LAS CRUCES — Who is Malik Demby?
Arizona State's football team certainly didn't have a clue for most of the night in a 37-31 opening night victory on Thursday over New Mexico State.
The Aggies redshirt junior has gone from scout team player to spring practice standout to an early season X-factor for an Aggies defense that sacked Arizona State seven times.
"I think I surprised even our own team I feel like at first," Demby said. "They finally started seeing that I could make some plays. Day by day and week by week, I feel like I have the respect from the coaches and even our upcoming opponents."
Demby had 5.5 tackles for loss against Arizona State with two sacks in his first significant playing time in his third year on campus.
"It was a whole lot of fun finally being out there for the first time since high school with the crowd and the atmosphere," Demby said.
After sitting out the 2014 season, the Chino, California native who came to NMSU as a safety, appeared in just three games the past two seasons.
When he wasn't on the practice field helping the NMSU offense prepare, he was in the weight room.
Demby gained 40 pounds since last season to 230 pounds this season.
"It was just a whole physical transformation for me that I feel had a lot to do with it," Demby said. "The new package that we have with a defensive back/linebacker gave me a chance and I asked the coaches if I could play that when they put it in."
Demby has excelled in what second-year defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani called his "Money" package in which Demby replaces an interior defensive lineman. Demby essentially serves as a stand up pass rushing outside linebacker who also has a background as a safety who is able to drop into pass coverage.
"He (Demby) always comes to work and doesn't turn down anything so that gets him noticed," Spaziani said. "He did a couple things in the spring that led me to believe if we can find a slot for this guy, maybe we could get some use out of him and it worked out for one game."
It wasn't pass coverage however that Demby excelled at against the Sun Devils as he was in the offensive backfield throughout the game.
"I'm strong enough with my legs that I can help with the run," Demby said. "We have really skilled defensive linemen, but I'm a lighter body and I can get back in pass coverage faster."
NMSU's seven sacks on Thursday was one shy of the school record for sacks in a game and the first time the Aggies had more than five sacks in the same game since 2011.
"The idea is always to get after the quarterback, but it's just how you can do it and utilize the guys you have to be able to do it," Spaziani said. "It doesn't matter how long you've been coaching, you always have to re-evaluate."
Linebacker Dalton Herrington also had two sacks and cornerback Jared Phipps had a sack, but the Aggies defensive line was able to get into the backfield with three down linemen throughout the majority of the game.
"Getting to the quarterback has been a big emphasis in the offseason," Aggies senior defensive end Stody Bradley said. "We lost the game but it did feel good to know that we are capable of doing it against a Pac-12 team. Every week we should be able to create some pressures and some sacks.
"We are better on the back end and forced them to hold it a bit more, allowing us to get an extra second, which is huge when you are up front."
Bradley and Cedric Wilcots each had a sack for the Aggies defensive line, which is coached by first year assistant John Mumford and Kai Brown.
"It's different when there is three linemen instead of four because there is more urgency for us to get there," Bradley said. "The other team also doesn't know where it's going to come from because you spread them out."
Now there is a game of film that includes Demby and NMSU's latest formation, it will be interesting to see if the Aggies can build on last week's performance against New Mexico's triple option offense on Saturday.
"It's going to make me a lot more focused because I know people will scheme toward me and that new package that we have," Demby said.
Sports Editor Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.
Rio Grande Rivalry
What: College football rivalry game
When: Saturday, 6:06 p.m.
Where: Dreamstyle Stadium (Albuquerque)
Online: Facebook Live
Radio: 99.5 KXPZ-FM