PALO ALTO, Calif. - The unit had a player with some experience at all but two positions.
Four players were three-year starters and another had logged 25 games in the system.
One of the safeties was being touted as an NFL "find" from pro timing day because of a combination of size and speed.
A new linebacker was a first-team junior college All-American who had been personally recruited by the coach at North Carolina, a former NFL linebacker. Another JC All-American import was supposed to be the fastest cornerback around.
So why is Arizona State's defense being pushed around — again — all over Pac-10 football fields?
The third year in the 4-2-5 defense was supposed to bring big dividends.
When the Sun Devils (4-5, 1-4 Pac-10) take the field today against Stanford (3-4, 1-4) they'll send out the Pac-10's eighth-rated defense.
ASU is allowing nearly 392 yards. Only two teams have allowed more touchdowns and no team has a worse yards-per-play (5.6) average.
There have been some sleepless nights for defensive coordinator Brent Guy, who has tried to fix an unexpected problem.
The most distressing aspect of the defensive woes isn't necessarily the big plays the team has allowed.
What has been most troubling is the whole premise of the set-up has failed.
"Without question it's not being able to stop the run, ’cause with an eight-man front that's what you want to do is stop the run and get field position, down and distances where you've got a chance to make something happen in the throwing game," Guy said. "We haven't been able do that."
After California ran through ASU for 232 yards, the Devils dropped to ninth in the Pac-10 in run defense, allowing 154.6 yards a game. ASU's per-carry yield of 4.0 yards is the worst in the Pac-10.
Against teams that put the same financial investment in football as ASU, the numbers are even worse. Those seven teams have averaged 181.3 yards on the ground and 4.6 yards a carry.
Guy can't get creative with his defensive calls if, on first down, the tailback has gained five yards.
To bolster their run defense, the Sun Devils have made extensive use of the 4-3, an alignment that was unveiled last year but used sparingly.
The 4-3, with redshirt freshman linebacker Jordan Hill replacing safety Brett Hudson, had become a regular setup. Emphasis on the word had, because it may go to the end of the playbook this week.
"We've been going back between the three linebacker and two linebacker structure a lot during a game," Guy said. "I think sometimes we've maybe asked too much of everybody in changing up the way we fit things.
"We've got to go back to the basics of fundamentals of how we've stopped the run."
In Guy's first year, ASU allowed an average of 139.5 yards on the ground. Last year that figure improved to 119.4 yards.
What's the difference in this year's team and last year's team?
Certainly, everyone knew All-American end Terrell Suggs would be missed. What wasn't expected was how much linebackers Mason Unck and Solomon Bates would be missed.
"My linebackers aren't veteran guys," said Guy, trying to put a finger on the decline.
Indeed, coach Dirk Koetter said in the preseason linebacker was his biggest concern.
"It's their first year in the system," Guy said, referring to JC All-American Justin Burks and Hill, who spent last season on the scout squad. Even more telling for ASU is that freshmen Mark Washington and De Andre Johnson haven't progressed enough to contribute.
Guy said the breakdowns have been everywhere.
"It's kind of been a thing it hasn't been the same guy every time," Guy said. "We'd lose leverage on the edge, we jump out of gap inside and they hit us. You can't put the pencil on one exact thing.
"And then the other thing is missed tackles. The last two weeks we've missed tackles."
To rectify that, the team practiced in full pads and tackled.
"When you have guys in position and miss tackles, that has nothing to do with the structure," Guy said.
Being unable to stop the run has left ASU's secondary vulnerable.
ASU has allowed 16 touchdown passes and opponents are completing 53.9 percent of their passes. ASU's pass efficiency defense ranks 72nd among the 117 NCAA Division I-A teams.
The ASU defense has an opportunity for confidence-building against the struggling Cardinal offense, one of the worst in school history.
Iowa and UCLA had poor offenses, too, but made enough big plays to win the game.
"No question," Guy said when asked if Stanford is a team ASU could restore some self-esteem against. "That's what we've got to do to win the game. We have got to stop the run to be able to get in those down and distances where we've got a chance to use all of our defense, all of our different calls. Any offensive team, you give them the same look every time, will be able to find the weakness."
Although Stanford isn't gaining many yards (282.6) it's not trying to do a lot of different things.
"Stanford has nine personnel groups," Guy said. "We've never faced an offense this year that has nine personnel groups.
You don't exactly know how they will attack you. You've got to be prepared to defend them all."
The inconsistency, the breakdowns, the missed tackles have Guy scratching his head about the defense's performance this season.
"It's just frustrating," the native Texan said.
"I don't have an answer for why things happen. All I know as a coach is we've got to keep coaching and correct the things we see that we can correct and get better at it.