Coach Bo Graham breaks down the performance of ASU's running backsPosted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It is still early, but the Arizona State ground game is off to a terrific start.
Heading into Saturday's showdown against Colorado, the Sun Devils rank sixth in the nation with 345 rushing yards per game, following their 423 yards last week against New Mexico.
Junior D.J. Foster has been the star, with 363 yards on just 36 carries through two games, but he's far from the only contributor. True freshmen Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard have also made several big plays, with senior Deantre Lewis earning more meaningful reps.
I caught up with ASU running backs coach Bo Graham to get his thoughts on the performance of his players, and what he expects from them going forward.
How did D.J. Foster's performance on Saturday stack up with the other great running back performances you've seen during your coaching career?
Bo Graham: “From an individual standpoint, it was one of the best I’ve seen. I think there was only one other time in my career that we’ve rushed for more than that. It was an outstanding performance running and catching the football. I think he maximized his touches and stayed fresh throughout the game.”
Foster's start has been terrific, with 363 yards in two games while averaging over 10 yards per carry. How does these first two games match up against your expectations of Foster?
BG: “We’re satisfied with what he’s out on the field. The first week, we feel like we left some yards out there. I think we did a little bit better job of maximizing on each play. It’s important to point that over 60 percent of those yards come after contact. Yards after contact, forcing people to tackle us. That’s been the best thing that we’ve seen on film is his ability to run through tackles.”
Speaking of running through tackles, Kalen Ballage has found early success, with three touchdowns already. How do you think he's coming along?
BG: “Kalen has done a great job. The first week, both of the young guys made mistakes, but Kalen did a much better job this week of assignments and being where he is supposed to be. He’s done a great job of being in there with the heavy personnels and getting the ball in the endzone. Hopefully he’ll continue to progress and get better as we go.”
Do you think he will see most of his action this year in those power sets, or do you envision a larger role?
BG: “I think each week, we’re going to run plays dependent on what the defense is doing. It depends on what we get. I think each of our guys are going to expand what they are doing. Depending on what plays are called and how many guys are on the field from week to week, that will determine how we use him.”
The other true freshman, Demario Richard, also had a big game, including the 46-yard touchdown run. What are your thoughts on his progression and impact so far?
BG: “I was proud of Demario. Critical situation earlier in the game, he made a critical error. Our guys responded in a positive way. He came back out there later in the game and had the big run. To see a young guy respond to adversity, that was the big thing. He’s done a great job thus far.”
Given his do-it-all skillset, how do you think the offensive will utilize Richard this year?
BG: “I think the sky’s the limit for Demario. He’s outstanding on the perimeter in routes. He is also great inside and outside the tackles. There is not a lot he can’t do. Besides D.J., he’s our most versatile guy. We’re very excited about his potential moving forward.”
Senior Deantre Lewis opened the scoring on Saturday with his first touchdown of the year. Where do you think his game and mental state is as he's closing out his collegiate career?
BG: “Deantre has done a great job for us. He’s very smart. We trust him no matter what we’re asking him to do. I thought he brought great energy, and he was very disciplined in his reads. He’s always where he’s supposed to be. Very seldom does he leave yards on the field. He’s mistake-free for the most part. That’s what we expect of him, to be perfect, and to lead us from a mental standpoint both as a wideout and as a running back.”
What do you expect to see from the Colorado defense on Saturday night?
BG: “Last year, they did a whole lot of popping, not a whole lot of blitzing. They’ve shown a lot of four-down, so we’re anticipating a four-down front. They might mix in some three-down, but they played us a lot of man coverage last year. We’re going to be prepared for whatever they are going to do, but from this point, it doesn’t look like they’ve changed a whole lot defensively."