Over the past two weeks, there haven't been many bright spots for Arizona State, but on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson had no trouble picking out one of them.
Junior college transfer and junior pass rusher Koron Crump had 3.0 sacks against Washington State Saturday night, including a strip sack of Cougars' quarterback Luke Falk that nearly led to a game-changing turnover. After Wednesday's practice, Patterson offered Crump high praise, calling him ASU's best defensive player at this point in the season.
"I would say he (Crump) might be our best defensive player right now in what we ask him to do," Patterson said. "What's most impressive about what he did the other night? Played 68 defensive snaps, covered every punt, covered every kick and had all those sacks. He's like that. I've never seen a guy that can play at such a, there's no telling what he runs the 40-yard dash in, I have no idea. But he just gets better and gains confidence every single day."
Crump leads all Pac-12 players with 8.0 sacks this season, even though he hasn't been on the field on a number of first and second down plays when ASU uses a heavier defensive front.
Against a WSU Air Raid attack that dropped back on 90 percent of its offensive plays, Crump was more of a fixture at the line of scrimmage, and his gaudy statistics helped prove his overall value on Saturday night.
Patterson said the most impressive aspect of Crump's defensive performance isn't simply the fact he pressured Falk throughout the night, but that he did so while having to expend energy on ASU's special teams units and taking on more defensive assignments than he has been accustomed to in the past.
"What has surprised me not so much about what he can do physically, what surprises me more than anything is the amount of things that we're asking him to do," Patterson said. "If you ever told me he would be the gunner on our punt team, covering kicks, I looked at it today and tried to streamline some things for him. He lines up, he has about four different deployments from a defensive structure that we ask him, and what's so great about that kid is I show up Sunday, had a recruit here on campus and I show up Sunday morning and he's the first guy you run into on the elevator."
Aside from Crump, ASU has had another stabilizing force on its defense in recent weeks in the form of junior Bandit safety Marcus Ball.
Ball began the season as a Spur linebacker, but switched to Bandit prior to the Sun Devils' contest against UCLA after ASU inserted senior Laiu Moeakiola into the lineup at Spur.
Since switching positions, Ball has led ASU in tackles in three consecutive games and has posted a pair of 10-tackle performances in the past three weeks.
"Marcus Ball has put together three games in a row probably as good as maybe any DB that we've had since I've been here other than maybe Damarious (Randall)," Patterson said. "He's playing unbelievable, he's physical in his tackling, he's making great plays in pass coverage, he's doing an unbelievable job while supporting the run."
After limiting WSU to minus-52 rushing yards on Saturday night, ASU reassumed the top spot in rushing defense rankings in the Pac-12. While Crump is primarily a passing down defender and Ball is expected to aid ASU in coverage as a safety, Patterson said Ball's physicality on the back end of the Sun Devils' defense has made it more challenging for opponents to run the ball.
While WSU didn't necessarily make a concerted effort to attack ASU on the ground, Ball will have his hands full with assignments and key reads this week as the Sun Devils take on an Oregon team leading the Pac-12 in rushing with an average of 248.4 yards per game.
"He's as big a part of that as why I think we're so tough to run the ball against, it's when he's playing like that, it's good to see. When you see a young man that has fought through some of the adversity that he's had to fight through to perform at the level that he's had to perform at, that's great."
News and notes
- ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins wore running shoes instead of cleats at practice for the second straight day, and did not participate in individual or team drills open to the media.
- Sophomore offensive lineman Sam Jones was out of the walking boot he's been wearing since last week, but Jones did not participate in warmups and was walking gingerly as he watched ASU's drills from the sideline.
- Senior wide receiver Tim White was limited to light jogging as he warmed up in the injury line Wednesday, and White was not a full participant in individual drills even though he stood with the wide receiver group during drills.
- Senior linebacker Salamo Fiso arrived at practice in running shoes, and did not participate in individual or team drills. Fiso was not on the field during these drills, and was likely inside ASU's practice bubble testing out his knee after injuring it Saturday against Washington State.
- With White limited, ASU had freshman Kyle Williams practicing with the wide receivers for the second straight practice. Williams had been working with the safeties, but with White injured, Williams is back with the offense where he worked as a first-team slot receiver in a tempo drill.
- Junior linebacker Christian Sam, sophomore safety Armand Perry and junior wide receiver Cameron Smith all worked out at Muscle Beach during the individual and tempo portions of ASU's practice open to the media.
- For the second straight day, redshirt freshman running back Jason Lewis worked with ASU's defense, and took second-team reps at Will linebacker in ASU's tempo period.