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Camp Tontozona Scrimmage: Vigorous defense overpowers QBs forcing sacks, incompletions

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Saturday’s surprise came in the form of the defensive unit.

Photo taken by Jacob Franklin/House of Sparky

PAYSON — Nestled into the woods of the Tonto National Forest lies a nearly 60-year-old community camp, a pristine football field encompassed by towering trees, and on Saturday, an overbearing, aggressive defense.

While an overpowering offense may have seemed to place at the top of Arizona State’s 2017 storylines, one unit impressed far more and actually harassed the other.

“The defense won the day,” said Arizona State head coach Todd Graham.

Just two touchdowns were thrown all game, quarterbacks went down on seven sacks and the Sun Devil defense even scored — returning an interception for a touchdown.

“I’m just telling you. This year is going to be special,” said sophomore linebacker Khaylan Thomas.

Thomas muscled out two sacks and caught a Blake Barnett interception that he took for about 30 yards into the endzone.

Thomas was able to sack each Barnett and Manny Wilkins once, as Tashon Smallwood sacked Barnett twice, and Shannon Forman, Christian Sam and J’Marcus Rhodes each sacked the Alabama transfer as well. Yes, Barnett was sacked six times.

While all 3,042 in attendance may have been alerted to the play of Wilkins or Barnett, the two competing quarterbacks were consumed by Arizona State’s dangerous defense. Barnett totaled just one passing touchdown along with an interception on eight of 18 passing, as Wilkins completed just eight of his 20 passes and left with one touchdown on a screen pass to Ballage.

Last season’s Sun Devil defense allowed 39.8 points per game and ranked 124th out of 128 in the nation allowing. When Thomas was asked about how first-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has changed this season’s defense, here was his response: “Everything.”

“Our transition from this year to last year — it’s going to be different,” Thomas said. “Structurally, verbally, just his strictness. He’s strict, he’s hard. He’s tough on us all the time.”

In Bennett’s mind, what may have sparked Saturday’s defensive excellence was in Friday’s practice.

“One word, focus,” said Bennett. “Yesterday, we had an hour and a half walk through. And when I walked in, I told coach (Keith) Patterson, ‘that’s the best attention span I’ve ever seen our kids have.’

“I mean there was no joking. No B.S. It was on.”

Unofficial Statistics (Courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

PASSING

Wilkins - 8–20, 114 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 5 passes for 1st down, sacked once

Barnett - 8–18, 81 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 passes for 1st down, sacked 6 times

Sterling-Cole - 4–8, 69 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 3 passes for 1st down, sacked once

RUSHING

Richard – 10 rushes, 51 yards, 1 TD

Ballage – 5 rushes, 30 yards, 0 TD

Benjamin – 9 rushes, 46 yards, 1 TD

T. Smith – 5 rushes, 13 yards, 1 TD

Jackson – 4 rushes, 5 yards

Cosgrove – 2 rushes, 11 yards

Wilkins – 3 rushes, 4 yards (1 sack –5 yards)

Barnett – 9 rushes, -22 yards (6 sacks, -34 yards)

Sterling-Cole – 1 rush, -5 yards (sack)

RECEIVING

Harvey – 2 catches, 29 yards

Newsome – 3 catches 27 yards

Ballage – 1 catch, 34 yards, TD

Williams – 1 catch, 25 yards, TD

Harry – 2 catches, 28 yards

Richard – 2 catches, 16 yards

Humphrey – 2 catches, 10 yards

#85 – 1 catch, 42 yards

Russell – 1 catch, 20 yards

Brimhall – 1 catch, 15 yards

Wilson – 1 catch 10 yards

Otero – 1 catch, 7 yards

Chatman – 2 catches, 6 yards

Trelon Smith – 1 catch, 5 yards

Walton – 1 catch, 0 yards

DEFENSE (Unofficial/Highlights Only)

Sam – 8 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack

Thomas – 5 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, INT, TD

Whiley – 4 tackles, 2 PBU

Calhoun – 4 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack

Smallwood – 4 tackles, 2 sacks

Lea – 4 tackles, 2 for loss

Davidson – 1 tackle, 1 sack, fumble recovery

Lawal – 3 tackles, 1 for loss

SPECIAL TEAMS

FGs

Ruiz – 3 for 3 (22, 49, 44)

O’Brien – 1 for 2 (35, missed from 42 on bad snap)

Punting

Sleep-Dalton – 8 punts, 48.3 average, Long of 52, 3 50+, 3 Inside 20, 1 TB

Punt Returns

Humphrey – 1 for 12 yards

Kickoff Returns

T. Smith – 1 for 30 yards

Newsome – 1 for 10 yards