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Sidebar: ASU defense tightens the screws at the half against UNLV

The Sun Devil defense made adjustments to its strategy at the half, helping lead the team to victory

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ASU redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Anthonie Cooper (96) tackles University of Nevada, Las Vegas senior running back Charles Williams (8) during their game at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. ASU won 37-10.


In the first half of ASU football's 37-10 victory over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, its defense struggled to play up to its full potential coming out of the gate in the first half. 

The mobility of UNLV's freshman quarterback Doug Brumfield, who was able to extend plays with his legs, was a major reason ASU saw themselves in a close game at the half, only leading 14-10 over an inexperienced opponent.

"The (UNLV) quarterback was hurting us at the beginning of the game. He made a couple of first downs with his legs, kept the drive alive, and you have to give him credit," ASU head coach Herm Edwards said.

At the half, Edwards and the rest of the coaching staff devised a plan to better limit Brumfield's running ability. The staff decided to put the ASU secondary in more man-to-man defensive situations, which in turn put extra players in the defensive box, helping to thwart the threat of a quarterback run.

"We started to play a lot of man-to-man on the back end, and we just felt like we could get to the quarterback if we brought in another element to the rush, and we were able to do that," Edwards said. "We had to make sure we knew our assignments, and once that got done, we played pretty well."

The strategy worked to perfection for ASU, as once they were able to stop Brumfield and the UNLV run game, the other aspects of UNLV's offense faltered as well. In the second half, the running Rebels had only 19 yards of total offense, as ASU forced UNLV into seven punts in their seven possessions in the second half.

Graduate student defensive back and one of ASU's defensive captains Chase Lucas said the team getting a "spy," or a designated member of the defense to stick on the quarterback in case he left the pocket, was among the team's defensive adjustments going into the second half. 

"After halftime, we talked to one another and said we were going to set up a spy on the quarterback, which worked in our favor to get the pressure that we needed to give our offense the ball," Lucas said. "We did a great job in the end, but we have to start better defensively."

UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo noticed ASU's defensive adjustments in the second half and noted the role the adjustments played in ASU's second-half dominance. 

"They did a couple things differently upfront. They played a little more cover one. They've got a good group upfront and they've got some DBs that can play for press," Arroyo said.

With Brumfield unable to scramble away from pressure in the second half, it helped the ASU pass rush stop him behind the line of scrimmage as the Sun Devils finished with five sacks on the night. 

After finishing ASU's first game against Southern Utah University with two interceptions, senior linebacker Darien Butler had a second consecutive strong performance for the Sun Devils on Saturday, finishing with two sacks and a team-high eight tackles in the game. 

At the linebacker position, Butler, a team captain, plays an important role on the ASU defense, helping both in the running game and the passing game. Lucas was complimentary of Butler's versatile play and his overall imprint on the ASU defense. 

"From a defensive standpoint, he means everything. Either he's blitzing, he's covering the tight end or he's making a play on the ball," Lucas said. "He's really the reason our defense and the whole team is like this. I'm just happy and blessed to be playing with him."

ASU's defense will need to bring its A-game in week three as it faces its toughest test of the year thus far as the team will travel to Provo, Utah, to face No. 23 Brigham Young University on Sept. 18 at 7:15 p.m. MST. 


Reach the reporter at ltochter@asu.edu and follow @Leo_Toch on Twitter.

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