Heat from the Sun Devils-The Defense

LetTheFurFly unlocks the keys to the #16 Arizona State Sun Devils...As the Lobos look for the right combination after the UTEP loss. Now, The Defense

Rushing up to greet you, the ASU defense is next on Lobo Points of Interest.

Breath mint for masseur?

ASU wants the ball back, bad. They want to disrupt you early and force you into bad field position. They'll spend whatever they have to achieve this goal and fall back on their safeties while you're digging out of a hole.

I'm sorry. I'm definitely drinking too much coffee now. If I start to beatnik rhyme into the night please stop me. Devils...DEV-ils...okay, so dig it:

If you recruit well enough to keep the offense cabinet fully stocked (in theory) what's some good field position between friends? You tune up your engine as much as humanly possible and then use the rest of your garage staff to set up a couple lengths past the starting line. Why the hell not? Game on.

This defense is fast and vicious...like it's constantly exacting revenge

This defense is fast and vicious. It's lead like it's constantly exacting revenge. Aggression is just sown into everything...psychologists, put your game face on, steno pads flipped and at the ready: a long time ago, a certain someone must have really liked to mess with insects inside jars. You can tell in the hits. You can tell in the blitzes. You can tell as a fiery little head coach jumps up and down on the sideline guiding the defense.

This is up 42-7 in the second quarter. Jumping up and down. SCREAMING at the defense to get in position. Pointing in faces. Yelling. Teaching? 42-7. In the second quarter. The world shall feel my pain. Fear my wrath. Hop Hop Hop.

I know man, I know. I've been there. Just stick it out. Eventually it'll just sound like Charlie Brown trombone.

So more defense:

ASU uses an active and attacking version of the 4-2-5. A swarm of bees was my first choice to describe it point blank: You have less of your largest on the field and, in this case, five or six guys into the mix from different directions and positions. They're all over the place. You know it's coming from somewhere (and your blockers have to guess) as ASU tries to flood with numbers and speed.

4-2-5's and aggressive 3-3-5's (as you older lobo fans will remember) have a lot of hybrid positions, personnel and special descriptions for their flex spots. Rocky Long got a lot of the credit for these strides with the "Lobo" DB in his 3-3-5....care of Mr. Urlacher of course...and the concept has continued to roll into the modern day. With this in mind, let's hash out some terms and ASU specifics before we continue:

The above is again from the Washington State game. "DEV" above is short for the "Devil" position on the line. A flex position that houses a heavier rush backer or a lighter end type (235-265). In this case, the Devil is standing on the line but usually has a hand in the turf to rush. 4-2-5's usually have special names for their extra strong safeties, so they can adjust coverages when they attack with them. "SPUR" is an extra strong safety that houses a 195-210 player to flex to the situation.

Everything else is pretty self explanatory. From weak side backer to boundary safety (BS), ASU uses a myriad of names for these positions to signal and queue where the play will rotate around, possibly as they attack from another position (or bluff/cover). You'll find in the link less commonly used terms for corners and safeties and stamps on the position names, implying assignments....as the rest of the team attacks/covers. Boundary corners and boundary safeties imply zone control as the play develops. They're the frame/box while the others converge, attempting to at least pick up anything that actually gets through the blitz.

Side note: naming the tackle "Tiger" has to be a nice little inspirational boost. He's a tackle? You hike the ball: he goes. That's pretty much it? But yes, let's give him a special designation. TIGER! RAWR! You can lose a 310 pound guy in a crowd full of safeties?

Also: for his own safety, please do not have  your heaviest "Tiger" falling back into zone coverage on our field. Visitors are responsible for any potholes if he manages to get airborne in the middle. Thank you kindly. 360lbs moving around that much is just plain cruel...along with the jog to the sideline. Point (and jump) all you want, but it's true. 

But let's move on: I also picked out the slide above because it's an example of an overload. Note the positions above and the SPUR and BS positions above. Notice the FS moving over to cover the BS's zone. Now look down:

Timing the snap count in this defense is a big deal. Full speed defenders look to burst right from the line of scrimmage and have all game long to get it right for big play city (or at least a possible false start penalty).

