Preview 2017: Will Arizona State Ever Have A Pass Defense?
After a miserable two years in the secondary, coming up with a bounceback season might be as easy as stopping the forward pass – finally.
ASU, stop the pass, or else.
Todd Graham cut his teeth as a star defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach.
The guy was a defensive back who had a cup of coffee in the NFL. He knows what a good defense is supposed to look like. He knows what a good secondary is supposed to do.
His pass defenses at Tulsa – where he won three Conference USA West titles in four years – weren’t anything special, so his teams bombed away to wins, earning the Pitt job for a season before moving to ASU.
His defenses still couldn’t really stop anyone, but that wasn’t a problem when the Sun Devils won 28 games, two bowls, and a division title in his first three seasons.
Now it’s a problem.
The 2013 team that won ten games was fine in the secondary, scored around 40 points a game, and bombed its way out of issues.
The ten-win 2014 team slipped in a big way in the secondary, but again, the offense was able to pick up the slack time and again.
The 2015 team had the nation’s second-worst pass defense, and Graham had just his second losing season in ten years as a head coach.
And last year’s squad was even worse, finishing dead last in college football against the pass.
There’s a ton of experience returning to the secondary – along with enough options to have a little depth – and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is a healer of bad situations.
But if there’s not a massive improvement – even with Texas Tech, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Jake Browning on the slate over the first half of the season – and the team isn’t a player in the South, could this be it for Graham? Can he afford a third straight losing season?
Probably not, but to beat this into the ground, it might just be as simple as not being so utterly miserable against decent passing teams. Just be awful – not God-awful – and everything might turn out okay.
Oh, yeah, and both of the sensational starting kickers – including Lou Groza winner Zane Gonzalez – have to be replaced. But the new options won’t be bad.
Oh, yeah, and the offensive line has to be better, too, but last year might have been the epitome of the step-back-to-take-leap-forward cliche after dealing with a slew of injuries.
The skill players are going to be terrific. Manny Wilkins and Alabama transfer Blake Barnett will be just fine if they get time to work, and the 1-2 rushing punch of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage could be special. Throw in a straight-out-of-central-casting-No. 1-receiver in N’Keal Harry, and ASU has terrific offensive pieces.
It even has a good-looking defensive front seven, too. The run D should be okay, and while ASU won’t be a brick wall, it’ll be stronger.
So here you go, secondary.
You have your new defensive coordinator. You have a slew of excellent-looking prospects from the last two recruiting classes. You have some veterans already in place – all four starters are back. You might even have more of a pass rush to help the cause.
It might just be one of the Pac-12 South’s biggest question marks. If Graham has figured out an answer over the last two seasons, ASU might just be good enough to be past this hump.