The first half of 2016 Sun Devil football season has been punctuated with surprise performances both positive and negative for a team picked on Pac-12 Media Day to finish fifth in the division. Surprisingly however, with just a loss against USC going into Saturday’s game against Colorado, ASU finds itself in a tie for first place in the South after six games.
With the second half of 2016 still to come, there are still a bevy of ways the season could finish for the Devil’s between making the Pac-12 Championship game and missing out on bowl season. The following helps best summarize the story of how the Devils got to where they are at this point defensively.
Junior Marcus Ball has played been shoe-horned into a couple different positions during his time as a Sun Devil, a trademark if you will of being a player on Todd Graham’s football team. But he may have found his fit going into the UCLA game last week at bandit safety, recording 10 tackles, a critical interception, and a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award against a Bruins team that helped play to his strengths.
He’s always been one of the biggest hitters on the team, and helps establish a tackling tone in the secondary that’s been missed since a health Jordan Simone was roaming around looking to make the big hit at the same position.
Todd Graham and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson take pride in having flexibility with the multiple schemes they can throw at Pac-12 offenses week-in and week-out. So while Ball might not be in his comfort zone at bandit against the more athletic Air Raid teams; on the 2016 Sun Devils two-deep, he looks to be the best option at the position against all other schools.
Pairing him up with senior Laiu Moeakiola, a stand-out at the Spur position both in run support and in pass coverage, and ASU has a good backbone to continue on with what already is the best run defense in the Pac-12. This point was put on display against UCLA where ASU held the Bruins to -1 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Junior linebacker Christian Sam has been on the shelf since sustaining an ankle injury on a play where he was blocked low by an NAU player in the season opener. He was expected to be part of a linebacker group that was among the deepest, talented, and most experienced we’ve seen in quite some time in Tempe. But after missing the last five games, that depth has been tested as players have been forced to move around (namely Moeakiola) from week-to-week and test out newcomers in starting roles where maybe they weren’t quite comfortable at early on.
Being injured isn’t Sam’s fault, especially with the way he sustained the injury on a cut block. But he has the height/weight/speed combination that lends very well to being an all-conference player at linebacker and perhaps an NFL player down the road.
Junior College pass rusher Koron Crump has been a sub-package player for the most part throughout the first half of the season but has become the most effective Sun Devil at getting to the quarterback. His 5 sacks lead the team and his 6 tackles for loss are second only to full-timer JoJo Wicker.
After failing to secure an impact talent at the Devil-backer position for a litany of reasons since Carl Bradford, an off-season devoted to Shaun Griswold’s conditioning program could help churn out the Devils next great pass rusher. Preventing Crump from wearing down in his current 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame has to be one of the bigger tasks for Patterson the rest of the way. Especially when he represents the tip of the spear on passing downs, an area ASU has struggled in for a second straight year, currently dead last in the nation in passing yards allowed.