Before ASU football's most recent game against Stanford University, head coach Herm Edwards went over to ASU graduate student defensive lineman Tyler Johnson and told him he needed to have a big night for the Sun Devil defense.
"Tyler needed to play big for us, and he's played a lot of football around here, and told him I said, 'you need to have a good game.' I told him that before he went out there," Edwards said.
Edwards' hopes for him came to fruition as Johnson finished the game with a season-high two sacks, five tackles total and a huge forced fumble to slow down a Stanford drive. Johnson and the ASU defensive line were major contributions to ASU's comfortable defeat over Stanford 28-10.
Stanford head coach David Shaw admitted as much after the game, citing the overall size of the ASU defensive line and the effect they had on the game.
"Defensively, Arizona State, they’re big up front. We had a couple of protection issues," Shaw said.
At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Johnson was constantly getting by offensive linemen and in the Stanford backfield making plays.
Thanks to his strong performance, Johnson was named Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week, the second time he's earned those honors in his college career. In addition, Johnson was named National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
For Johnson, now in his fifth year with the ASU football program, things seem to be falling into place and he is starting to love the process.
"The older I got, the more it's become more of this is my job, and I'm having fun with it," Johnson said. "Being able to physically outwork somebody, it's kind of a very good feeling. Also, just doing that alone is definitely very satisfying."
After getting ejected in the first game of the season against Southern Utah University, Johnson has been a constant force for the Sun Devil defense this season, as he is currently second on the team in total sacks.
Johnson praised ASU defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez for his stellar play-calling and in-game adjustments which have helped Johnson excel.
"His football IQ is very, very high, and I couldn't be more grateful to have that. Because it has obviously put me in a position to do what I'm doing and help out the defense," Johnson said. "Coach AP's (Antonio Pierce's) calls with coach Rod's adjustment, it's a defense that definitely can go very far this season."
Earlier this season, ASU lost two key veteran defensive linemen, senior Jermayne Lole and graduate student Travez Moore to season-ending injuries. Johnson and other linemen, like redshirt sophomore Anthonie Cooper and graduate student D.J. Davidson, have done a nice job stepping up in their absence.
"Next man up. You are in the room. We are learning the same plays we are all doing the same stuff. For younger guys to step and contribute like Anthonie (Cooper), it's big," Johnson said.
Johnson's five years with the ASU football program have been eventful. He redshirted as a freshman, went through a coaching change, and even had plans to retire from football after his sophomore season due to medical issues. Now though, he is thriving and has become a real leader on and off the field for the Sun Devil defense.
Johnson and the rest of the ASU defensive line will look to continue their stellar play and stay atop the Pac-12 South on Saturday as they play the University of Utah on the road at 7 p.m MST.
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