After getting exposed in first half, young ASU defense matured
Usually that word is a terrible word in sports. It means you’re not good. It means everyone’s opinion of you, including your own, is completely exaggerated.
Arizona State was exposed against New Mexico but it wasn’t for any of the reasons the word normally conjures. It was great that ASU was exposed, because it taught a young team a very valuable lesson.
What was exposed was ASU had young players that thought a game was won in the first quarter. There was a massive let up in the intensity by the young defense — a unit that allowed New Mexico to get back into the game. This game should never have been close and it was, which is great for ASU.
If you’re an ASU fan, you should feel great about this game. The defense showed they can play disciplined, yet attacking football. The second half was complete domination. The key is they showed it after suffering adversity. Young defenses can easily go into a shell after giving up a lead. They will get nervous and make mistakes simply out of fear.
Panic officially set in for the first time with this young defense. Panic did not defeat them. Late in the first quarter, with a big lead, the defense began to free-lance. They no longer studied their keys and reacted to them. The defense stopped playing as 11 men and broke down to individuals who wanted to be heroes. It’s was selfish football played by, otherwise, selfless people.
Todd Graham made zero halftime adjustments. He made major halftime reinforcements. Two major issues were corrected at halftime. The individual play was eliminated and the team was brought back to the basics of just “doing your job.” Secondly, he pushed the defensive line to succeed. They were told at the beginning of the game to slant with authority, meaning don’t just slide laterally but attack their individual gap by going up the field at an angle as a unit.
The aggression of the d-line eliminated New Mexico’s ability to get to the second level. ASU linebackers were getting man-handled in the first half. They were untouched in the second half. The result was easily proven with the stat line. New Mexico ran 38 first half plays for 225 yards. In the second half, the 30 plays run by the Lobos only netted 112 yards and zero points (New Mexico scored two points on a blocked PAT return).
This defense learned they’re good enough to shut down an average offense when they play smart, aggressive and do what they’re coached to do. They also learned even an average offense can run over them if they don’t play smart, aggressive and don’t do what they’re coached to do.
This is the perfect environment for a young team to get better, and the perfect schedule. A weak FCS team at home, a difficult to prepare for offense on the road, and now a slightly more talented team in conference. Three games for ASU’s defense to learn from while winning.
The talk amongst fans and media will be the play of D. J. Foster and the offensive line. It should be. They were huge against New Mexico. However, there’s a lot of experience there. The wild card this year is the defense. The defense got better against UNM. Therefore, the Devils did.
It’s good to be a fan this weekend.