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November 3, 2011

Defense has difficult task against UCLA run game

UCLA's offense accumulated 294 rushing yards against a formidable Cal defensive front last week.

That monster performance is responsible for the two things most often talked about after Wednesday's practice, both of which are great indicators of the Sun Devils level of awareness heading into the match-up: It helped elevate the game into one for 'all the marbles,' in the Pac-12 South Division, as defensive tackle Bo Moos put it; it has the Sun Devils defense referring to the Bruins hybrid pistol in comparable terms to Oregon's zone-read attack.

Of the four defensive interviews conducted by and for ASUDevils.com Wednesday, all of them contained at least one reference to the Ducks' offense.

"This offense is a lot like Oregon, in the sense that you have to fit and know what you're supposed to do, "linebacker Oliver Aaron said. "They are probably one of the more talented teams in our league as far as personnel and athletes and things like that."

After adopting the pistol offense last year with little success (a zone-read, spread scheme with a back lined up behind the quarterback) coach Rick Neuheisel brought in Mike Johnson and pistol expert Jim Mastro to adapt it to the Bruins personnel and fine-tune some of the passing concepts. To some, the pistol alignment is advantageous, (similar to the I-formation) because it hides the play direction of running plays, whereas off-set formations typically have greater tendency to be run to the side of the formation the running back stands.

The Bruins' current version has maintained much of what allowed it to be coined the "Revolver" last year under then-coordinator Norm Chow.

There is plenty of motion and misdirection, as the Bruins will often move a slot-back or F-back to create a triple-option, one of their most successful plays. Much of the motion comes from the F-back, which is a tight-end, half-back hybrid often responsible for lead or kick-out blocks, like those assigned against defensive ends when the Bruins run veer plays.

Last week, Cal often overpersued or over-reacted to the running back in option plays, allowing quarterback Kevin Prince to get downhill for big yards.

While UCLA's passing game still appears quite simple, as most of its passing plays are '90s' where both the full-back, or tight and running back stay in to block, its running game can be a head-scratcher.

"It's hard to read because they do the stuff that Nevada did and it's hard to kind of know what is coming," Moos said. "In a lot of ways it is more difficult to know what is coming than Oregon. When you play a team like Oregon and you see a back go one way you can expect flow to go a certain way because of that. When you are working with the pistol it is less predictable. Their offense is really complex and they can run the football better downhill than anyone we've faced this year."

Neuheisel has mentioned that the offense's key objective is to "outflank" the defense. That means that defensive ends are perhaps the more important position in the match-up.

"It's a big defensive end week," Moos said. "They have to be able to stay outside and do their job. Our ends are going to rush and strong this week as opposed to just left and right because the personnel matches-up, because they have a strong side of their line and a weak side that flips, so we have to be able to make those adjustments The guys on the outside have a little bit more on their shoulders but they should be okay."

Notes

Due to a concussion, ASU defensive back Deveron Carr has not yet been cleared to play. He participated in non-contact portions of the practice Wednesday, and told ASUDevils.com that he believes he will be ready to go Saturday.

Tackle Evan Finkenberg took the majority of first team repetitions at left tackle at practice on Wednesday, with Dan Knapp at right tackle and Aderious Simmons with the second group.


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