Mark May on ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett: ‘He’s seen everything’
It’s amazing how a bye week and a single performance can potentially change the outlook of a defensive unit.
Last season, Arizona State had a disastrous defense. They were the worst in the nation in passing yards allowed, giving up 357 per game and were also 124th in the nation in points allowed.
In Tempe last Saturday against Washington, the defense was completely unrecognizable. ASU only allowed one touchdown, gave up just 139 yards passing and 31 yards on the ground.
New ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett had his defense playing their best football of the season. They collected five sacks and were excellent getting off the field by allowing a 3-for-14 third-down conversion rate.
Bennett, who has been coaching for almost three decades, received high praise from college football insider Mark May on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo.
“He’s been around, he’s seen everything, he’s done everything, he’s been through anything so nothing is going to surprise him,” May said. “He can develop players obviously we know that. He’s a pretty good recruiter. Plus he can recruit in the Texas area in the southwest.”
Bennett was the defensive coordinator for Baylor from 2011-17, and while there, he only had one season where his defense gave up more than 300 yards a game passing through the air and had two seasons where his defense didn’t allow more than 150 yards rushing a game.
In the past, ASU’s head coach Todd Graham has always been known to be hands-on with his defense, but this season Bennett has taken the reigns.
“I think it’s better for Todd Graham to do that,” May said. “Now he can concentrate on other aspects of this program. Whether it be recruiting, whether it be the offense, whether it be special teams.
“He knows the defense is taken care of.”
Despite a strong defensive showing against an elite offense, the numbers have not been the best for the Sun Devils this season.
The team allowed a record 301 yards on the ground to Stanford’s rusher Bryce Love and before playing Washington they had given up 30 points in every game this season. May was bothered by the poor defensive effort early in the season.
“I know how good Phil Bennett is as a coordinator,” May said. “I said to myself, well maybe he doesn’t have the pieces or the players that he wants right now. But the way that they put it together hopefully they can use this as a building block and a stepping stone.”
The unit has made steady improvement. The pass defense has given up almost 100 yards a game less than last year at 267 passing yards allowed a game. The Sun Devils had eight games last year surrendering at least 40 points, but so far this season, have only given up one.
“Everybody is high on his defense now, but they have to continue to play at a high level,” May said. “It can’t be ups and downs. They have to at least statistically get better because they really can’t get much worse from where they started before this game.”