TEMPE — Football games are won and lost in the trenches. There is no secret about this.
But for an Arizona State team that has 43 new players on its roster, can the defensive line be the anchor for the Sun Devils on this side of the ball?
The post group is one of the most experienced in ASU heading into the 2022 season, with the likes of Michael Matus senior in redshirt, grad student Travez Moore, sophomore in redshirt
Omarr Norman-Lott and graduate transfer student Nesta Jade Silvera lead the way.
“I think every good defense has a defensive line they can call their anchor. … If we want to be successful, the D-line has to be reliable, we have to be the anchor,” DL coach Robert Rodriguez said during the coaches media day on Monday.
“We have to put our foot down and be that first level of salvation, if you are going to cross us you are going to bleed from having to pass. If you’re gonna cross us, we’re gonna make you bleed for having to. And we have two other levels that need to do the same thing.
With the turnover this Arizona State team has seen over the past offseason, the Sun Devils will be looking to establish an identity.
It remains to be seen what exactly this identity will be.
“I have no idea. I really don’t know,” defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said of his defense’s identity. “I think it comes down to being able to line up, to be enough confident to know what to do and play hard. I see that in our guys. I really do. There are times when some guys might say, ‘What’s the call?’ or ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I understand.
“But overall, yes. How good will we be? Really good.”
Positionally, ASU now has a total of 21 defensive backs. And with the coverage of men that the Sun Devils like to play, the combination of good coverage and a tenacious defensive line could allow Henderson to be more aggressive in his call of play – namely to bring more pressure than last year’s 27.0 sacks (tied for 74th in the nation).
“You have to be aggressive, you have to understand your defense and understand your players better and understand better what they can do,” he said. “I’ve been around some aggressive defenses, but if you mess up on the line of scrimmage, it’s going to be a touchdown. But you can’t handcuff yourself. You have to be aggressive. That’s what this game is about.
“You have to be able to face each other, you have to be able to understand what your opponent is doing and you have to have a few of them behind you where you can bring them in from time to time. … I would like to be a little more aggressive in the texture of our defense. And we can do it, we just haven’t done it very much. And what some of the guys we have right now, especially the guys up front, I’m sure those guys up front will be the catalyst for our defense to be honest.
Arizona State had one of the best defenses in the nation last season despite popular belief.
The Sun Devils had the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 conference and ranked 13th in all of college football in allowing 326 yards per game. ASU also allowed 4.97 yards per play while forcing a total of 21 turnovers on 16 interceptions and five fumbles in 13 games.
“Are we going to break records? It depends on your level for it,” Rodriguez said. “My standard is composition, do your fucking job, beat the person in front of you and give them the hell for four shifts until (the clock) says 0:00. And if they add more time, let’s give it some more hell.
“That’s our standard. It’s kind of what my mentality of what a good defensive line is.