Few would argue with the preseason opinion that Arizona State’s most talented position group was the secondary. After four games, the running backs might have something to say, but the defensive backs have serious depth and pro-potential at cornerback, one of the sport’s most valuable positions.
By no means did Colorado come into Sun Devil Stadium with an intimidating air attack (Daniel Arias led all Buffaloes with 45 yards receiving before the game). But Antonio Pierce’s secondary gave Colorado receivers a hard time from the first snap.
The defensive backs found themselves under a spotlight in the pregame with the absence of their two best players. Chase Lucas was questionable all week, and did not play after exiting last week’s loss early with a head injury. According to Doug Haller from The Athletic, Lucas’s counterpart Jack Jones did not play in the first quarter after showing up late to a team meeting.
Pierce’s backups executed the next-man-up mentality perfectly. Jordan Clark was an agent of chaos in the first quarter, locking down receivers in the slot, including a third-down pass breakup.
“Jordan [Clark] competed, he had a rough week last week,” defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce said. “It’s all about bouncing back and getting the next game, next moment. He comes from that kind of background, it’s in his blood and he understands that. He did a really good job, I’m proud of him. At the end of the day, [if] you play defensive back you’re going to give up some catches.”
Timarcus Davis, who made his season debut and returned from injury, had an increase of snaps in the absence of Lucas and was a model of consistency with a pair of tackles and limited targets.
When Jones returned, he and Clark took turns terrorizing the receivers in the slot. The longest pass on the night was a 26 yard dot-pass to Ty Williams, essentially a run play ruled a completion based on a technicality.
Macen Williams broke up his second pass of the season and played well in limited snaps as well.
After Saturday, the Sun Devil defense is averaging 136 passing yards allowed per game. If that number stays constant, quarterbacks will be shaking in their boots against ASU.
All around, the defense played a fairly clean ball game. Jones committed the biggest secondary hiccup of the night, a second-quarter defensive holding down the sideline on a deep pass from Brendon Lewis. However, when you look at the replay, the jersey tug likely saved a long Colorado touchdown. It went down as a penalty, but Jones’s veteran move held Colorado to a field goal.
With an 18 point-lead in the fourth, the icing on the cake was a coverage sack by the captain Kyle Soelle, all thanks to lockdown coverage from Tommi Hill and Ed Woods who took meaningful snaps all game.
It is no secret that ASU struggles against mesh concepts in the passing game. Crossing routes on linebackers are how teams have moved the ball against the Sun Devils in 2021. Chris Claiborne’s group of linebackers looked like they took the crossers away, with Kyle Soelle and Darien Butler flying across the flats in coverage.
“What do I say? [The linebackers] are the heartbeat of our defense, and [Butler, Soelle, and Merlin Robertson] are [the heartbeat],” Pierce said. “The better they play, the better we are.
Butler proved why he is one of the best coverage linebackers in the nation, adding a pass breakup to his already-impressive two interceptions on the year. Overall, Antonio Pierce’s defense proved it is going to take an above-average passing attack to gain chunks in the air against this group.