In this play SPUR and BS have overloaded one side of the line, while FS has moved off screen into quarters coverage. The CB below ends up playing zone to protect against an outlet and the strong side backer (SLB or SAM) has moved over to pick up SPUR's receiver assignment. The SAM and FS are now trying to control two receivers in the area (one off screen, bottom) while the others are attacking or lingering. Lots of risk and reward here.

Washington State reads this set well and throws a little slant route to the slot receiver. Two players blitz and try to swat the pass but the slot gets it clean and scoots past the slower linebacker for a BIG gain. Thirty yards into a void of field he goes. He's eventually chased down. The ball goes to the area left vacant from assignment shifts (middle) and WSU takes advantage.

WSU got killed in this game however. ASU overloaded the pocket often and got multiple sub-50yd starting field position for their offense. WSU would get into trouble early and never make up third and long. The Cougars couldn't short pass out of it and eventually kept a lot of backs in to help block the fifth (and sixth) man ASU brought in the second half.

This offensive hinges on line timing, speed and confusing the offense's blocking assignments. It's easy to pick out the roles on paper but during the game, the auxiliary safeties are much more ambiguous and similar. They're rotated often and with different. Thankfully UNM has all day to use the play clock.

If you have to pick out who's coming, identify the free safety first (or "field safety" as ASU lists it) and see what he's trying to frame up. Then you can identify the other two, and pick out the SPUR away from the corners. YOU HAVE TO CHANGE UP YOUR SNAP COUNT, switch directions, or break through a lighter defender with your blockers when it presents itself. Screens aren't as simple. ASU DB's have a long reach and are plenty fast. You have to make it count if/when the slot picks the ball.

The O-line can not flinch when pressure shows up. Know that it's coming and that you can be crossed up. Clog up what you can and the backs will get lots of blocking practice for this game. "Fear the Fork" becomes "Bend the Fork Back" when you do the proper work ahead of time. ASU's defense is appropriately like a fork: it's skinnier digits will have gaps in it. Find those gaps like you find holes in this defense.

ASU's defense is appropriately like a fork: it's skinnier digits will have gaps in it

Coach Graham lauded the number of combinations that they used to attack against Weber State (42), as he tested out his newer freshman and JUCO additions. This a very high maintenance defense and the new guys have a steep learning curve. Know the general concepts and keep it simple to remedy...then the number of ways it can mess with you are meaningless numbers and only remain annoying prep headaches for coaches.

You just have to know that they're coming. They have to attack. You can take it from there.
Let's do some defense personnel by unit.

First off, some disclosure. The recruiting gap between budgets and prospects still exists against a resource 5 school, and is relevant to ASU's current roster turnover. The good news is there's lots of new faces. Keep it in mind. Preface it accordingly. Let's not order the girl in the cake just yet. There's still work to be done.

Whoever we line up with is who we have to beat. Period. I also refuse to over-sell that gap once we line up and start fighting. It's there. It's not an death sentence or a foregone conclusion in the making. You keep playing. 


2013 PAC-12 defensive player of the year, Will Sutton, third team All-American, is gone. Everyone that has a registered a sack is gone. Starting roles are either brand new, transfers or a JUCO making the plunge into FBS ball. This unit is technically "unproven". Range from 260-305 and one big 360lb samoan in the middle. ASU has higher starred JUCO talent coming in with one FBS game under their belt. You could see a lot of combinations as they look for dependable starters.


The number of backers on the roster has everything to do with how the plug into the flex positions. ASU have 23 backers on it's roster and they're all over the place (205-260). The 2 in the 4-2-5 is slammed but there's room to go around. The real separation between filling the SPUR, DEVIL and both linebacker depth charts isn't too far off from an actual 195-210 DB/safety. Exceptions occur I'm sure, but plugging in a slightly heavier guy can disguise his role in the play to come. Four different spots with two different types of sizes is a good mask to switch between.

Heavier towards the DEVIL and lighter towards the SPUR. It makes sense. They're funneled all around.

DB's and Safeties:

Everyone is getting replaced! Everyone specifically labeled a safety is a redshirt freshman or lower. Lots of quick guys from (1) 6'2 guy to (1) 5-9 guy and plenty in between. One JUCO all-american DB in Kweishi Brown.  171 to 205 range (which is K. Brown). For a permanent nickel defense, I though they'd have more DB's.

Well, alright. That should do it. Everyone should have a good picture for Saturday.

Thanks for reading. Go Lobos. -LTFF.

That was a haul.

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