Arizona State pass defense faces big test vs. Texas Tech

Sep 10, 2016, 1:15 PM | Updated: 5:06 pm
Northern Arizona's Kendyl Taylor (13) runs for a first down as he is forced out of bounds by Arizon...

Northern Arizona's Kendyl Taylor (13) runs for a first down as he is forced out of bounds by Arizona State's Kareem Orr (25) and Marcus Ball, right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE – Arizona State’s pass defense hopes to improve on a hit-or-miss 2015 season through coaching changes, an influx of new talent and greater attention to detail.

It won’t take long to determine how far the Sun Devils have progressed with Texas Tech’s potent passing offense coming to Sun Devil Stadium Saturday.

ASU’s defense will be tested by Texas Tech junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whom ASU head coach Todd Graham described as a “big, hard to tackle” player with a “very quick release” who “really understands the system.”

Mahomes ranks second in the country with 483 passing yards after finishing fourth in the nation last season when he threw for 4,653 yards.

If ASU is to contain Mahomes and the rest of Texas Tech’s high-powered offense, the Sun Devils will have to prevent the big plays that hurt them too often a year ago.

The Sun Devils only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 57 percent of their passes and intercepted them 15 times last season.

However, opposing quarterbacks also averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and threw for 34 touchdowns, which illustrates ASU’s inability to defend deep throws or tackle the catch.

T.J. Rushing, who was at Stanford last season, replaced Chris Ball, who left to take a job as defensive coordinator at Memphis, as ASU’s secondary coach.

He believes that the team has taken steps to reduce the big plays in the passing game that led to last season’s struggles.

“All of our guys have bought in to what we’re teaching and what we’re coaching them,” Rushing said. “They’re all doing a great job of trying to get extra film study in, communicating really well with each other and all that stuff that helps eliminate the big plays.”

In 2016, the Sun Devils hope to buck a trend of an ASU decline in defensive efficiency against the pass the past few years.

During Graham’s first season with the team in 2012, the Sun Devils finished first in the Pac-12 conference by holding opposing quarterbacks to a 105.4 passer rating.

However, Arizona State ranked sixth, seventh and 11th in the conference in opponent passer rating in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Some of the decline can be attributed to the departure of some talented defensive players to the NFL over that span, including defensive linemen Will Sutton and Marcus Hardison, linebacker Carl Bradford and safety Damarious Randall.

However, Graham and his staff believe they have the talent to replace the players who moved on from last year’s defense.

“I told those guys that I wasn’t here last year, most of them weren’t here last year, so last year was kind of unfortunate but we just look forward,” Rushing said. “We try to over-communicate and overemphasize the fact that we can’t give up big plays and try to get it done like that.”

Junior defensive back Armand Perry agrees with Rushing and believes that the Sun Devils have the personnel and scheme to right the course and defeat Texas Tech.

“I feel like everybody has upped their game,” Perry said. “You know, this week is a big challenge and hopefully we put on a show for the world to see.”

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Arizona State pass defense faces big test vs. Texas Tech