Patterson offers ideas for stopping Ballage

Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage has the attention of defensive coordinators throughout the Pac-12, including his own.

Regardless of how Texas Tech tried to defend him, Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage couldn't be stopped on Saturday night.

The junior racked up eight touchdowns including six on rushes inside the Texas Tech six-yard line, one on a 39-yard flea-flicker reception, and one on a 75-yard touchdown scamper that left ever Red Raiders' defender in the dust.

Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs had no answer for Ballage on Saturday, and on Tuesday, ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was asked what he would do if presented with the challenge of defending the new Pac-12 single-game record holder for touchdowns.

"Boy, well, you better load the box, you know," Patterson said. "You've got to get more in there than they can block, I can tell you that. Especially out of the "Sparky" formation, you've got to load it and then just dare them to throw the football."

Patterson said it's not as simple as loading the box against Ballage, particularly because he ran with such a physically imposing downhill style against Texas Tech. The Sun Devils' defensive coordinator emphasized the importance of proper fundamental tackling, especially considering Ballage's footwork is so advanced.

"I would try to go tackle him (Ballage) through his hip," Patterson said. "We teach a rugby-style tackle that's what I would do. If you watch, most missed tackles come when guys go up high and they get slung off of guys like that. You're not tackling him up high. The other thing, if you go through his feet, he's got great feet, he's just going to move his feet so you've got to run through the hip and try to rugby-style tackle him."

ASU put up 351 yards of offense through the air and more than 300 yards on the ground against a porous Texas Tech defense, and Patterson said it wasn't just Ballage that made the Sun Devils so difficult to stop. Patterson credited ASU sophomore Manny Wilkins for making the Sun Devils' offense multi-dimensional, and said his hurdling ability is reminiscent of a track and field athlete.

"I asked him (Wilkins) if he was a hurdler in high school and he said no, but I've never seen that," Patterson said. "He just, I'm not sure, he might be completely made of cartilage. He's pretty limber, he's like Gumby, he just makes it look so natural. You hold your breath, you hope somebody doesn't catch him in mid-air."

One of the main factors that allowed Ballage to tie Howard Griffith's 26-year-old NCAA record of eight touchdowns in a single game was ASU's success out of a Wildcat formation it dubbed its "Sparky" package. Even though Ballage carried the ball each time ASU employed the specific personnel for that package, Patterson said having Wilkins on the field forces defensive coordinators to think about the variety of play calls the Sun Devils can make out of that formation.

"They've got the quarterback still on the field where they can do things with that as well so it's definitely a challenge," Patterson said.

News and Notes

  • Senior wide receiver Tim White was in the injury line on Wednesday morning and walking during the warmup period. White did not move over to Muscle Beach, and instead participated in some individual drills. White did not participate in all individual drills, though, as he stood next to wide receivers coach Jay Norvell for parts of the period. White walked with a slight limp and wore a long sleeve on his left leg, but offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said after practice he hopes to have White back for Friday's game.
  • Redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Lea arrived at practice in running shoes instead of cleats and walked through the injury line during warmups. Lea did not participate during individual drills and instead worked out at Muscle Beach.
  • Junior linebacker Christian Sam joined Lea in the injury line and worked out at Muscle Beach, where he had his right ankle re-taped. Sam injured his ankle against Northern Arizona. 
  • Sophomore tight end JayJay Wilson was out of a scout team jersey and practicing in a maroon offensive jersey. Wilson missed ASU's first two contests due to a team rules violation, but Todd Graham said he expects Wilson to play this week.
  • Junior Christian Hill practiced with the tight ends during individual drills for the first time after working with the defensive ends throughout camp and up to this point in the season. Hill appeared in ASU's "Sparky" formation as a lead blocker against Texas Tech. 

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