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Arizona State's Rebuilt Defense Showing Signs of Improvement

Todd Graham

Todd Graham

Casual fans may be forgiven for assuming Arizona State is winning games just with its offense. Todd Graham’s up-tempo coaching style is his calling card and the numbers show it. Arizona State ranks 19th in passing offense and 25th in scoring offense. Oh, but have you noticed the Sun Devils are playing defense as well? If not, now is as good a time as any to start paying close attention to what Arizona State is doing on defense, because they will be facing a pair of quality defensive teams in the next couple of weeks.

Arizona State has allowed just 10 points in each of its past two games, against Stanford and on the road at Washington. In those two games, Arizona State’s defense has done a really good job of getting off the field on third down situations. In the past two games, Arizona State has held Stanford and Washington to eight successful third-down conversions out of 30. That’s a pretty good way to go on defense. The defense has also held the Cardinal and Huskies to fewer than 300 yards of total offense. Stanford may not be an offensive juggernaut, and Washington will see better days ahead of it under Chris Petersen, but considering Arizona State gave up nearly 500 yards to USC and 62 points and 580 yards the previous game against UCLA, it seems as though Arizona State has turned something around on defense.

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Arizona State also seems to be finding a way to buckle down earlier. Arizona State led Washington 10-0 at the halftime break. This is important, because Arizona State has now won 21 straight games when leading at the half. In the first four games of the season, Arizona State had allowed 62 first-half points. In the last three games, Arizona State has allowed just 17 first-half points.

After USC and UCLA were a perfect 10-for-10 inside the red zone against Arizona State, the Sun Devils have tightened up when the opponent reaches inside the 20-yard line the past two weeks. Stanford and Washington combined for four total trips to the red zone against Arizona State, and they combined for just 10 points. This is a trend that will have to continue if Arizona State is going to come out on top of what looks to be a competitive and wide-open Pac-12 South Division.

Time will tell if this is the new way to play defense at Arizona State or if this is just a blip on the radar in a conference more commonly known for its offense. The Pac-12 does have plenty of offensive talent stretching up and down the west coast, but Arizona State is making players like Damarious Randall and Jordan Simone and Laiu Moeakiola names worth staying up late to watch.

Arizona State is going to continue to prosper on the strength of its offense under Todd Graham. It is the ability of the defense to rise to the occasion that will help elevate Arizona State from Pac-12 South contender to Pac-12 contender, and perhaps even more after that.

- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)