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ASU Football: Sun Devils’ secondary hell-bent on redefining legacy

It was the worst unit in the country. Now, it’s turning heads and making a statement.

Washington v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

TEMPE, Arizona -- When Washington quarterback Jake Browning fired the ball toward the end zone during the fourth quarter of the Huskies’ loss against ASU during week six, he was aiming to do something quarterbacks had done 68 times over the course of the last two years against the Sun Devils – throw a touchdown pass.

Instead, it was met by the outstretched arm of Arizona State corner Kobe Williams, who knocked the ball out of Washington’s star receivers’ hands and forced an incompletion.

The play was nearly three weeks ago now, but it has hardly been forgotten by any members of the ASU secondary that were on the field to witness it.

“Oh man, I got goosebumps just thinking about it,” redshirt junior safety Dasmond Tautalatasi said. “…we worked on it a lot and to see it come through in the game is just a great feeling.”

What happened immediately after Williams’ deflection is what has stuck with redshirt freshman cornerback Chase Lucas.

“I see him hit it down and I’ll never forget he did,” Lucas said. “He did a little wave of his arms, put his hands behind his back like he done locked him up and I was like ‘Wow.’”

It was more than just an incredible play.

“I was making a statement, just solidifying the whole game for my team,” Williams said. “I was thinking ‘this could end the game for us right here.”

As far as what he did after the incompletion?

“When I put my hands behind my back, it’s like (hand) cuffs, it’s my thing I made up,” Williams said. “I’m going with it throughout every game. You’ll see, you’ll see me do it.”

After three quarters of dominating one of the most efficient offenses in the country, the play and Williams’ reaction seemed to be a final warning for the rest of the Pac-12 conference: The Sun Devils’ secondary is hell-bent on redefining its legacy.

Arizona State hasn’t had a secondary unit finish within the top-75 in the country since the 2012-13 season, and most recently compiled miserable back-to-back campaigns that sunk the Sun Devils to the worst ranking against the pass in the country.

ASU was on track to finish within the bottom fifteen in the nation once again before the Sun Devils’ matchup against Washington, but the program’s two starting corners finally had the performances they were looking for.

Williams was targeted seven times throughout the course of the contest, and his assignments only managed three receptions for 23 yards. He added two deflections.

“He’s a monster,” Lucas said of his opposite starting corner in Williams, a 5 foot 10 junior-college transfer from Long Beach City College. “It doesn’t matter how tall he is, how big he is, how much he weighs that dude is a competitor and a dawg on the field…I always say this if you can put an X-ray over his heart you could see that its way bigger than what you think.”

Lucas was equally as dominant against the Huskies, as his assignments gathered just three receptions for 35 yards on three targets and managed two deflections of his own.

“Chase had to fill in a spot, (I’ve been) watching him grow up really fast,” Tautalatasi said. “He was a young kid, coming in immature… he’s definitely stepped up and I appreciate the work ethic they put in and the film study they do, it just builds the trust between us and allows us to play really smooth out there.”

Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley would be the next victim of a revamped ASU secondary. Huntley targeted Williams just twice on the afternoon and completed just one pass attempt for 16 yards, while Lucas didn’t allow a single completion on five attempts his way.

A laughable secondary had become as identifiable with the program as the pitchfork spray-painted at mid field or the heat that accompanied every game it hosted. But after two and a half years of abysmal play, the defense has seemingly reinvented itself and shed its identity for a new one.

What changed?

To Lucas, it was just a matter of time.

“It’s all clicking,” Lucas said. “Spring wasn’t enough for us with Coach Bennett, especially with the defense, Fall camp wasn’t enough for us, first and second game it started to click…we had a mess up against Stanford and then against Washington and Utah we just took over.”

Tautalatasi believes it’s stemmed from a sense of comradery and trust within the locker room.

“Togetherness. Coach Bennett uses the term synergy and I do feel that, the team has definitely come together, especially the defense…(Trust is) what allows our defense to work and toying with each other: ‘alright he’s gonna handle his job, I’m gonna handle my job and we all gonna get the job done.”

The transition from the worst unit in the country to one of the most formidable has been inconceivable, if you so much as blinked you may have missed it.

A season that was scourged of any newfound optimism in new personnel and coordinators after a 1-2 start has been revived, but the Devils are playing for more than just a rebound campaign after back-to-back disastrous ones.

No coaching rhetoric, no blind optimism and no bold opinions are required to understand what Arizona State is playing for this season —

A Pac-12 championship.

Remarkably, the unit that has hindered the program the most over the last two years has a chance to lead them there.