It was a painful year to be a quarterback in the Pac-12.
Of the nation's top 11 defenses in terms of sacks, five came from the Pac-12: Stanford (1st), Arizona State (2nd), USC (4th), UCLA (5th) and Washington State (11th). Five other teams—Utah, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington—ranked among the nation's top 50, with only Colorado (87th) and Arizona (101st) failing to put forth a menacing pass rush.
In Tempe, that success has bodies dropping at a rate not seen in these parts for quite some time.
Since the team last made a trip to the Rose Bowl after the 1996 season, the Sun Devil defense has often lacked that fearsome pass rushing threat that had often been a staple since the days of Al Harris and Bob Kohrs. Along with the 44 team sacks during that run to the roses, the 2002 team's 43—greatly aided by Terrell Suggs' record-setting 24—are the only times the Sun Devils have exceeded the 40-sack mark, with most seasons falling into the low to mid 20s.
That is, until this year.
Under defensive coordinator Paul Randolph's aggressive scheme, the Sun Devil defense has dropped quarterbacks 49 times through their twelve games in 2012, a remarkable turnaround. That feat is all the more impressive when you factor in that new players only contributed six of the 49 (Jaxon Hood three, Chris Young two, Steffon Martin one), so it was almost all done with existing players learning an entirely new scheme.
So clearly the scheme is a major factor in the team's stunning turnaround, but if it were simply a matter of game planning and formations, every team would do it. Without talented playmakers, a defense is ineffective, and while there have been many solid performances during the season, two Sun Devils standout out, not just among their teammates, but among all defenders nationwide.
Let's take a look at the best teammate duos in terms of combined sacks among all FBS teams:
|Bjoern Werner (13) and Cornellius Carradine (11)||Florida State||24|
|Will Sutton (10.5) and Carl Bradford (10.5)||Arizona State||21|
|Stephon Tuitt (11) and Prince Shembo (7.5)||Notre Dame||18.5|
|Jared St. John (9.5) and DeAundre Brown (9)||Tulsa||18.5|
|Trent Murphy (9.5) and Ben Gardner (7.5)||Stanford||17|
|Sean Progar (8.5) and Alex Baxter (8.5)||N. Illinois||17|
It's more than "pretty, pretty, pretty, good", Larry. It's outstanding.
In fact, not since Harris (19 sacks) and Kohrs (14) were annihilating everything in their path back in 1978 has a duo been as potent for the maroon-and-gold as Sutton and Bradford have been in 2012.
If there was anyone in the country who didn't know about Sutton's dominance before Monday, they do now, as the junior defensive tackle was named the 2012 Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year. For the last few years, the Sun Devils faithful have waited for Sutton to tap into his vast potential, and he did so in force this year.
In addition to his 10.5 sacks, he collected 58 tackles, 20 of those for loss (the highest total by a Sun Devils since Suggs' insane 31.5 in 2002), batted down five passes and forced three fumbles. Those totals are all the more impressive when you factor in that he missed close to two full games with a knee injury suffered against Oregon. His combination of speed, quickness and strength from his 267-pound frame has made him a match-up nightmare, and his presence in the lineup made all the difference in the world for the Sun Devils.
With such production came increased attention from offenses, and in doing so, those offenses exposed themselves to the wrath of Bradford.
Playing from the new Devilbacker position, Bradford has developed into an absolute beast in his sophomore season. His burst off the edge has been excellent, and along with his 10.5 sacks, he made 73 tackles (17.5 for loss) batted down five passes, forced three fumbles and made an amazing interception against Matt Barkley. Beyond just blossoming into a potent pass rushing force, Bradford has also become a valuable run stopper, and has routinely chased down speedy backs from behind across the field to deliver devastating hits.
The pair has quietly—at least on a national scale—developed into one of the premier defensive pairings in the country. The only question now is: Will there be an encore on 2013?
With his exceptional season, the questions are now being asked in earnest whether Sutton will leave school early to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Following the team's win over Arizona on Friday, the Sun Devil fans in attendance serenaded Sutton with chants of "One more year! One more year!" Given his production, talent and early draft projections, it would be hard to fault him for heading into what should be a fruitful pro career.
However, should he return for another season with Bradford, the early prognosis for opposing quarterbacks is best summed up with...
Time will tell if they get a chance to deliver the KO.
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