(Photo: Brett Deckert/WCSN)
Entering Saturday night’s game against Josh Rosen and the UCLA Bruins, redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White dominated headlines.
Following the Sun Devils’ 23-20 victory in Tempe, that focus shifted to a defense that, via the contributions of some moving parts, looked much improved.
ASU head coach Todd Graham elected to move starting Spur linebacker Marcus Ball to the Bandit safety position and gave junior college transfer Maurice Chandler the starting nod at boundary corner in his first career game.
The two combined for 17 tackles in their new roles – Ball also added a late interception.
“Marcus has had some health things and things that have kept him, held him back [in his career],” Graham said. “Marcus Ball stepped up big time. I mean that was big time effort.”
Ball, who has started all six games this season, entered the game with 16 tackles at his former linebacker position. Following a showing in which he helped a secondary, a unit that is among the worst in the nation, come up with three interceptions and limit the Bruin offense to just 20 points, Graham might be hard-pressed to move him anywhere else.
Field corner Kareem Orr was lost for the game following an injury in the first quarter. In his place, De’Chavon Hayes stepped in and finished with four tackles and an interception that opened the half.
Hayes’ third interception of the season, along with Ball’s first late in the third, both served as noticeable turning points in the game.
“The first turning point was Gump on the interception,” Ball said. “But the second half interception was a big play. Coach Graham kept telling me to keep going, keep pushing. I saw the ball in the air and made a play on it. I was just doing my job, doing my assignment, but God had his hand on me tonight.”
Despite the injury to Orr and the difficulty that came with adjusting, Graham had praise for the reserves who were forced into the game.
“We lost one of our best defense players [Orr], in an area where we don’t need to lose one,” Graham said. “We were matching Orr up on their best receiver, so when you practice that way and all of a sudden he’s gone and you’ve gotta figure out all that, man, let me tell ya. That was a challenge.”
In turn, the front seven also stepped up and turned in on of their most complete showings of the season.
Led by Koron Crump, Tashon Smallwood, JoJo Wicker and Renell Wren, the group finished with five total sacks and effectively neutralized the running game, holding the Bruins running backs to just 40 total rushing yards.
“We are really getting back to Sun Devil defensive football by getting TFL’s, sacks and putting the heat on,” Graham said. “People are going to talk about the yards, but everyone here tonight knows that our defense got after one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
Offensively for the Sun Devils, the unit started slow and was unable to find the end zone in the first half. White, who was making his first start in place of the injured Manny Wilkins, completed just eight of his 21 attempts through two quarters, adding an interception and a lost fumble.
However, following a third quarter in which he finished 5-for-7 for 75 yards and a touchdown to freshman N’Keal Harry, White was lost for the game with a leg injury.
Graham seemed to know the extent of the injury but chose to not elaborate following the game.
“I do know [White’s status], but I’m not going to say anything,” Graham said. “Right now, I just want to know for sure.”
White wasn’t able to put any weight on his right leg – and was quickly transported to crutches before heading to the locker room.
Regardless, Graham was pleased with White’s performance.
“I know one thing, Brady is 1-0 as a starting quarterback and I am so proud of him,” Graham said. “He did some nice things distributing the ball and you have to give him a lot of credit for going against this talented defense.”
Even with the injuries and change, Arizona State continued the trend of victories following ugly losses and successful play in front of the home crowd.
All en route to a 5-1 record and a second conference victory.
“This is the third time in the last four years we beat UCLA and that’s a big deal,” Graham said. “We take a lot of pride in that. To win the south, we know how vital it is to win against the California schools first and foremost. I said before the game that this was going to be the weekend of back-up quarterbacks and I guess it was.”