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ASU Football: Jaxon Hood's injury leaves critical void in Sun Devil run defense

With Jaxon Hood likely sidelined against USC, the Sun Devils need to make some personnel adjustments.

Jaxon Hood has seven tackles in three games this season.
Jaxon Hood has seven tackles in three games this season.

A single injury can cause a setback for an entire team and that's what Jaxon Hood's hamstring injury has done for Arizona State.

Coming into fall camp, the Sun Devils expected to boast one of the deepest defensive line's in all of college football. On signing day this spring, Todd Graham emphasized how he over-recruits defensive linemen because he believes having depth on the line is more important than having it for other units.

On Saturday, sophomore nose tackle Jaxon Hood went down in the first half against Stanford and Graham saw the depth on the defense tested for the first time this year. The Sun Devils didn't pass their first test.

Defensive tackle Jake Sheffield replaced Hood but his 270-pound frame was hardly a challenge for the mammoth offensive linemen of Stanford. Guards David Yankey and Kevin Danser dominated the line of scrimmage in Hood's absence and the Cardinal running game imposed its will on the Sun Devils.

Sheffield has heart, tenacity and an inspiring background story. What Sheffield lacks is the size and athleticism to compete with Pac-12 offensive linemen. The Arizona State coaching staff knew it had to find another solution so Graham turned to 380-pound redshirt sophomore Mo Latu to plug the gap.

Latu is an intelligent football player who possesses a tough bull-rush in passing situations, but his weight is an issue. Graham considers Latu a valuable contributor and knows that Latu can make an impact, though only in short spurts.

"Mo (Latu) can't play every down; he's limited about how many snaps he can play, probably 10 or 15," Graham said on Monday.

If neither Latu nor Sheffield can provide a consistent replacement for Hood, the coaching staff must get creative.

Last season, Davon Coleman started at defensive end and racked up 11.0 tackles for loss. Coleman's Achilles' heel is stopping the run and he lost his starting job to redshirt senior Gannon Conway because of that.

Conway has a thick 280-pound frame and he's grown accustomed to playing against offensive tackles. This week, look for Graham to shift Conway inside to the nose tackle spot and reinsert Coleman into the starting lineup at end.

"I think Gannon (Conway) will be down in there," Graham said on Monday. "I think Gannon can hold the point-he's 280 pounds."

Another player who figures to factor into the rotation this week is junior college transfer Marcus Hardison. Hardison has struggled mightily with his transition to Division I football, but he'll be in consideration for playing time out of necessity.

"We'll probably use Davon (Coleman) and maybe (Marcus) Hardison maybe can kick out there and handle it a bit," Graham said.

Hardison was consistently blown off of the football when he replaced an injured Will Sutton against Wisconsin. It's not a bad decision to try Hardison's hand at end because he'll have more of an opportunity to make plays in space. He will have to focus on staying low to the ground out of his stance and driving his feet upon contact because those were issues for him against Wisconsin.

Against Stanford, Hood's injury exposed the Sun Devils. Todd Graham knows as well as anyone that Arizona State needs to find a working replacement as the depth of the defensive line dwindles every day.

"Jaxon has a lot of experience and they (Stanford) ran the ball right there and took advantage of that and made some plays there," Graham said.

The Sun Devils announced more bad news after Tuesday's practice when Graham said that defensive end Junior Onyeali is out for the year with an injury. Onyeali has rotated in with Coleman on obvious passing downs and his loss means the Sun Devils will miss Hood even more this week.

The Sun Devils face plenty of question marks heading into their matchup with USC and we will continue to cover how Arizona State plans to address these question marks leading up to game day.