ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

Experienced D-line can anchor Arizona State Sun Devils defense in 2022

Aug 1, 2022, 7:42 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 7:13 am
Arizona State defensive end #91 Michael Matus during a college football game between the Colorado B...
Arizona State defensive end #91 Michael Matus during a college football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Arizona State Sun Devils on September 25, 2021 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TEMPE — Football games are won and lost in the trenches. There’s no secret about that.

But for an Arizona State team that has 43 new players on its roster, can the defensive line be the anchor for the Sun Devils on that side of the ball?

The position group is one of the more experienced ones for ASU going into the 2022 season, with the likes of redshirt senior Michael Matus, graduate student Travez Moore, redshirt sophomore
Omarr Norman-Lott and transfer graduate student Nesta Jade Silvera leading the way.

“I think any good defense does have a defensive line that they can call their anchor. … If we’re gonna be successful, the D-line has to be dependable, we have to be the anchor,” DL coach Robert Rodriguez said at coaches media day on Monday.

“We got to put our foot down and be that first level of hey look, if you’re gonna go through us, you’re gonna bleed having to get through. If you’re gonna get through us, we’re gonna make you bleed having to do it. And we got two other levels that got to do the same.”

With how much turnover this Arizona State team has seen over the course of this past offseason, the Sun Devils will be looking to establish an identity.

What that identity will be exactly, though, remains to be seen.

“I have no idea. I really don’t,” defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said of his defense’s identity. “I think it goes back to being able to line up, being confident enough that you know what to do and you play hard. I see that in our guys. I really do. There’s some times some guys might say, ‘What’s the call?’ or ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I get that.

“But overall, yeah. How good will we be? Real good.”

Positionally, ASU now has a total of 21 defensive backs. And with how much man coverage the Sun Devils like to play, the combination of good coverage and a tenacious defensive line could allow for Henderson to be more aggressive in his play calling — namely bringing more pressure than last year’s 27.0 sacks (tied for 74th in the country).

“You got to be aggressive, you’ve got to understand your defense and you better understand your players and better understand what they can do,” he said. “I’ve been around some aggressive defenses, but if you mess up at the line of scrimmage, it’s gonna be a touchdown. But you can’t handcuff yourself. You got to be aggressive. That’s what this game is all about.

“You got to be able to matchup, you got to be able to understand what your opponent is doing and you got to have a little bit of that behind you where you can bring them every now and again. … I’d like to be a little bit more aggressive within the texture of our defense. And we can do it, we just haven’t done it a lot. And what some of the guys we got right now especially the guys up front, I feel confident that those guys up front will be the catalyst to our defense to be honest.”

Arizona State had one of the best defenses in the country last season despite popular belief.

The Sun Devils had the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 Conference and ranked 13th in all of college football by allowing 326 yards per game. ASU also allowed 4.97 yards per play while forcing a total of 21 turnovers on 16 interceptions and five fumbles in 13 contests.

“Are we going to set records? Depends on what your standard is for that,” Rodriguez said. “My standard is lineup, do your damn job, beat the hell out of the person in front of you and just give them hell for four quarters until that (clock) says 0:00. And if they add time, let’s give him some more hell.

“That’s our standard. That’s kind of what my mentality of what a good defensive line is.”

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