Arizona State football defense looks to improve against USC

When a team isn’t playing well, it’s easy to dig into the numbers to see where a team might be lacking. Arizona State defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez has always been insightful when it comes to evaluating his unit which has just two sacks in four games this season and just eight in the 11 last games, including four in one game against Arizona.

Rodriguez watches the pressure more than the sacks. Sometimes a team’s pattern doesn’t lend itself to a lot of sacks. Sometimes it’s a particular quarterback who gets rid of the ball quickly. But there weren’t enough layoffs or pressure.

“We’re not a big blitz team, so our four-man pressure is going to have to withstand five, six, seven guys,” Rodriguez said. “There are always one-on-ones, there are always opportunities to pressure the quarterback. We haven’t done it at a fast enough pace. Sacks, I’m throwing out the window, but in terms of the time we’ve been in the quarterback’s lap, it hasn’t been enough.

The Sun Devils (1-3, 0-1) will look to avoid their first 1-4 start since 1976 when they hit the road for a 7:30 p.m. game against No. 6 USC (4-0, 2- 0) Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

For subscribers: Scouting Report: What Should ASU Do Against USC?

Southern California coach Lincoln Riley cheers during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Oregon State, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Corvallis, Oregon.  (AP Photo/Amanda Loman)

The Trojans have a quick strike ability in all skill positions with new head coach Lincoln Riley reloading through the transfer portal. Its top three players come from other schools — running back Travis Dye (Oregon), wide receiver Jordan Addison (Pitt), reigning Biletnikoff Award winner and quarterback Caleb Williams (Oklahoma).

Despite a few injuries that have limited his staff, Rodriguez expects more from his unit.

“I’m the first to say it wasn’t good enough. It just wasn’t productive enough,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t judge him by sacks. If you look at the Oklahoma State game, I was happy with how we got to quarterback. Desperation does bad things to get past the rushers. I saw it at all levels. We are proud to have our eyes downcast and our hands in front of us. The buck stops here when it comes to this.

March 23, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Arizona State defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez during spring training at Kajikawa Practice Fields.

Rodriguez had to adapt on the fly. Three-handed tackle Omarr Norman-Lott was injured in the first practice of the game two weeks ago against Eastern Michigan and will miss a second straight game.

Rodriguez opted to go with a lineup that includes both Nesta Jade Silvera and TJ Pesefea, who had rotated at nose tackle. Silvera had 12 tackles last week, a particularly high total for an inside lineman. Tackle BJ Green trained this week with the defensive ends.

“They have playmakers at all levels,” Silvera said. “There were definitely some growing pains, the stopping of the run, but it starts right off the bat with us. We have to be able to stop that, stop them at the line of scrimmage. We have to do what we have been trained to do.”

Related: ASU offense hopes for comeback against USC after tough outing against Utah

ASU Nesta defenseman Jade Silvera (4) coaches Utah's Jaylon Glover (1) at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday September 24, 2022.

While passer pressure has been a key issue, so has the ability to stop the run. ASU gave up 458 total yards to Eastern Michigan, including 305 rushing. Last week, the Sun Devils returned 465, including 205 on the ground. In both games, the opponent is averaging 6.3 yards per play.

Despite oddly similar numbers in the last two games, defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson was more pleased with the performance in Saturday’s 34-13 loss to Utah. He says success this week will depend on execution.

“I was thrilled with this game, the way we played the first three quarters. We gave up a few touchdowns, a broken play and a long boot coming back down the field to the tight end,” he said. he said. “Other than that, we just need to do a much better job of tackling this. It wasn’t as bad as you think. However, it still needs to be improved. »

All say it will come down to assignment football since USC is not one-dimensional.

“They have a lot of good athletes, and they do a great job stretching the field and attacking you vertically,” said safety Khoury Bethley, who will play just 35 miles from his native Chino. “They’ve got him (Jordan Addison), but they’ve also got a lot of other guys who can get the ball back and are just as capable as him. They’ve got so many athletes that you can’t settle for a single guy.

“It’s going to be a challenge. We’re going to have to do some things to slow them down a bit,” Henderson said. “We can’t let them run up and down the pitch because if they start using their speed it could be a long day.”

Caretaker coach Shaun Aguano hinted at a key to keeping his attack on the pitch, which would prevent the mighty Trojans from drifting away from it. That could mean playing on fourth down.

“Coach (Aguano) talked about the fact that he’s going to be aggressive. That for us as a defense makes us think we have to be aggressive with him,” Henderson said. There are going to be third or fourth downs for which the attack will go, and we will have to come and put out the fire.

Read more: ASU football fans call for anger at USC in uniform post

Gentry on the other side

Southern California linebacker Eric Gentry (18) tackles Stanford running back Casey Filkins (2) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., on Saturday, September 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

One of the key additions for USC came courtesy of ASU as linebacker Eric Gentry was traded over the summer. He had earned Freshman All-American honors and was scheduled to start in the spot vacated by Darien Butler. The Philadelphia native leads the Trojans in tackles and while he may be gone, he knows about Tempe’s latest outings.

“They are tough. We went through a lot last year as ASU players. I mean, they’re good at it. They’re amazing football players,” Gentry said while speaking to USC media earlier this week. “It’s going to be a good game. There is no beef from me. I still talk to them. We just had the game this week, and it’s going to be a good game.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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