(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
As Arizona State’s first conference bout with California-Berkeley approaches, the run game continues to serve as the pillar of Chip Lindsey’s offense.
Featuring a three-headed monster comprised of Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and quarterback Manny Wilkins, the rushing attack has accounted for 49 percent of the team’s offensive yardage, just about as close to an equilibrium between passing and rushing as an offensive coordinator could hope for.
For the coaching staff, Lindsey and running backs coach John Simon specifically, the trick has been finding a way to utilize both Ballage and Richard while cultivating their individual skill sets.
A task that Simon feels the coaching staff has exceeded at thus far.
“I think that’s [utilizing different players] the key to this game,” Simon said. “Everybody has a different skill set, everybody brings something different to the table and I think it’s up to us to identify that and try and put those guys in a position where they can be successful as individuals.”
To this point, Richard has almost doubled Ballage in carries, amassing 71 in three games. However, it’s Ballage who has emerged as the more efficient runner of the two, averaging 6.9 yards per carry on just 37 attempts this season.
In terms of total touchdowns, Ballage has scored 10, inflated by his monster game against Texas Tech where he ran wild out of the team’s newly implemented wildcat, or what the team has come to call their “Sparky” package. Richard, on the other hand, has just one touchdown to show for his 76 total touches.
Still, it’s all business between the two, who continue to keep all of their individual accomplishments in perspective.
“We’ve always worked together really good,” Ballage said. “It’s just being able to have a fresh running back in at all times, he goes in there and gets four or five carries and then they pop him out and I haven’t gotten any carries yet, then they put me in and I’m fresh, we just rotate back forth to the point where we just keep coming at the defense.
“I know they have to be thinking like, ‘Geez, this is kind of ridiculous.’”
For Ballage, his claim to fame early on has been his role in the “Sparky” package, in which he takes the direct snap out of a shotgun formation.
Via the direct snap, Ballage has scored seven of his 10 total touchdowns, all of which coming from an average of 2.1 yards away from the goal line.
However, it doesn’t seem as though the team will get too creative out of the package. Simon has said that the team hasn’t entertained the idea of having Ballage throw out of the look, limiting the idea of a play action element.
“We really haven’t thought about it [passing out of the Sparky] that much,” Simon said. “We don’t see Kalen as that guy to throw the ball, he’s a physical guy in that package and it’s designed to run the ball. If we want to throw the ball, we’ll get somebody.”
Moving forward, Simon hasn’t dispelled the idea of Richard taking snaps out of the Sparky package.
“It’s possible that we could see him,” Simon said. “Right now we don’t see a reason to change it, we’ve been doing a pretty good job with it, but we’re confident that D-Rich can go out there and do it as well.”
From Richard’s perspective, him and Ballage complement one and other, regardless of carries or touchdowns. They seem to view themselves as one entity, and all that matters to said entity is winning games.
“I’m running hard, he’s running hard, that’s really it,” Richard said. “I’m just breaking it down, that’s how I feel, I’m just breaking the defense down. Go ahead, once you’re getting the bulk of me, you’re gonna get a bulk of him too.
“You pick your poison.”
-A.J. McCoullum worked as the first team center, while Zach Robertson ran with the second team. The right side of the line looked the same as it did against Texas Tech, with Stephon McCray playing the guard position and Quinn Bailey at tackle.
-Jalen Harvey, N’Keal Harry and Kody Kohl all worked with the first team during tempo drills. Kohl was lined up in the slot.