No. 18 Sun Devils making most of opportunities
Arizona State's defense has been called fast, aggressive, even dirty by some.
After a recent run of takeaways, the Sun Devils are adding another descriptor: Opportunistic.
Taking advantage of good positioning and a growing the-ball-belongs-to-us mentality, No. 18 Arizona State has become the Pac-12 leader in turnovers with 18. Most of those have come in the last four games, giving the Sun Devils legitimate hope of pulling off an upset against No. 9 Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
''They've got what seems to be great vision, they've got a great understanding what the opponent is trying to do,'' Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. ''They get their hands on a lot of balls and really have good athletes with good ball skills, especially in the secondary.''
Arizona State wasn't exactly known for its ball-hawking skills before this. The Sun Devils had 17 turnovers all last season and even opened this year with just one takeaway in their first two games.
Then they started finding balls in their hands.
Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) forced Illinois into three turnovers in a loss on Sept. 17, then had four critical takeaways to end an 11-game losing streak to Southern California.
The Sun Devils have really ratcheted it up the past two weeks, getting five turnovers to offset four of their own - three on the first three possessions - to pull away from Oregon State, then turned a close game into a rout thanks to five turnovers against Utah last week.
Arizona State has 10 interceptions, equaling last season's total, and eight fumble recoveries.
''We've been getting turnovers the last three or four games and that's what it's all about,'' coach Dennis Erickson said. ''You look every year at the stats and the best teams are ahead in the turnover margin.''
What's made the turnovers so devastating for opponents, particularly lately, has been Arizona State's ability to capitalize on them.
The Sun Devils didn't score off any of the three turnovers against Illinois, but had 22 points off takeaways against USC and Utah. The five turnovers against Oregon State resulted in just seven points, but kept the then-winless Beavers from making a run after Arizona State pulled ahead.
''When you have a defense going out there and not only keeping a team from scoring points, but flat out taking the football away from them and giving it to us in great field position, I really can't explain it,'' Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler said. ''It helps us more than you know.''
Once the Sun Devils started getting a few turnovers, it changed their mindset.
Every team works on forcing turnovers, but the Sun Devils have a mentality that they are going to get them every game, almost like a feeding frenzy for footballs. So while the coaches help put them in the right positions, the Sun Devils are out on the field seeking out turnovers, ripping and pulling at the ball while pulling the ball carrier down to feed their need.
''When we talk about turnovers we actually get them,'' Sun Devils defensive back Clint Floyd said. ''We go out there and we work hard at it. Everybody runs to the ball and a turnover will happen.''
So far, it's working.