Defense locks in against WSU’s air raid offense

Freshman defensive lineman Jaxon Hood communicates with the ASU sideline during the Sun Devils’ 63-6 win over NAU on Aug. 30. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

This is what Washington State’s play call sheet probably looks like.

Option 1: Pass.

Option 2: Pass.

Option 3: Pass.

Option 4: Run. Actually on second thought, pass.

The Cougars come to Tempe running the patented Mike Leach air raid offense. The Sun Devils have been preparing this week to combat it and take advantage of the opportunities it gives them.

Throwing plays have accounted for 69 percent of the Cougars’ play-calling this season.

Coach Todd Graham said the scout team struggled to simulate the air raid early in the week, but the defense has worked hard to prepare for it.

“Obviously, it is a totally different preparation for us,” Graham said. “They can flat throw the football.”

The ASU defensed focused heavily on preparing for the pass. Graham said his team can’t forget about the WSU backs either.

“One of the things that is important is you can’t disregard the run,” Graham said. “You got to make sure you are stopping the run.”

When a team passes as much as WSU does, the secondary must be ready.

Junior safety Alden Darby said he respects the Cougars’ pass game. Washington State leads the conference in total offense averaging 337.5 yards a game.

Although Washington State can rack up the passing yards, Darby said he is ready for the challenge.

“I’m excited. I’m happy they’re throwing the ball a lot. I’m glad they’re not a run team,” Darby said. “Helps me and my (defensive backs) get some interceptions and get some takeaways.”

One key facet of the ASU defense has been the Sun Devils’ ability to force turnovers on the opposing offenses.

WSU presents ASU with a unique opportunity to pick off the ball merely because the ball is in the air so much more than any of their previous opponents.

With the quarterback dropping back so many times to pass, it also gives the ASU defensive line at chance at more sacks.

This season freshman defensive tackle Jaxon Hood has a record of two sacks. He said certain techniques can help him and his teammates bring down the Washington State quarterback.

“You just got to get vertical on your get offs, be aggressive with your hands, pick a side and go with it and rush after the man,” Hood said.

The Cougars have a strategy to combat the pass rush and protect their quarterback. The air raid offense relies on one step drops and quick passes.

The Washington State offensive line also uses the cut block technique, where they dive at the defensive linemen’s knees to get their hands down.

Defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said the defensive line prepared differently. With the quick passes the ASU defensive line has been working to bat more pass down at the line of scrimmage.

“If they throw the ball quick, were not be able to get to the quarterback,” Randolph said. “We have to get to the quarterback in other ways, batting balls down, being in throwing lanes and making sure he is throwing from the pocket and different things.”

 

Reach the reporter at ehubbard@asu.edu