Although the midway point was technically last week for Arizona State football, we felt the Sun Devils' bye week would be ideal time to review how they got to 5-2.
To follow up Tuesday's offensive positional grades, we're putting ASU's 23rd ranked defense under the microscope:
Defensive line: B-
This might seem low to some yet I think we can all agree that while this unit has come on as of late, they've hardly been consistent. Some of that can be attributed to the line's lack of depth being tested after players such as Jaxon Hood and Junior Onyeali went down. But overall, there's still plenty of room to grow.
The men up front were manhandled against Stanford and Notre Dame. Yes, those offensive lines are two of the best in the country but many felt Arizona State's defensive line had potential to be one of the best in college football.
If the low-points were against the Cardinal and Irish the high point was undoubtedly last week against Washington. Arizona State's defensive line mutilated a much-improved Huskies offensive line on the playing field this past Saturday to finally play up to their full potential. But as I see it, that's the only time that this unit has consistently taken care of business against a top-tier team this season.
To be clear, this isn't based off of the sacks and tackles for loss being down from last year. Will Sutton is still very much the destructive force he was in 2012 despite the numbers not being there. I just believe this positional group is capable of playing they way they did against the Huskies each week and they simply haven't. This grade would be lower too if Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway didn't take their next steps forward like they have this season.
Carl Bradford has 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss on the season and still it feels like he could easily have double that. But it certainly isn't because of lack of effort. Bradford has been an absolute beast on the playing field this season and is hands down my defensive MVP thus far for Arizona State. He sets the entire tone for the unit with his unrelenting motor and the strides he has made in the run defense department have not gone unnoticed.
As for the rest of his linebacking mates, the next most impressive probably has been Salamo Fiso. While there are still those moments where he makes you realize he's far from a polished product, he's usually a lock for 2-3 spectacular plays a game. Fiso has proven the ability to hold his own in coverage and his sideline-to-sideline pursuit might already be the best on the team.
The two men who are keeping this grade being a nice solid A are Chris Young and Steffon Martin. Young has been far from a liability but I did believe he was in line for a much bigger season. He does deserve to some to be cut some slack though considering how much he's been shuffled around the line. Martin, on the other hand, has been the weak link in this unit at times this season. As of late, he's slowly building some momentum but he hasn't been the perpetual steady presence many thought he would be in 2013.
All things considered, this remains Arizona State's most competitive position group and I expect the linebackers to have less lapses through the final five games.
If it wasn't obvious after 2012, it has been painfully apparent in 2013: the success of Arizona State's secondary is entirely dependent on the front seven playing exceptional football. If you don't believe me, review the Notre Dame tape. Sutton, Bradford and friends were bottled up and, in turn, the secondary made Tommy Rees look like Tommy Touchdowns.
Overall, there are only two bright spots. Yes, you guessed it: Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby. Irabor has been an asset in containing the run and while he isn't lock down caliber, his play has been All-Pac-12 worthy. Alongside him, Darby has been the definition of a ball-hawk with seven passes deflected, five pass breakups and two interceptions.
But even with those two anchoring the unit, the secondary has continued to be exposed. Many of Arizona State's big plays have been due to atrocious tackling on the second level. If we were grading the secondary on their wrap-up techniques, they'd receive a nice, fat F (and that might be being generous). And can anyone else remember a season over the past five years where an ASU team left more turnovers on the field?
There is hope for the final five games though. Damarious Randall should continue to progress into a consistent asset for this unit. And despite all the bone-head plays, Robert Nelson still owns the athletic ability to become a solid starting defensive back.
In the meantime, Arizona State fans should be praying the pass rush doesn't evaporate anytime soon.
Now it's your time to be heard. Share your defensive grades in the comments.