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September 19, 2013
Senior safety Alden Darby agrees with what coach Todd Graham has said about Arizona State's next opponent. What separates Stanford from Wisconsin is its skills position players on offense.
"Their passing game is a lot better than Wisconsin," Darby said. "They have very good wide outs, very good tight ends. They have a very good balanced attack; they don't slack off in any phase of the ball on their team."
The ASU secondary gave up 210 passing yards against Wisconsin and would like to improve that number against what it believes is a more talented Stanford team.
The first objective of the secondary is shutting down Stanford's receivers. Led by junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery, the Stanford receivers present one big challenge for ASU - speed.
Safeties coach and defensive passing game coordinator Chris Ball said Stanford's receivers will be a lot more explosive.
But it is not only the Cardinal receivers' talent that has the Sun Devils concerned.
Senior cornerback Osahon Irabor said the Stanford offense has some deceptive plays to try and get the ASU defenders out of position, especially in the passing game.
"They do a lot of switch routes," Irabor said. "We call 'switch seams' where two guys go vertical then they switch trying and get both guys to cover one person so it leaves someone wide open down the middle. Just stuff like that you got to look out for and they don't just line up and show you it. They'll motion to it. There's a lot of window dressing going on."
Ball said the best way to combat Stanford's tricky pass schemes is to line up properly before the snap. Most big plays happen because players are not in the right position at the start. The secondary has been focusing on pre-snap alignment a lot in practice this week.
Graham knows his players and coaching staff must be prepared for Stanford's game plan.
"Their scheme is extremely creative and unique in what they do," Graham said. "It's similar [to Wisconsin] but it's not even close. This scheme that we are playing this week is a lot more of a challenge, not that last week wasn't.
"The scheme, how they do it is every bit as innovative as any spread no huddle. I can tell you that because I'm trying to defend it."
Coaches and players have given the secondary group a couple nicknames over the season like the Bird Gang. But it has one slogan that has become its main focus, "No cheap ones."
When players or coaches say they do not want to give up no cheap ones it means they do not want to give up a pass behind the safeties because of a player getting turned around on a double move route or missed communication about a coverage adjustment.
The secondary's mantra becomes even more important this week against Stanford. Much like Wisconsin, Graham said Stanford's offense will pound the ball up the middle and try and take some shots down the field with play action pass.
When it comes to play action, the defensive backs know their responsibility.
"If you're in the secondary, you're a pass first player," Irabor said. "They're going to run power, they're going to run power, they're going to run power, and then they're going to take a play action shot and you don't want to be the guy that costs the team a touchdown so you have to be locked in if you're in the back end. You've got to be disciplined and smart and protect the one play touchdown."
Darby believes his teammates did a good job defending the play action last week against Wisconsin except for the 48-yard pass from Wisconsin sophomore quarterback Joel Stave to senior tight end Jacob Pedersen to put the Badgers in field goal position at the end of the game.
He said the Petersen catch was because of a blown coverage and the team has to be even more focused on communication this week because the Stanford skill positions are so much better.
The Stanford receivers would not be getting so much attention if they did not have a stellar quarterback throwing them the ball.
Graham compared Stanford junior quarterback Kevin Hogan to ASU junior quarterback Taylor Kelly again on Tuesday.
"I'm very, very impressed by the quarterback," Graham said. "He reminds me so much of Taylor. His ability to extend plays is phenomenal. He is the key to their offense."
If Hogan is so similar to Kelly the secondary have been getting a good simulation in practice when the defense faces the first team offense.
No matter the opponent, Ball likes it whenever his defensive backs goes against the starting quarterback.
"It always helps when we go against Taylor because he's a really good player," Ball said. "Anytime we can go against him we love the opportunity because he gives us a good look. Not only do we get him but we also get the first string receivers going full speed so it helps us a ton."
Irabor said going against Kelly this week will help the secondary because Kelly can scramble to extend plays and gain yards with his legs like Hogan does.
It also helps the defensive linemen because they can practice trying to get pressure on the quarterback without losing contain, as Kelly won't hesitate to tuck the ball and run.
Graham's eyes lit up a little bit when he talked about Stanford's defensive Tuesday and he had to admit something.
"I like the way they play defense," Graham said.
Graham has talked about how much respect he has for Stanford coach David Shaw and his staff multiple times this week.
"Best coached team I've ever seen on film," Graham said. "They do a tremendous job. Coach [Derek] Mason, their defensive coordinator, [has done an] unbelievable job."
Graham likes the way Stanford plays defense because the players are so disciplined but offensive coordinator Mike Norvell probably holds it in even higher regard because he is the one who has to score against it.
"As a group they play well together," Norvell said. "They understand where the strengths and where the weaknesses are. Obviously that coaching staff has done a tremendous job being able to build a scheme around what they have there. It's going to be a great challenge and I'm looking forward to it."