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Internal affairs: Sun Devils shore up the defense

9/17/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A look inside the Pac-10 this week.

Arizona State: Sun Devils fans cringing at the defensive performance against UNLV, particularly the 18-play, 88-yard drive in the fourth quarter for the game-tying field goal, will be glad to hear the defense will restock a bit with Georgia coming to town. First, middle linebacker Gerald Munns, whose physical performance against Stanford earned him conference defensive player of the week honors a week ago, returns after surgery on his pinkie finger, though he's going to sport a cast for about five weeks. Also, the Sun Devils welcomed back LB Morris Wooten and DE Jamarr Robinson, who both return from suspensions for undisclosed reasons. Wooten, a 245-pound senior, will add a physical presence behind Munns, while Robinson, a 233-pound sophomore, had three sacks in the spring game and will add another athletic threat on the perimeter.

Oregon: Forget for a second that that Oregon's QB position will be split between a pair of first-year players in JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman Chris Harper against Boise State. Both of those guys have seen action at home and on the road. With starter Justin Roper sidelined for at least one game, their holy-cow-this-is-D-I-football jitters are mostly gone. The more interesting matchup here is the Broncos redshirt freshman QB Kellen Moore vs. the Ducks defense, which boasts one of the nation's best secondaries. Oh, and that little thing known as the chummy Autzen Stadium crowd. Moore is making his first start on the road. At Autzen. Not easy. Moreover, with four new offensive line starters, it won't be easy to rely on veteran RB Ian Johnson. Boise State only gained 340 yards at home last weekend in a 20-7 win over Bowling Green.

Arizona: After two games, Arizona QB Willie Tuitama was 11th in the nation in pass efficiency with five TDs and no INTs. But after the loss at New Mexico, his rating dropped 30 points because he threw a pair of picks and barely completed 50 percent of his passes. He also was sacked three times and fumbled twice against the Lobos. Two words: Bad night. So how will the senior bounce back at UCLA? The good news is he's getting a huge target back because TE Rob Gronkowski will play for the first time this season since he got sick (strep throat, mono). BYU QB Max Hall made the supposedly stout UCLA defense look like warm butter; can Tuitama regain his confidence and do the same?

UCLA: Remember how the media pounded home the questions about UCLA's offensive line during the preseason? Well, score one for reporters because we were right: This is a lousy O-line. Look no further than the rushing attack: Worst in the nation with 19 yards per game and 0.8 per carry. Longest run of the season? Seven yards. Yuck. Oh, and here's some more bad news. Center Micah Reed, one of two starters with significant experience, will be out two to four weeks with a partial tear of his MCL. The Bruins are scrambling for answers on offense, which includes trying a variety of combinations up front during a time when most teams are trying to create continuity with the same starting five. The visit from Arizona probably will go a long way toward answering this question: Was the Tennessee game a total fluke?

USC: So USC loses a pair of defensive linemen to the first round of the NFL draft -- Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson -- and then, nonetheless, turns in a pair of dominant performances to start the season. How do the Trojans do it? Well, depth of course. And look no further than the ledger from the 35-3 win over Ohio State. It wasn't just tackle Fili Moala and company whipping the Ohio State offensive line; it also was three true freshmen: tackle Armond Armstead, who recorded a sack, nose tackle Jurrell Casey and end Malik Jackson. That's the future D-line. The present, by the way, had five total sacks and 24 tackles against the Buckeyes.