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October 13, 2011

Defense has high expectations in ultimate test

For the most part, Arizona State defenders are saying all the right things in lead-up to Saturday's contest against Oregon.

They get it -- tempo.

By their words to the media, the algorithm to avoid succumbing to it is like shutting a screen door and slipping in the latch. Execute their assignments every play, flow to the ball and get a little help from the offense. Yes, it's football.

But the top-down message, whatever it may about the Ducks pace, is resonating like a good campaign slogan; some players have recited specific play number stats from previous games. Defensive tackle William Sutton knew Missouri ran 79 plays against ASU, 75 during regulation.

"We're trying to stay true to what we've done all spring and all summer," Sutton said. "If we do what we're told then we're going to win."

But the talk is just noise for now, like whistling along a railroad track as a horn-blaring locomotive rumbles in from the distance -- that's the Oregon offense at Autzen Stadium.

Sutton's never played there.

Colin Parker has, and he speaks with the realism that comes from experience, and perhaps more importantly, past humblings.

"More than anything it is their tempo," the senior linebacker said. "It's hard to see on film because you don't see the time between plays. We've played against them before and it is something that gets pretty serious. Once you start getting later in the game it really wears you down. It's something that we've been able to prepare for with our offense a little bit this year. If we are assignment sound and do our jobs we know we can stop them. If one person misses a tackle, they break it for 50-60 yards no problem."

One the whole, ASU's defense sounds confident. They've re-watched last year's performance against the Ducks from a variety of angles. Maybe they should be confident: they held the now-injured star running back LaMichael James to less than 3.5 yards a carry last year, and the Ducks to 10 possessions in which they either punted or turned the ball over in three plays or fewer.

"He didn't do nothing against us last year, and he won't do nothing against us this year, so, it's whatever," safety Eddie Elder said when asked if it matters whether James plays.

There's a feeling, or so it sounds, that the Sun Devils defense views Saturday's game as an opportunity to elevate to much higher ground -- though it's unclear exactly how high the Oregon step is, and to those outside the program, if it's even possible to make.

"We are bend but not break, but we want to be more than that," Elder said. "We started to pressure more on third downs and we've started to cover. We can't always start off slow. We got to be the ones to punch the offense in the mouth."

Right now, it all sounds like a good plan.

"It's just, we're going to come out like we did last year except make no mistakes," Sutton said "The offense had a lot of turnovers and the defense was out there a lot. I have a good feeling about this game."

Healthy Sutto(e)n

When Sutton injured his toe earlier in the year (officialy a bruise), he almost lost it, nearly storming off the practice field due to frustration before Omar Bolden could talk some sense into him.

While the injury didn't receive copious amounts of press, Sutton said it bothered him through much of the first five games.

And then there was the sixth, where Sutton's toes spent much of the time deep in Utah's backfield, turning the Ute's interior into pussyfooters.

"I feel like I've just been progressing every week, getting better every week," Sutton said. "I started out slow with the Missouri game and the UC-Davis game. In the Illinois game I felt like I started getting my grove back, getting off the ball. But yeah, Utah was a real good example of my get-off. You think of a toe and you're like, c'mon man, but it's really tough because I'm on the line and it affects my get-off off the ball fighting pressure with pressure. I go hard in practice, but ease up a little at the end of the week. And now in the games I don't feel it."


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