TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State football team desperately needs to work out its offensive and defensive issues in its final non-conference game against New Mexico on Friday. The trouble is, too many of the Sun Devils’ key players are wearing the wrong uniform in practice to make those adjustments.
Running back Kalen Ballage (mononucleosis), free safety Armand Perry (ankle sprain), defensive tackle Viliami Latu, running back De’Chavon Hayes and wide receiver Frederick Gammage were all wearing green no-contact jerseys at Tuesday’s practice; just three days before the Devils face the Lobos at Sun Devil Stadium.
“It’s tough,” receiver D.J. Foster said. “We’ve got a lot of guys rotating and we’ve got a lot of young guys out there, too, playing — especially at critical positions.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell admitted not having Ballage, Hayes and Gammage makes game-planning more difficult.
“Does it present challenges when guys go down? Most definitely — especially when it’s multiple guys at one position,” Norvell said. “You have to move things around and look at how you’re dispersing the touches and the reps — make sure that you’re keeping guys fresh to still be able to play at a fast tempo, but that’s what coaching is about.
“We’ve got a lot of versatility in this offense and with the guys that we have, so it’s about just trying to make sure we continue to expand that and make sure we’re putting guys in the best position to make plays.”
Injuries clearly go hand in hand with football, but adding to Norvell’s challenge has been the loss of players at the last minute. The Sun Devils found out Ballage wouldn’t play against Texas A&M the day before the game, so he was already a big part of a game plan that they had to adjust on the fly.
Hayes got injured during the Cal Poly game so Norvell had to alter course again as he called plays from the Sun Devil Stadium press box high above the field.
“As long as I know that I don’t have them maybe the week before when we’re practicing, it would be good,” Norvell said, laughing. “But that’s part of the game. Whether it’s the first play of the game or on a Monday practice you just have to be prepared and have guys make the most of their opportunities.”
Coach Todd Graham did not address all the injuries during the Pac-12’s weekly coaches conference call, so a better read on the availability of those players won’t come until later in the week.
“Ami (Latu) has got a good chance to be back,” Graham said. “He did some limited things today. Armand will be doubtful. He’s not even moving around very good right now.”
With just two days of practice left, there is precious little time to rep the game plan. That may not be as big of an issue against New Mexico, a team the Sun Devils faced and beat last season, 58-23, but it will come into play the following week against USC if those players can’t get back on the field soon.
“The next man’s got to be ready,” Norvell said.