On Saturday, the start of Arizona State’s spring football game was nearly delayed by hundreds of bees that had taken residence in a hive attached to the south goalpost at Sun Devil Stadium.
However, ASU’s beekeeper — yes, the school has one — was dispatched from Luke Air Force Base, where he serves as a reserve. He sucessfully removed the hive, a duty that had substantially more buzz than the game that followed.
The white team defeated the maroon squad, 20-7, before 5,250 spectators in a contest that featured its share of nice plays but had a clear theme: There is a lot of work to be done before the fall.
“We have a long way to go, we really do,” first-year coach Dennis Erickson said. “We’re not even close to where we need to be to be successful in this conference. But I’m realistic. I know what it takes, and I know we can get there.”
After looking impressive early by scoring two quick touchdowns on runs by Ryan Torain, the white team — which included the first-string offense — struggled at times against the maroon, which had the starting defensive unit.
Turnovers, a problem Erickson has lamented all spring, were prevalent. The teams combined for five lost fumbles. There were two interceptions, one off the arm of reciever Kyle Williams on a trick play.
Quarterback Rudy Carpenter completed 14-of-26 passes for 190 yards for the white team but came off the field at times showing frustration.
“That’s going to happen in a spring game, when the team is split, and you don’t have the depth you usually do,” Carpenter said. “You get tired quicker. I understand that, but you know me. I want to score on every possession.”
Among the defensive standouts were tackle Michael Marquardt (sack and tackle for loss), safety Jeremy Payton (interception and fumble recovery), linebacker Jeff Berueter (sack and fumble recovery) and walk-on linebacker Anthony Reyes (interception and fumble recovery).
“We played good on defense,” Erickson said.
“The last couple of scrimmages, they have forced a lot of turnovers. That becomes a problem (for the offense), but we can fix it.”
Despite the defensive prowess late in the spring, the biggest concerns Erickson takes from ASU’s 15 workouts are on that side of the ball: defensive line and cornerback.
The Sun Devils have six proven pass rushers, Erickson believes, but more depth is needed. And ASU is no closer to finding a starting CB opposite Justin Tryon than it was before the spring.
Erickson is so desperate for help that he has worked out former safety Ryan McFoy, a 201-pounder who moved to linebacker, at CB.
In the fall, a starting job could be highly-touted incoming freshman Omar Bolden’s for the taking.
“Somebody has to step up at corner,” Erickson said. “We’re gonna play our best four guys (in the defensive backfield). …
“If a freshman comes in here and shows he is physically ready to play, he will play. We’ll have a lot of time in the fall to find that out.”
In other developments:
• Reserve linebacker Jamarr Robinson suffered what is believed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
• Kicker Thomas Weber made just one of three fieldgoal tries, but the one he hit was from 52 yards.
• Torain rushed nine times for 62 yards.
• The top receivers were Rudy Burgess, who had seven catches for 73 yards for the maroon team, and Brandon Smith, who caught six balls for 72 yards for the white squad.
• Stat of the day: Running back Keegan Herring (maroon team) had 11 rushes for 1 yard. His numbers were skewed by a bizarre play in which he was strung out, turned around and pursued by linebacker Chad Lindsey, who dropped Herring for a 28-yard loss.
Arizona State’s spring standouts Zach Krula: The offensive lineman’s football future was in peril after multiple surgeries were needed on the broken ankle he suffered in 2005. Finally healthy, the senior has practiced full-tilt all spring and is at the top of the depth chart at right tackle.
Troy Nolan: The safety was injured last spring, and the pain nagged into the fall, as he was forced to redshirt. But the junior’s impact in practice has been so positive that coach Dennis Erickson could feel comfortable about moving Ryan McFoy to linebacker.
Tyrice Thompson: The senior receiver, who likes to call himself “The Elevator,” began his ascension last season with valuable special-teams work. He has played at tight end and two receiver spots, and Erickson said that “nobody has had a better spring.”
Kyle Williams: The sophomore receiver has been ASU’s most electrifying player on offense. With Mike Jones, Nate Kimbrough and Rudy Burgess limited with injuries, Williams has made a strong case to start at outside receiver in the fall by catching almost everything thrown his way.
Morris Wooten: The transfer from Glendale Community College, who committed to West Virginia but signed with ASU, is the projected starting middle linebacker. Vowing to be an “animal on the field,” Wooten has impressed with his speed and developed into a leader as practice progressed.