Defensive coordinators have a lot of schematic and strategic tricks up their sleeves for attempting to deal with the Washington State Cougars’ Air Raid, and it appears Arizona State Sun Devils defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales is relying on a couple of old tropes to try and motivate his group in advance of Saturday’s showdown in Tempe.
When asked about the keys to defending the Cougs, he said:
“Assignments and effort. If they’re flying around and they’re mean and nasty and physical, and they want to try and hurt somebody every time a receiver catches the ball, and we got nine or 10 of them trying to kill that dude, I mean, literally trying to just run him into the ground, then all of a sudden, balls start rolling on the ground, and they don’t want to catch it and run. They want to catch it and cringe, and that’s what the idea is.”
Ah, yes — offensive players in the Air Raid aren’t playing real football, they’re not actually physical and don’t like to get hit, and if you just hit them enough times, they’ll fold up shop and stop trying. Coaches have been trying that for years; I seem to remember former UCLA coach Jim Mora intimating something similar.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Mora’s defenses were noted for their outright dirty play against WSU. And one has to wonder what kind of tactics the Cougs will be facing when the ASU DC says, in the open, that his players “want to try and hurt somebody” and are “trying to kill that dude.” I’m not suggesting Gonzales has told his players to be dirty; I’m merely suggesting that players have their own way of interpreting what coaches say.
Mora’s defenses also were noted for another thing: Being bad at stopping the Air Raid.
Gonzales also said, “I hope they feel like they’ve walked into hell and then I hope our boys come tenacious and we’re violent and nasty and when they leave here, they limp out of this place because we’ve whopped them.”
Now, Gonzales’ strategy might be timely in the sense that Mike Leach just got done calling his team soft after the loss to the Utah Utes. But if I was Gonzales, I think I’d also be wary of expecting a soft team to show up to Tempe: Like any great coach, Leach has made an entire career off of correcting problems, particularly on his side of the ball. Personally, I’d expect WSU to be exceptionally tough on Saturday.
The other tired strategy? Selling the Air Raid to his secondary as an opportunity for interceptions. Here are a pair of quotes from ASU defensive backs:
“We know that’s money, any time the ball is in the air,” redshirt freshman ranger safety Cam Phillips said on Wednesday. “So everybody wants picks.”
“That’s how we get our money, and that’s how we’re going to get to that 20 (-interception goal),” added sophomore ranger safety Aashari Crosswell. “Because I feel like they run the ball too, but they really more of a pass team. So that’s when we got to get our money and we just got to make plays in the secondary.”
It should be noted that, despite having a pretty good defense, ASU has intercepted just two of the 169 passes it has faced. This is also despite his players having what Gonzales referred to as “dirty eyes” — looking too hard for interceptions and losing assignments.
That might help explain how the Colorado Buffaloes — really, the only legitimate offense ASU has faced — threw for 337 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions on just 30 attempts. And I think it’s probably a really great thing for WSU if the Sun Devils are hunting for picks.
In fairness, Gonzales also said a lot of complimentary things about the Cougars, but it’s hard to get around these quotes. I’m never really sure how much impact “bulletin board material” actually has, but this seems like exactly the sort of thing I’d want the players to see before Saturday.
Soccer suffers 2nd conference loss
It was a frustrating night for WSU soccer on Thursday, as Arizona left Pullman with a 1-0 victory despite being outshot by the Cougs 18-11, giving up a dozen corners, and ceding possession most of the night.
When I looked at the stats, I saw that WSU had seven shots on goal but Arizona’s keeper had just four saves. How could that be? This is how:
There also were excellent saves:
On another night, the Cougs might have scored four or five. On this one, they were shut out. Yay soccer! WSU now sits in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 with six points; the Cougs welcome last place Arizona State on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will be live streamed by WSU.
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