to sideline" capabilities that made him the Houston area's defensive POY as a high school senior.

Safety grade – A minus

The 4-2-5 is designed to let the safeties run all over the field making plays, as evidenced by two of the three top tacklers on this year's team coming from the safety ranks. Sophomore Jason Shivers led the team with 121 tackles, while adding two fumble recoveries. Fellow sophomore Riccardo Stewart posted 83 tackles, including 11.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks. Senior Al Williams primarily filled the third safety position. Williams tallied 51 tackles, including 3.5 sacks – one of which sealed the victory against OSU.

Others making contributions from the safety position were junior Brett Hudson and freshmen Matt Fawley and Joey Smith. Hudson split time between safety, the position for which he was recruited, and cornerback. The two freshmen showed a lot of promise and athleticism, providing important depth and making 54 tackles combined.

The grade would be a solid "A" with a little better coverage of receivers by the safeties. Opponents were able to take advantage of the group in short yardage and goal line situations. Otherwise, the group played extremely well.

Cornerback grade – B minus

Two injuries depleted the depth at CB before the season even started. Both starters were lost – Emmanuel Franklin during spring practice and Lamar Baker during Camp T. The losses necessitated playing R.J. Oliver at one corner and manning the opposite corner based on match-ups. If the opposing WR were tall, junior Brett Hudson would move over from safety to play corner. If the opponent were smaller and faster, redshirt freshman Josh Golden would play the most snaps.

Oliver played well for most of the season, breaking up 18 passes, intercepting four more, and generally keeping his man quiet. It was the other side of the field that gave the Devils trouble. Hudson did a good job, with safety help, on some of the league's best big WRs, but struggled at times with faster players. Golden was inconsistent, much like many other redshirt freshmen corners. He had a stellar game against UW, but was beat often in many other games. True freshman Mike Davis, Jr. also got some snaps at CB. He showed the physical tools necessary to be a "shut down" corner in the Pac 10, but needs more experience and a solid off-season before he can really contribute at the position.

Oliver's performance over the course of the season bolsters the group's grade here. If the decision was not made to have Hudson split time between corner and safety, the grade could easily have been a "C" or even a little lower.

Overall Defense grade – B minus

The defense improved dramatically over the 2001 season, increasing the number of takeaways and decreasing the number of missed tackles. However, the team still gave up a bunch of big plays and had trouble containing athletic, mobile QBs.

The scoring defense needs to improve over the 29.1 ppg allowed this season. Lowering the 119.1 yards per game average given up on the ground is one way to achieve this; however, the 244 yards per game average allowed through the air is solid (although it can be improved by giving up just one less big play through the air per game). The 363.6 yards per game total offense is not a terrible mark against the high-powered offenses of the Pac 10, but the number needs to be lower to earn an "A." Also, keeping opponents' red zone efficiency lower than the 2002 mark of 83.7% would help.

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