ASU defense faces heavy task against Arizona's new quarterback

Jenna Ortiz
Arizona Republic
Nov 19, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Jayden de Laura (7) drops back to pass against the Washington State Cougars during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jayden de Laura was a force against Arizona State last season, marching down the field for a touchdown run and throwing two touchdown passes before the first half ended.  

The biggest difference this year is that de Laura swapped his Washington State jersey for an Arizona jersey and will host the Sun Devils for the biggest game of the season on Friday. 

ASU’s defense has faced several explosive quarterbacks in the conference in Caleb Williams at USC and Dorian Thompson-Robinson at UCLA. Game planning isn’t going to change dramatically, but it will be a drastic change compared to last year’s Arizona team. 

What happened last week:Arizona State report card: Sun Devils struggle in all facets in loss to Oregon State

Last season, the Wildcats cycled through five different players under center last year and were short on luck with injuries and effectiveness. Arizona went with Will Plummer for last year’s Territorial Cup at Sun Devil Stadium.  

Plummer had seen the most action and threw for 346 yards and one touchdown against ASU. His performance, however, wasn’t enough against ASU’s secondary when Jack Jones picked him off at the 13-yard line and returned it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils kept the momentum in its favor and won 38-15. 

Issues under center became a thing of the past this season when de Laura showed off his ability to throw the ball early on. Arizona eased into its Pac-12 slate against California and Colorado with de Laura throwing 885 yards with eight touchdowns through those two games. 

On the season, De Laura’s numbers stack up well against other Pac-12 quarterbacks. The sophomore averages 316.82 yards per game, second among Pac-12 quarterbacks. Against conference opponents, he is ranked second with 342.1 yards per game. 

“They have a dangerous quarterback, the kind of quarterback that we faced the whole year,” ASU interim head coach Shaun Aguano said. “We’ve got to contain him in the pocket and they’re going to probably throw the ball 40 or 50 times. He makes great off schedule throws and we’re going to have to make sure that we keep a hand on the receivers and watch our man.” 

The defensive line will have to keep de Laura in check, but the secondary will have to deal with the talented receiving trio of Dorian Singer, Jacob Cowing, and Tetairoa McMillan. Both Singer and Cowing have eclipsed 1,000 yards this season, while McMillan has caught over 700 yards. 

"They do have a three-headed monster,” Aguano said. “It is going to be a huge challenge and we have to make sure we contain not only the quarterback, but those receivers. They’re going to be making plays and they have been making plays the whole year.” 

Arizona’s receivers matched up well against USC and nearly upset the eventual Pac-12 South champions. De Laura found Singer three times in the end zone, including a one-handed touchdown catch from 73 yards out against USC.

Containing explosive plays has been a struggle for ASU's defense with the Sun Devils getting burned in the last three weeks against single plays with over 10 rushing yards or 15 receiving yards. Against Oregon State last week, ASU allowed 15 plays with six coming from the air.

"We haven't, I don't think, contained the quarterback like we should have," Aguano said. "When they make off schedule throws, we have dirty eyes looking in the back field. I think sometimes we are playing a little too soft and not coming up and competing... We just have to get better at being physical from a defensive standpoint."