In just one season, ASU football has become a defensive minded program with new defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales.
On the field, freshman safety Aashari Crosswell is talented. But talent doesn’t translate to timeliness.
“Sometimes we have some young men that don’t do right things all of the time,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “Aashari over slept a little bit on Tuesday so (Cam Phillips) has been practicing in his spot.”
For most programs, a drop off in talent and ability is to be expected with the backup safety taking first team reps in practice. But that reality doesn’t apply to Gonzales’ defense.
“(Cam Phillips) has done a really good job,” Gonzales said. “The great thing about competition (is that) Aashari probably practiced as good as he has all year.”
Gonzales has preached a culture of accountability, competitiveness and aggression all season. A vision has still yet to be fully realized, until recently.
“They’re starting to hold each other accountable,” Gonzales said. “They’re understanding who’s supposed to be where and they’re playing hard.”
“Now they’re starting to have fun. Now they’re starting to get it.”
In the second half against Utah, Gonzales’ unit surrendered only three points. During the first half the week before at USC, the Sun Devils defense did not allow any USC scores until 13 seconds remaining in the half.
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Utah lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley in the third quarter and USC played their matchup against the Sun Devils with their third string quarterback.
Labeling either performance as a fluke is wrong especially when considering that ASU has allowed 10.4 less points per game, less passing yards per game, less rushing rushing yards per game and less yards per play than last season.
Against Michigan State and Stanford, the Sun Devils did not surrender a touchdown until the end of the third quarter.
Gonzales’ unit have yet to allow more than 28 points in a game.
“Finally from the sideline they were chomping at the bit to get back out there and not let (Utah) score,” Gonzales said of his team late in the game last Saturday. “The last half of that game was pretty awesome.”
That heart on your sleeve mentality Gonzales’ defense portrays is not just a mentality he preaches but instead it’s a character trait he portrays.
On Wednesday afternoons, Gonzales walks into his weekly media sessions with an air of confidence and comfort that resembles that of a championship winning head coach.
Muscular and tough in stature, the Sun Devils defensive coordinator approaches the podium each week grinning like he had just won an arm wrestling contest.
With a voice that’s loud enough without a microphone, the former San Diego State defensive backs coach answers questions, that turn into tangents, that turn into paragraphs, that turn into essays.
Even when he is talking to a group of 10-15 reporters, Gonzales relays plays and entire drives as if the game was played just an hour before.
Gonzales explains every moment like each reporter was a member of his defense and by the time you leave the press room at around 1 p.m., a part of you wants to run through a wall for a coach who you don’t even play for.
The first-year coordinator exudes toughness and leadership skills that have worn off on all of his players.
Gonzales’ philosophy hasn’t just worn off on freshmen like Crosswell and Merlin Robertson, first-year players who have known nothing other than Gonzales’ system, but seniors such as Demonte King, Jalen Harvey and Renell Wren have fully bought into first-year coordinator’s message.
In the spring, King had not taken any reps with the defense. Now, King has played (according to Gonzales) almost every snap on defense during the season.
Harvey, who Gonzales questioned if he could transition from wide receiver to safety, is now the Sun Devils’ leading tackler.
Wren has been one of the key pieces for the Sun Devils so much so that according to Gonzales, when the senior nose guard plays well, so does the rest of the defense.
“Those guys wanted to be successful,” Gonzales said. “They believed in what we were trying to build from the very beginning.”
From Harvey, a fifth-year senior, all the way down to a freshman like Crosswell, this Sun Devils unit is buying into what Gonzales is selling them.
Toughness, leadership, accountability. All character traits Gonzales radiates without saying a single word.
After Crosswell overslept the day before, Gonzales left his office on Wednesday morning to grab some coffee for him and his fellow coaches prior to a special teams meeting.
When Gonzales got back to his office, it was Crosswell. The freshman being at Gonzales’ office an hour before the meeting even started.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.