While Arizona State is in as good a position as it could have hoped for through the first three games of a brutal four-game stretch, its run defense has given head coach Todd Graham cause for concern.
The No. 22 Sun Devils (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) have allowed more than 200 rushing yards in each of their last three games, and have allowed runs of 80, 32 and 58 yards against Wisconsin, Stanford and Southern California.
“Obviously we’re not doing very well,” Graham said.
That’s something that will likely need to be corrected if ASU wants to knock off Notre Dame in Dallas on Saturday. The Fighting Irish average 134 rushing yards per game, and use their ground attack to open things up for their 28th-ranked passing offense.
Graham said defensive alignment has been a cause for many of the gashing runs, adding that ASU was misaligned on 15 plays during its 62-41 win over USC.
“We’re just a guy too short in some spots,” Graham said. “It does warrant some adjustments to what we’re doing. When I see that many alignment things … we’ve done too much (schematically). If you’re looking at something A through Z, we’re operating on T when we should be focusing on G.”
Despite Arizona State’s issues in the run game, its interior defense has been stout. Between Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Chris Young and Osahon Irabor, the Sun Devils’ boundary-side defense hasn’t been a problem area, and Graham singled those four out as “playing at a high level against the run.”
But the Sun Devils have been burned to the field side — the direction opposite whichever hash mark the ball is spotted on — where it’s easier to get ball carriers in open spaces and exploit individual matchups.
“The big-play run has been our nemesis,” Graham said. “I’m encouraged because we’re just one or two people getting it right from being good. Most of it we can definitely fix.”