Last year, in coach Todd Graham’s first season, Arizona State showed off an attacking, hybrid defense that harassed the quarterback on nearly every snap. The Sun Devils led the nation in tackles-for-loss per game and ranked second in sacks.
Starting with tonight’s opener against lower-division Sacramento State, don’t expect the philosophy to change.
“Definitely,” senior linebacker Anthony Jones said. “We don’t want to get away from our bread and butter.”
This stems directly from the coach’s personality. Graham is aggressive by nature. The type whose body seldom slows and whose brain seldom quits. Even as a high school coach in Texas, Graham ran an attacking 3-4 defense modeled after Arkansas’ old “Monster Defense.”
“I know I’m not going to be happy if we’re finessing anything,” Graham said. “There are two types of coaches: ones that try not to lose and ones that just go out and put it in the left lane and say, ‘Let’s go perform.’ I want the scheme to fit who I am and what I believe.”
That’s one part of the equation. A second: personnel.
When Graham arrived in Tempe, he realized he had a quick and versatile defensive tackle in Will Sutton. He saw an emerging talent in Carl Bradford, someone who seemed perfectly suited for his hybrid Devilbacker position, which attacks from the edge. He recruited linebacker Chris Young, a playmaker in junior college.
“If we had big, 6-5, 290-pound defensive linemen, would we attack less? Yes,” Graham said. “I just happen to have guys like Will and (sophomore defensive tackle) Jaxon (Hood) and Carl and Chris Young, and I have some pretty good bump corners, too. … I’ve always been an attacking guy, but we’ve attacked a lot more here than any other place because the personnel dictates it.”
At times it looks like ASU is just turning its playmakers loose. That’s not the case.
“Yeah, it may look that way from the outside, but we really have to be disciplined,” Bradford said.
Attacking the quarterback often stresses the rest of the defense, making it vulnerable to big plays. ASU last season gave up 26 plays of 30-plus yards.
“We talk about it every day: It takes all 11 guys being where they’re supposed to be in order for the pressure to get there,” co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said.