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ASU Football: From shootout to ‘fistfight,’ Gonzales looking for more from his defense against Utah

Defense has to be there

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

Defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales stood in the Sun Devil Stadium hallway after his team’s 38-34 win over Washington State. Happy his players pulled out the victory, happy for the fight his defense played with, however he said once he went home he’d be miserable having to watch the tape.

Gonzales knew the Cougar offense would rack up yards against his unit because generally all Mike Leach offenses do. The win didn’t satisfied him when his defense let up nearly 500 yards and 38 points. Gonzales wants more from his defense, there’s been a few plays each game that separates them from a very good defense to what he believes they are now.

“We’re making progress, but all year long we’ve had five plays here or there that’s the different in playing really, really good defense and being who we are,” Gonzales said. “We’re just average right now in my opinion...We’re that close, yet we’re that far.”

No. 13 Utah doesn’t have quite the offensive firepower of Washington State, but its armory is finally fully loaded again. Last year, the Utes saw their starting quarterback, Tyler Huntley go down from a collarbone injury against the Sun Devils before they lost 38-20 in Tempe.

The Utes also saw the return of running back Zack Moss last week. Moss only carried the rock five times versus Oregon State, 121 yards and two scores made it an efficient performance.

The offensive stats don’t pop to the eye the way the defensive numbers do for the Utes. The high chance of sloppy weather in Salt Lake City makes the Utes’ 21st ranked rushing offense more vital against the Sun Devil defense. Gonzales will need his defense to be ready for a fight.

“They play football like it’s meant to be played, mean and nasty,” Gonzales said. “If you watch their tape, they try and finish their blocks. We talk about our guys wanting to run and jump on the pile and be a part of the play until the guy’s not moving and wiggling, they’re the same way. They establish their physicalness up front. A long time ago, somebody said all that fly motion stuff, is that of a finesse offense? I don’t agree. If you do the running game stuff, and when you use their quarterback as the main ball carrier, you get an extra blocker, whether it’s the running back or if it’s the running back pulling out of the play because you give them the zone read fakes, and now you’ve got to honor that, because if they hand it off, and you don’t, it’s going to be gone.

“So you can’t designate somebody, so they get an extra blocker for the ball carrier, and he’s not one to slide. He’s going to try and run you over, and a couple different running backs that they use, one is more perimeter-based, and the other two, they hit it up vertical and try and go downhill on you.”

Now even if Huntley is asked to drop back to pass a lot, Gonzales sees the Sun Devils creating pressure despite a lack of sacks against Washington State. Arizona State made adjusted throughout the contest and finally started to make Cougar quarterback Anthony Gordon from blitzes.

Tillman safety Evan Fields created a lot of hurries and knockdowns off the edge. Gonzales talked about the way Fields has done everything asked of him.

Evan Fields looks like a Greek God when he takes off his shirt,” Gonzales said. “That dude is ripped and he one speed and he knows one thing. If there was a brick wall and you tell him to run into it he’d friggin lower his head and run right into it and he’s going to bounce off and he’s going to pop up and he’s going to say, ‘Do you want me to do it again?’”

Fields and crew will need to match the defensive production Utah produces on Saturday to leave Utah in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South. Things will get ugly, but sometimes ugly can be pretty.