LOS ANGELES - - The deciding factor in Saturday night’s huge Pac-12 South showdown between the USC Trojans and the Arizona State Sun Devils in Sun Devil Stadium might just be the efficiency of each team’s defensive line.
Both teams have highly publicized and physically dominant defensive linemen, manned by elite players that can impose their will on the opponent’s offensive line, which will go a long way in determining the game’s outcome.
Arizona State’s defensive line, however, has the will that could tilt the battle in the trenches in the Sun Devils’ favor. The ASU “will” is senior defensive nose tackle Will Sutton, whose 2012 heroics distinguished him as a consensus All-American, the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and the Morris Award winner, which goes to the Pac-12’s top defensive lineman as voted by the conference’s offensive linemen.
Sutton, a senior from Corona (Calif.) Centennial High, is the defensive line gold standard in college football. Sutton is a relentless combination of strength, technique, and relentlessness pursuit that creates nightmares for opposing offensive lines -- not to mention quarterbacks.
“He’s a dominant player,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “He just has taken over games at times at home, on the road, no matter where it is.”
Sutton, a 6-foot-1, 288-pound complete package of brute supremacy, has been challenged this season by various blocking schemes focused on disrupting his obvious effects on the game. His numbers are down this season because offenses have gone to great lengths to neutralize his ability to control the line of scrimmage.
The son of former NFL defensive back and punt returner Mickey Sutton, Will Sutton is now routinely double-teamed by opposing offensive lines and has recorded just 12 tackles. Yet, the biggest surprise in 2013 is that the Sun Devils star has no sacks this season. He had 13 last season.
Of course that happens when two and sometimes three offensive linemen are attacking Sutton from every imaginable angle. As a nose tackle, the opportunities for sacks can be limited compared to playing wider as a defensive tackle.
How often is Sutton at least double-teamed in a game?
“Almost most of the time,” said Todd Graham, ASU’s second-year head coach. “What I mean by that is whether they’re sliding to him and doubling with the center or the guard, or they’ll put a back on him and chip him. But in all the pass plays, he’s been extremely active.”
Against nationally ranked Stanford last week, the Cardinal made a special effort to neutralize Sutton, making sure he didn’t get to quarterback Kevin Hogan and he didn’t. Despite all the attention, however, Sutton still managed to record six tackles in a tough 42-28 loss to the Cardinal.
The fact that Sutton is still playing college football after last season’s big junior campaign is a big surprise for many coaches.
“I am surprised he’s still there, really,” Kiffin admitted.
Last season, former Colorado head coach Jon Embree saw all he needed to see when his Buffalos had to deal with Sutton.
“Number 90, yeah, he needs to go,” said Embree in regards to the NFL. “He needs to go ahead and start getting paid. He’s the best D-lineman I’ve seen by far in our conference.”
Embree couldn’t stop gushing over Sutton’s complete package of defensive line acumen.
“Love the kid’s motor and the passion, and he plays the game like you want him to play,” Embree said. “Great hands, leverage. He’s a very good player.”
Sutton will be using all those tool in pursuit of USC quarterback Cody Kessler and a Trojans’ running game that has been very effective.
If Kessler, who suffered a bruised hand last week and is still scheduled to start against the Sun Devils, thought the Utah State defensive line was an eye-opener, just wait until he sees the Pac-12’s premier defensive lineman staring him down.
Can the Trojans’ questionable offensive line manage to keep Sutton from his first sack of 2013?
As everybody knows, where there’s a Will, there’s a way.