When three plays totaled 152 yards and three touchdowns, it became evident the Sun Devils’ defense had breakdowns against No. 11 Oregon State. Big plays are almost always the result of a defensive lapse, and though ASU gave up explosive plays in its loss to Oregon State, Sun Devils coach Todd Graham believes his defense has played well this season.
“You look at (redshirt senior cornerback Deveron) Carr and how he’s played and how much improvement we’ve had this year just in the secondary,” Graham said. “Their fundamentals, their tackling. I think we are a much better tackling team (than they were a year ago). There are no questions we’ve made vast improvements.”
ASU’s secondary has given up 34 pass plays of 15 yards or more on the season, but 14 of them have come in the last two weeks. Graham said that the secondary has only blown coverage on seven plays this season, two of which occurred last Saturday.
Despite the recent struggles while defending the pass, ASU still ranks No. 13 in the nation in pass efficiency defense and No. 24 in total defense.
“Those guys have done an amazing job,” Graham said. “You look at those four young men, two of them (redshirt junior cornerback) Osahon (Irabor) and Carr played after Omar (Bolden) got hurt. … I think that they have played extremely well, battled and done a great job.
“To be where we were a year ago to where we are now, I think it’s a credit to those young men.”
The last two weeks have been rough for the Sun Devils’ defense, but the secondary has a tremendous opportunity to redeem itself Saturday. No. 19 USC is averaging 312 passing yards per game, and wide receivers sophomore Marqise Lee and junior Robert Woods are each averaging over 10 yards per catch.
If Irabor, Carr, junior safety Alden Darby and redshirt senior safety Keelan Johnson are able to slow down the Trojans, it will go a long way toward reminding fans what they can accomplish.
Graham reflects on special teams
Throughout his brief tenure in Tempe, Graham has stressed the importance of special teams. Graham knows the Pac-12 South is competitive, and that special teams must play a vital role if the Sun Devils are to win the inevitable close football games.
Graham believes the Sun Devils had been playing well, but Saturday, despite blocking a punt, was a step back.
“I thought we played bad (on) special teams,” Graham said. “Our kickoff cover was not very good. Our kickoff return was not very good. Our punt cover was not very good.”
In addition to struggling on coverages and returns, junior kicker Jon Mora missed his second field goal attempt of the season in the third quarter.
However, there is a bright spot, as senior punter Josh Hubner is averaging 47.4 yards per punt. Hubner has been drawing strong praise from Graham.
“Our punter is absolutely exceptional,” Graham said. “No question in my mind he is the best punter in the country. He has done a phenomenal job. He has been an absolute weapon for us. I’m really proud of Josh and how he has performed.”
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