A rain soaked drubbing at Cal Saturday was enough to wash Arizona State defensive coordinator Craig Bray's confidence right into the gutter.
"I did believe we were close [to playing consistently well] but last week took that away," Bray said. "But I can't get discouraged. I've got to throw that one away and it's hard. But we've got to move on. The players are embarrassed because that's the first time since I've been here that we didn't keep fighting on the defensive side of the football and that was disappointing."
ASU finished first in the Pac-10 last season in pass defense, run defense and total defense and is more athletic across the board this season. But through seven games it hasn't been able to nearly replicate those returns.
"Leadership is missing," Bray said. "Nobody's stepped up. We've got guys who are capable of it but to be a leader you've got to walk the walk to. You don't realize how much you lose when you lose certain guys from before who had great leadership characteristics, work ethic, everything. People watched what they did and said, 'Wow, look at that guy.' And that rubbed off on others.
"(Travis) Goethel was the ultimate in effort and (Mike) Nixon was very smart and people respected them and listened to them and tried to be like them to. You miss a guy like Dexter Davis you could always count on."
Junior linebacker Brandon Magee, one of those players charged with replacing the departing linebacker duo, said it's a process that has to play itself out.
"There's a lot of new guys stepping in on defense, and we've got to learn how to come out and play every game," Magee said. "I take it as a learning experience to tell you the truth. Everything we have to do we have to take as a learning experience.
"We have a lot of young players, a lot of athletes, and lot of players who can make plays. Sometimes if you have so many people who want to make plays, they may be trying to the job of everybody else. But when we come together, we'll be pretty scary."
Bray believes the Sun Devils have looked as good "as good as anybody" for large stretches of games, but a tendency to break down at inopportune times has been costly, and he frustratingly admits it's been his defense's modus operandi.
"We've just got to get where we're more consistent," Bray said. "We're just inconsistent. We give up big plays too often. We're just not making plays when we're there. That's what happened Saturday. We were there in position to make plays, we just didn't make them."
Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson, agrees, echoing the call for more consistency in his Monday press conference. But perhaps more glaring was his admission there may be some defensive regression.
"There are guys this year that aren't playing quite as well as they did last year. We have to get better and there is no question about it… We all have to be accountable and Saturday we weren't. We have to look at what we have to do, because we are better then that. There's no excuse for us to play like we did Saturday."
Senior offensive guard Jon Hargis has been cleared to play and is currently working at second-team left guard. Hargis made a speedy recovery from a torn ACL suffered during the spring. He's just over six months removed from surgery, with ACL injuries typically taking 8-to-10 months for players to return to the field.
Junior linebacker Shelly Lyons will have surgery Friday to insert a screw in his foot's fifth metatarsal and will be sidelined 6-to-8 weeks. It is believed Lyons could return for the start of spring football if the injury heals as expected.
Junior quarterback Steven Threet and junior linebacker Oliver Aaron returned to practice normally after each suffered what has been deemed mild concussions in Saturday's loss to the Golden Bears.
ASU practiced more extensively Tuesday with the first-team offense working against the first-team defense in an effort to foster more intensity and focus, according to several players.