Despite the 2-6 record, the Arizona State (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) defense has embodied the attacking mindset head coach Kenny Dillingham set out for a fresh program seeking identity.
While Dillingham has taken over play-calling duties on the offensive end, the defensive aggression, echoed by defensive coordinator Brian Ward, has reflected the striking mentality of Dillingham’s masterplan. On Tuesday, the Sun Devils rewarded Ward for his efforts this season with a three-year contract, extending him through the 2027 season. In a program looking accumulate foundational pieces, Ward is the leader on defense for at least three more seasons.
At times, Ward’s defense has shown its ability to play with consistency, especially as of late.
The defense has held opponent running backs to under 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games, a factor in ASU’s recent showings. The pressure created up front and reliability in the back end has also panned out for the Sun Devil defense in late down situations. In the last three games, the defense has a third-down conversion only 28.2 percent of the time, ranking 16th best in the FBS in that span.
As ASU shifts conferences and adjusts with the ebbs and flows of NIL, the importance of stability was addressed this week with the extension of a major piece of coaching that reflects the mantra of Dillingham’s fiery competitiveness.
In the second half of Saturday’s 38-27 win over Washington State, the Cougars were 1-7 on third-down and 1-2 on fourth-down. Washington State’s final three drives all ended in the red zone, resulting in two field goals and a turnover on downs.
“If you’re going to be in a mindset that we’re going to play to win games and we’re not going to play scared, then you have to attack in every phase,” Dillingham said. “I think that’s just how we coach, it’s how we play. We play free and we play attacking… and I really don’t know of a better place to play defensive line in the entire country than in this scheme.”
Glendale-born Ward returned to the area after a defensive coordinator position under Jake Dickert and the Cougars in 2022. With stops at Syracuse and Nevada, Ward’s landing position at ASU makes this his 5th FBS school across a 26-year coaching career.