TEMPE, Ariz. — As he had the previous two weeks, Arizona State coach Todd Graham preached run defense ahead of ASU’s game against USC on Saturday. Like the previous two opponents, the Trojans ran all over the Sun Devils, though ASU still won in a 62-41 rout.
ASU’s run defense, the primary focus of offseason improvement, remains a major concern and now ranks second to last in the Pac-12 and 92nd in the nation with 192.3 rushing yards allowed per game.
“Obviously we’re not doing very well in that regard,” Graham said. “This is the No. 1 thing that we’ve got to do to win a championship. This has got to get better. It’s got to improve, and I think it can.”
In three straight games, ASU has allowed more rushing yards than in the previous contest. The 231 allowed to Wisconsin, 240 allowed to Stanford and 247 allowed to USC each came in as the fourth-highest single-game total allowed under Graham. Only Oregon (406), Navy (313) and Arizona (292) have run for more yards against Graham’s ASU defense.
Part of the problem Saturday was a jumbled defensive line. Starting nose tackle Jaxon Hood was out with a hamstring injury, so ASU moved starting defensive end Gannon Conway inside and started Davon Coleman at end. The two ended up switching positions during the game.
“That was a mistake on my part,” Graham said. “Not because Gannon didn’t do a good job inside, but because he is so dependable and consistent at that defensive end position. So we’re going to put him back there.”
Reserve lineman Mo Latu, who was already limited to 10-15 snaps per game due to his weight, also did not play against USC due to a knee issue.
ASU believed it had improved on the defensive line due to depth and size, but that supposed improvement is yet to materialize. The depth is being tested, and so far it is not passing, but Graham believes the mistakes happening are correctable.
“I think most of it we can definitely fix,” Graham said. “I am encouraged because we’re just one or two people away from getting it right.”
The issues are not just on the defensive line either.
“There are some personnel issues,” Graham said. “So we’ll make some moves and do some things that we have to do.”
The Sun Devils already shuffled their linebackers during the game against USC and could make those changes more permanent this week. They could also have to determine whom to start at nose tackle if Hood remains unavailable.
“I really don’t know, honestly, if Jaxon will be back or not,” Graham said. “I know that if he’s 100 percent ready to go, he’s going to play. If he’s not, he’s not going to play.”
Notre Dame’s rushing offense ranks 92nd in the nation, averaging 135.4 yards per game.
— Senior safety Alden Darby was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the week Monday after forcing and recovering a fumble and collecting two interceptions against USC. He returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown. Darby was also named a Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.
— For the first time in school history, ASU sold more than 14,000 student tickets for the game against USC.
— ASU’s home game against Colorado on Oct. 12 will air on Pac-12 Networks and will kick off at 7 p.m. local time.