Sun Devils success keyed by balance on both sides of the ball

Look around the country and you won’t find many BCS teams that make a big impression with both their offense and their defense.

Sure, Texas A&M can sling it with quarterback Johnny Manziel and has done exactly that on its way to a 7-2 record but its defense has been average as all get out, and ranks No. 96 nationally out of 123 teams in total defense.

Everyone is talking about the job new head coach Kliff Kingsbury has done in his first year at Texas Tech and while the team is 7-2 and nationally ranked, it just gave up 52 points at home to Oklahoma State and is No. 61 in total defense.

On the flip side, Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s Top-5 defenses and is perennially excellent on special teams and yet is 6-3 overall and 3-2 in league play because it struggles to move the ball and is No. 101 nationally in total defense.

There are some rare exceptions, like Michigan State, a one-loss team that is putting together a stellar season on the back of its No. 1 ranked defense despite being completely pedestrian, but usually you need pretty good balance and some ability to win league titles at the BCS level. At a minimum you need to have a good defense.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham knows this. He’s spent a career crafting schemes that are complementary to one another with that in mind, even serving as offensive coordinator for one of his earlier teams despite being a defensive guy by trade.

When asked about finding balance and harmony between his offense and defense this week, Graham said it is something he and his staff have spent a lot of time talking about this season.

“You can’t just do whatever you want to do on offense because then you won’t ever be able to play great defense,” Graham said. The only way you’re going to win a championship is to play great defense. If you look around the country every year, the team that has the best defense in each conference usually wins. I’m talking about points allowed, [tackles for loss], sacks and interceptions. It’s not so much in yards, total yards and all that. We look at those things like total defense and total offense and those things are important but it’s more about yards per play.”

Graham’s attention to every small detail carries over to his well thought out philosophy of having a multiple, attack style no huddle defense paired with a no huddle quick tempo offense. ASU is second nationally in three-and-outs behind Baylor this season because of how many negative yardage plays it generates via its blitz-heavy approach.

The results are clear. ASU is one of just six teams nationally in the Top-20 in both total defense and total offense. Baylor, Florida State, Louisville, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the others. Their combined record this season? 37-3.

There’s a reason why Jeff Sagarin’s computer “Predictor” model – the one that he considers more accurate than the formula used for BCS Ratings that doesn’t factor in margin of victory – forecasts ASU as the No. 5 best team nationally. It also has the aforementioned five other teams that excel on offense and defense among the Top-10.

Graham has told everyone who will listen in recent weeks that he has a really good football team.

He may be on to something.