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October 29, 2010Bo Moos can provide a laundry list of reasons why he and the rest of his teammates on the Arizona State football team are happy to be playing at home this weekend for the first time in more than a month.
One of those reasons for the junior defensive tackle comes before the team even takes the field.
"We're excited for Don and Charlie's on Friday," Moos said, referring to the Scottsdale restaurant where the Sun Devils gather for a team dinner the night before home games.
But Moos and the rest of the ASU defense hope the steak they chow down on tonight will be just an appetizer before the desired main course, Cougar quarterback a la carte.
One of the problems for a defense that has underperformed expectations so far this season has been the absence of a pass rush. The Sun Devils are 83rd nationally with just 11 sacks on the season.
"We haven't been pleased with our pass rush, and we've obviously got to step it up," Moos said. "We haven't shown what we're capable of doing on that end of things. This could be the game."
If there is any team ASU can use as a springboard for improving its effectiveness in the pass rushing game, it's Saturday's opponent, Washington State. The Cougars are second to last in the country in sacks allowed, with their quarterbacks being taken to the ground 3.88 times per game. With a run game that has been largely ineffective, WSU has relied on the arm of Jeff Tuel, a feast-or-famine approach the Sun Devils hope to capitalize on must-win Homecoming Saturday.
"They use a 10-personnel (one running back, no tight ends) about 75 percent of the time, where they drop back and throw the football," Moos said. "We've got to get after them. A huge part of our success on Saturday will be us getting to the quarterback."
Coach Dennis Erickson agreed that putting pressure on Tuel will be a key to the defense getting off the field, but despite the number of sacks the Cougars have allowed, Erickson believes this week's opponent has made great strides since being blown out by Oklahoma State in the season opener.
"(Tuel) gets the ball out real quick," Erickson said. "They do a lot of the same things we do, so that balls coming out all the time real fast. But we've got to get a pass rush on him. If we don't get a pass rush, we're going to have some serious issues. We can't let him sit back there; he'll kill you."
While it is clear the ASU defense has struggled to apply pressure, the low numbers may be somewhat misleading. The Sun Devils have had to face a gauntlet of talented running backs this season -- previous opponents John Clay, LaMichael James, Jacquizz Rodgers, Chris Polk and Shane Vereen are in the top 32 nationally in rushing - making the need to create a wall against the ground game a major priority.
"I think we've been so focused and keyed in on the run game, that part of that (responsibility in pass rushing) has kind of slipped our minds," Moos said. "This is the first game we've had where they are obviously a passing team, so we need to come out and make a statement."
While defensive coordinator Craig Bray pointed out this week that struggles in applying pressure illustrate the importance defensive end Dexter Davis meant to the program, he believes others, like defensive end freshman Junior Onyeali, will be capable of filling the void.
"Junior's going to be a good player, he's showing flashes, but he's learning," Bray said. "He's got to read this and read that and step down for veer. There's all kinds of things that happen. So as he grows he'll get better, but we've got to have everybody else step up too."
The coaching staff may queue up more blitzes to increase pressure as the season progresses, Erickson said Thursday, but he noted that he would also like to see more interior pressure being provided by the defensive tackles.
It has been an interesting week in the Moos household, with father, Bill, the athletic director at Washington State preparing to come to Sun Devil Stadium to monitor the Cougars, though that's not to say he won't have an eye on his son.
Bo Moos said he already has one key member of the family in his cheering section.
"The household is a little divided, but I know my mom is on my side," he said with a laugh. "I'm just excited to play in front of (my dad) because I don't think he's been able to see many of our games this year."
Bo Moos said his father was posed a scenario to ponder by a reporter this week asking the athletic director what his reaction would be if his son recovered a fumble in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
"Obviously, I'd be thrilled for my son," Bill Moos replied, according to Bo. "But then it would be time to go back to work for (the Washington State) program."