Redshirt senior linebacker Salamo Fiso returned to the Arizona State Sun Devils lineup as they opened Pac-12 play with a 51-41 win over the California Golden Bears.
Fiso was one of the best, if not the best linebacker on the team coming into this season and is a huge veteran presence. However, he had missed the first three games due to a “violation of team rules.”
With Fiso on the field tonight, the Sun Devils finsihed with more total tackles (67) than they had in each of their respective first three games (played without Fiso), and matched their single-game interception total for the season (two against Texas Tech).
“We didn’t blow as many assignments, or coverages, or calls tonight and a lot of that has to do with when he’s in there,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said.
With Fiso on the field, the communication on the field increases and the defense becomes more organized.
When asked about the return of Fiso earlier in the week, Graham said it put him “in a lot better mood,” describing Fiso as one of the team’s “smartest players” because of his communication skills.
He’s reiterated how well he’s done galvanizing his teammates before, and even mentioned it after the game.
“You can’t really see the value he has because of all the communication he does,” Graham said. “We’ve missed him a great deal because of the communicator that he is.”
Fiso himself ended the game with nine total tackles (eight solo) and grabbed himself an interception in the process. Also, Fiso only allowed one of his tackles to be past a gain of 4 yards, and none past a gain of 10 yards. His effectiveness to stop runs and halt the opposing offense was something the Sun Devils have missed the past three games.
In addition to communication and stopping the run game, he’s very good at reading the offense and adjusting accordingly, especially on plays that have been run before. That’s exactly how he got his pick.
“They ran that play twice on us in the first half and after the third time I’d seen it,” Fiso said. “DJ (Calhoun) made them climb up and they dropped that running back to the flat, trying to push me away, and I read it and lucky he threw it to the climb.”
Without Fiso’s return, it’s questionable how well Arizona State would’ve done against California’s high-paced “Bear Raid” offense.
With an offense similar to Texas Tech’s, it’s clear there was a different type of defense on the field tonight California and Texas Tech may be different teams, but they have such similar offensive styles that while it may not be fair to compare them, it is the best way to look at the defensive difference with and without Fiso.
Firstly—the obvious—41 points allowed compared to 55 points allowed. In Saturday night’s game, the team totaled 67 tackles versus the 51 against Texas Tech. Saturday night, the Sun Devils recorded four sacks as opposed to only two against Texas Tech. The only stat that remained the same in each game Arizona State had two interceptions.
Looking away from the stats, when the Golden Bears got in the red zone it seemed like they had a harder time converting than Texas Tech. Almost every time the Red Raiders had a chance to score, they did, and did so with ease. Against California, only one score was under 20 yards (19-yard touchdown pass) and when it came to scoring for them, most were from big plays that came from corners getting beat. However, Texas Tech scored off big plays—and then some.
California only scored from big yardage plays because they had no other option. There was a presence in this game that wasn’t there versus Texas Tech which was the difference maker. The only and biggest difference between the two weeks? That’s been one player, and that player is Salamo Fiso.