Most teams around the country would be satisfied with a defensive performance that only yielded nine points in the season opener. Although Arizona State does not want to be an ordinary team on defense, nine points relinquished to Portland State was unacceptable. Dennis Erickson's defense wants to be the best.
On Saturday night versus Portland State, ASU was noticeably upset after Portland State’s opening scoring drive. The Sun Devils gave up an 18-yard pass play, as well as back-to-back runs of five and eight yards. The result of that string of poor defensive plays was a 42-yard field goal, to give Portland State an early 3-0 lead.
If you would have told anyone that Portland State would be leading the Sun Devils at any point in the game, most would attribute that statement to drinking a little too much “jungle juice” at the tailgate party. However, that was the scenario that ASU and the maroon and gold defense faced.
After the opening drive for Portland State, it seemed as if it was business as usual for the ASU defense. Two straight three-and-outs for Portland State were on the Horizon. Takeaways, a safety, and an all out onslaught on the quarterback would be a major reason ASU only gave up two more field goals the rest of the game.
Sure, only nine points given up in a game would normally receive high praise, but ASU knew that Portland State was a far inferior squad. With that being said, a team that might not even deserve to be on the same playing field as an ASU should not compile 263 yards, especially on a defense that has been tabbed as the best unit in the conference.
However, the players and coaches recognized this, and demanded a lift in intensity. Once practice began this week, the defense wanted to washout the “bad taste” from the Portland State game, and work on shutting down NAU’s prolific passing attack.
Although the Portland State game was not a poor defensive showing, I think that ASU defensive coordinator Craig Bray was hoping his men would turn in a performance similar to last season’s home opener against Idaho State, another Big Sky Conference member.
In 2009, many fans expected ASU to be much improved on defense with quality upper-classmen coupled with youthful talent and athleticism. ASU’s coming out party was the first game of the season. Idaho State seemed like they never even stepped off of the bus to play the game, especially when ASU’s defense was on the field.
Arizona State won the game 50-3, but the defense and special teams did most of the work. Last season, then senior linebacker, Mike Nixon grabbed three interceptions and blocked a punt to limit the Bengals of Idaho State to only 37 total yards the entire game.
Obviously as fans, we cannot anticipate a defensive showcase like that week in and week out, but this year ASU’s defense wants to set the tone and command respect. Last week, Portland State sought out to take respect from the Sun Devils, and at first, the Vikings were successful. On Saturday, the storyline will be similar. NAU is a Big Sky Conference opponent, who is even more familiar with ASU than Portland State, due to location, players, coaches, and recent games against one another.
There is no doubt that this game will be a better gauge for ASU’s success the remainder of the season, the Lumberjacks have a handful of quality players on offense that can do some damage.
Last week it was the offense that stole the show; surprising fans across the valley with big play ability, breakaway speed, and an identity that the Sun Devils can call their own. On Saturday, the defense is going to be the group to step up, and this year ASU cannot rely on Mike Nixon or Travis Goethel to impact the game.
The linebackers flew around the field last week and made some big plays to keep the final result intact, but one name that seemed to fly under the radar was Vontaze Burfict. Normally his “push the envelope” style creates chaos on the field and big plays for his comrades in maroon and gold, but Saturday versus Portland State was a different story. Burfict ended the day with only two tackles. Although he did team up with ASU safety Eddie Elder to create a safety. However, that was Burfict’s only big play of the night.
Make no mistake, this defense is good, and after a nine-point performance, ASU was disappointed in their play. I would not be surprised if another sub-ten-point outing is in the cards for Saturday’s tilt with the NAU Lumberjacks, especially heading into a game that fans have had circled for nearly two years: Wisconsin.