Chris Young is valuable to Arizona State no matter where he plays.
The senior linebacker leads the Sun Devils in tackles with 29 and is ninth in the Pac-12 (7.2 per game) while playing the weak-side (Will) position that Brandon Magee occupied last season. Still, No. 22 ASU is No. 92 nationally in rushing defense, its most glaring weakness going into Saturday’s game against Notre Dame and the second third of the season.
So Young is moving back to Spur, a linebacker/safety hybrid position where he played last season. The intention is to improve perimeter rush defense without sacrificing on the interior, where opponents have had difficulty running. Steffon Martin remains at strong-side (Sam) linebacker with Salamo Fiso now playing Will.
“I was very comfortable (at Spur) and everything came back,” Young said after practice Tuesday. “I felt like the lineup for linebackers was great. We’ll definitely be all right with that lineup.”
ASU coach Todd Graham is making run defense a priority against the Irish, who are averaging a modest 135.4 yards rushing but have a dangerous breakaway threat in George Atkinson.
“We’re obviously working different personnel groupings because of the matchups we have this week,” Graham said. “Chris has played really solid. We’ve got to get Salamo going. He is so talented, and he just made a lot of mental errors early (against USC). We can’t have those things.”
Graham said Anthony Jones, who started the first four games at Spur, will continue to get significant time with Grandville Taylor and Carlos Mendoza also in the linebacker mix.
“Penetration on any running offense is the kryptonite,” Young said. “Obviously setting the edge is going to discourage them running outside then pushing it inside to our defense where we’re very strong. That’s going to be a great emphasis for Saturday.”
H-back Chris Coyle said winning on the road at 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will require discipline from every traveling player, something that wasn’t the case at No. 5 Stanford, where ASU trailed 29-0 at half and lost 42-28 on Sept. 21.
“We’ve got to have everybody buying in, nobody distracting anybody,” Coyle said. “Coach has made it completely clear that nobody is allowed to be messing around this trip. This is 100 percent business. We’ve got to go in there focused. Last time it was a big-time game, first road game, people were a little bit on their heels. We’re never going to let that happen again.”