(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Over the past two seasons, the tandem of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage has become one of the most productive parts of the Arizona State offense.
The duo carried the ball a combined 335 times in 2015, amassing 1,757 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. This season, however, running backs coach John Simon plans to utilize a third running back in the rotation.
Redshirt freshman Nick Ralston has turned heads in practice up to this point, so much so that Simon has moved on from “Thunder and Lightning”–referring to the one-two punch of Richard and Ballage–and implemented a metaphor fit for three, because what’s a little thunder and lightning without a little rain?
“I know they say I have ‘Thunder and Lightning’, is what they’re calling it now,” Simon said. “I said, ‘Well they forgot about water.’ Nick is water. Nick is very smooth in everything that he does. He’s patient, he has good vision, he’s a very sound back. There’s not anything can’t do.”
Ralston, the 119th rated running back in the 2015 recruiting class per ESPN, rushed for just under 6,000 yards and 94 touchdowns in three years at Argyle High in Texas.
He redshirted with ASU in 2015, taking to time to learn from players like Richard and Ballage.
“I just see how they [Richard and Ballage] run, how they finish and how they set up blocks.” Ralston said. “Even with coach Simon coming in, breaking everything down to a T, all that’s been helpful for all the backs.”
Ballage in particular has taken note of Ralston’s strides, noting that he is anxious to see him play in his first collegiate game.
“Nick Ralston’s a bad dude,” Ballage said. “We have all our faith in him. Nick is a great running back—powerful, shifty—he just does everything well, catches the football well, so I’m excited. He’s one of the guys that hasn’t played a lot that I want to see him get out there.”
Simon plans to adjust the usage of Richard and Ballage against Northern Arizona based off the pace of the game, a luxury that comes with having two starting-caliber backs.
“It [having two backs] allows a guy to play fresh,” Simon said. “I think, for them, it gives you a better chance of avoiding injuries, you know, I think injuries happen in long drives when you’re fatigued and you’re trying to push through it, with the temperature, the weather, the way that we will be here on game day, it’s good that you have two guys that can play at a high level.”
For the running backs, Simon has set some lofty goals in his first season, one of which includes not allowing any sacks.
“My goal is that we have zero busts in protection and zero turnovers as it relates to ball security,” Simon said.
The unit will live and die by the space the overhauled offensive line is able to get them. While Simon has confidence in the five new lineman, he acknowledges that live play will be an all-new challenge.
“They’ve done a great job against the scouts,” Simon said. “They’ve done a great job going against the defense, now it’s live bullets and I now get a chance to evaluate them, so it’s hard to say, even with my guys, other than the experience that I’ve seen with the success that they’ve had. The difference is with the offensive line is that this is going to be a live test.”
For Richard, however, his confidence in everyone on the team remains high.
“Our confidence is high in everybody, not just the offensive line,” Richard said. “Confidence is high in (the) defensive line, [defensive backs], linebacker core, quarterback, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, we’ve got confidence in everybody and I don’t think our confidence will change at all this year.”
- Manny Wilkins again led the first team in 11-on-0 and was no. 1 QB’s in every individual drill, as has been the case all week. Graham mentioned after practice that he’d be “surprised” if no one has figured out who will start against Northern Arizona. At this point, it’s almost certain Wilkins will win the job.
- Kyle Williams continued to work with the secondary.
- QB’s worked on ball control drills with the running backs and receivers during the individual portion of practice. Coaches have mentioned that one of the team’s biggest goals is to cut down turnovers as much as possible.