Defensive coordinator Craig Bray has been the scientist behind the nationally ranked Arizona State defense for the past three seasons. Now this season, the Sun Devils seemed to be superior to the rest in the Pacific Ten.
But Saturday night in Palo Alto, an impostor was wearing the Sun Devil uniform.
This was clearly not the same dominating defense that Bray and his staff were accustomed to seeing. The Sun Devil defense gave up a grand total of 473 yards to the Stanford Cardinal, by far the most yards Arizona State has allowed all season.
However, it seemed like Jim Harbaugh and his staff caught the Sun Devils off guard all night, but with simple play calling.
Arizona State knew that Stanford was going to dish out a heavy dose of Toby Gerhart, and to be honest, the Sun Devils had no answer for the big, bruising running back. Gerhart averaged 4.6 yards per carry Saturday night, paving the way in Stanford's 33-14 victory over ASU.
The 33 points that Bray's defense allowed was also the highest total of the year given up by his normally stout defensive side.
So what is the reason for the sudden slip-up in effectiveness for the Arizona State defense?
Well, although the pass rush has increased its productivity in recent weeks, the front four created havoc against dismal offensive lines such as Washington State and Washington. Stanford proved to be far more effective in their success protecting the quarterback than the Devils' previous couple of opponents.
Also, in an attempt to create pressure by blitzing, the ASU secondary was left vulnerable and exposed, and Stanford's quarterback Andrew Luck picked the defense apart. Luck did not throw a touchdown pass in the game, but he did shred ASU's secondary for 236 yards, setting up four touchdown runs.
From the opening whistle to the last play of the game, the Sun Devils could not stop Stanford. Whether it was superior execution by the Cardinal or lack of effectiveness by Arizona State, the Sun Devils were overpowered by Stanford.
Heck, even when the Sun Devils did manage to force a punt or a long field goal, penalties kept the drive alive. Nothing went right in this game for Bray and his defensive players.
Now that the Sun Devils are teetering on the brink of a second straight bowl-less season, the unit that has provided the spark in the wins for ASU has to set the tone from the opening kickoff against California this Saturday. The defense has too many leaders and too many playmakers to allow for another horrendous performance against No. 23 Cal at home this weekend.
If Arizona State cannot hold off the Golden Bears and pull out a win, then, as former Monday Night Football announcer Don Meredith would say, "Turn out the lights—the party's over!"
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