Latu, Sun Devil defense regrouping after difficult injury news

Jeff Griffith, Staff Writer
ASU Devils
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When senior linebacker Koron Crump exited ASU’s September 16 loss at Texas Tech with an injury to his left knee, fellow linebacker Alani Latu thought little of it.

“When he got hurt and then sat out last week, we were all like, ‘Oh, he’s probably going to come back this week.” the redshirt senior said.

Following Saturday’s loss at Stanford, Latu he learned a different story; Crump’s injury wasn’t nearly as manageable as they expected.

Crump, who entered this season with high aspirations, was officially announced as out for the 2017 season.

“When we got the news, it was sad,” Latu said. “I know it hurt him a lot, too. But the defense has just got to come together and try to find a way to replace him.”

His senior season.

“He was like, on everybody’s draft boards,” Latu added. “He led the Pac-12 in sacks last year. It’s crazy to hear these kinds of stories where people are expected to make it big at the next level and then something like this happens. It just gives everybody else a perspective of how football can be done like that, quickly.”

In a personal sense for Latu, not having Crump on the field this season will spell the end of an enjoyable run the two have experienced together, growing into top edge rushers for the ASU defense.

Having each developed last year at Devilbacker — a position Latu has now returned to as a result of Crump’s injury — Latu thoroughly enjoyed playing alongside Crump on the defensive line, even if for a few games this season.

“It’s kinda sad because me and him were together at devil last year and we were both kind of helping each other out,” he added. “Then this year, they moved me to end, so we were both on the field together which was really fun, knowing I had Crump on the other side to rely on for the pass rush.”

Devastating as the news may be to Latu, his fellow members of the front seven and ASU as a whole, there are still seven games left following the current bye week — a bye week that couldn’t have come at a better time, especially for the defense.

Between now and their October 11 home tilt with No. 6 Washington, the Sun Devils will have to adapt to important personnel adjustments, in order to account for the holes left by Crump and cornerback Joey Bryant, who will also miss the remainder of 2017 with a torn ACL.

“It helped me out a lot,” he said of the timing of the bye week. “When I got the news yesterday, I walked into the D-Line room … coach was like, ‘You’re going to Devil,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, shoot.’ A whole bunch of things started going through my head. This bye week helped a lot, and now I can focus more at the devil position.”

Those two key injuries will allow for the likes of Chase Lucas at corner and George Lea on the defensive line to enter the starting rotation.

But everyone, as Latu attested, needs to step up their game on defense in order to fill two sizable holes.

“I guess it just made us realize this year we need to step up our game now,” Latu said. “We don’t have an edge rusher like Koron, so we’ve been trying to use our leverage on that edge now as defensive lineman. It hurts, hearing that Crump is out for the season, I feel like we’ve got guys that can step up, and they just need to learn quick and try to adjust to our schemes and our defense.”

In terms of the front seven itself, the biggest crater left by Crump is in the pass rush. In the less than three games he played this season, Crump earned four sacks, to add the nine he had in 2016.

Those four sacks still lead ASU through five contests.

Next on that list? Latu, with 3.5.

“Knowing Crump isn’t there, somebody’s got to step up and do it,” he said. “I just want to at least be capable of trying to do what Crump did, and try to step into his shoes and do what he did.”

With his move back to Devilbacker, he’ll have an enhanced opportunity to just that, being at a position where he’ll have much more freedom to attack the backfield than his previous spot on that defensive line.

“At devil, you’re more of an edge rusher, instead of at end where you’ve got to keep it tight and then try to work your move on the edge,” he said. “At the devil position, you’re kind of a free player, so it gives me an edge on my pass rushing.”

While the loss of a Koron Crump on the front seven is vastly unfortunate, Latu still believes this defense has the talent level and attitude to make some noise in the back half of the season.

And fresh off of a game he feels they let slip away, he knows his defense will come out of the bye week hungry.

“We’re not going to give up,” Latu said. “That was a game last week we should’ve won, we know we should’ve won. We just didn’t finish. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and as an offense and a defense we just need to come together.”

“I know we can pull off something this year,” he added. “Don’t sleep on us.”

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