(Photo: ASU Athletics)
A rare phenomenon occurred last week when the Arizona State Sun Devils played the Washington State Cougars. Marion Grice did not record a touchdown, despite ASU scoring seven total touchdowns on offense. The last observance of Grice failing to score was last season against USC, and this Sunday will mark one year since that game.
Despite not scoring, Grice still leads the country in points ahead of ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez.
Teams have taken notice of Grice’s running ability and his knack for finding pay dirt. This is evident in teams crowding the box with eight-man fronts to stop the inside runs, especially on read-option plays. This allows Taylor Kelly more running room on the outside.
“We have been able to run the ball the last couple of games, so a lot of opponents look at the fact that we will run the ball,” Grice said. “[Teams] are loading up the box, but they are not looking at the fact that [Taylor Kelly] can run the ball.”
To expand on Grice’s point, look at the rushing numbers Kelly has posted the past two games: 26 carries, 150 yards, and four touchdowns. Marion Grice welcomes teams to continue crowding the box.
“If I have to sell the fake I will continue selling the fake, and make more guys stack the box and continue watching my quarterback run the ball,” Grice said.
Marion Grice understands how crucial it is to establish the run and expects the Utah Utes to bring the pressure on Saturday.
“They are a pressure team. They like to blitz a lot. We have to be expecting a lot of pressure from those guys and we gotta be able to pick up the blitz and everything,” Grice said. “The O-line and [running backs] we gotta be able to communicate and pick up the blitz. “
The strength of Utah’s 4-3 defense rests with the front seven. In particular, the versatile defensive end Trevor Reilly. The 6-foot-5, 255 pound end leads Utah with 69 tackles, of which 11 have gone for losses, and 5.5 sacks. At the linebacker level ASU must be wary of Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris. Both Utah linebackers have the ability to stop runs and drop back into coverage.
Arizona State has struggled against opposing teams that possess a physical front seven. In fact, both of ASU’s losses came against teams with physical front sevens: Stanford and Notre Dame. Look for Utah to employ the same tactics that the Irish and Cardinal did. Pressure Kelly, crowd the box against Grice, and force the receivers to get open.
It is imperative that ASU control the line of scrimmage with the run to slow down Trevor Reilly’s pass rush, giving Kelly a chance to complete passes without constantly being hit and the receivers an opportunity to get open.
Coming into this game star wideout Jaelen Strong is still battling an ankle injury, and those are always tricky. Rick Smith had a strong game against Washington State, capped off by a 51-yard bomb from Kelly that Smith took in for a touchdown, but questions remain about his catching consistency.
Not to mention, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be going bonkers.
“It’s going to be a great environment. I know there’s going to be a lot of people there,” Grice said. “We’ve got to match the intensity. We’ve got to come out and stay focused.”
For a team that just recorded their first road win last week, it should behoove the Sun Devils to run the ball. That eliminates the crowd, more importantly, zapping Utah of energy.
This is the same stadium in which Stanford got beat, and the UCLA Bruins almost lost there as well, if not for Utah quarterback Travis Wilson throwing six interceptions.
“I’m looking forward to running the ball more,” Grice said. “I have just been telling myself that I need to rush the ball more, so I am looking to run the ball a lot and see what the outcome is.”
If Marion Grice is indeed running the ball a lot on Saturday, I like outcome not just for him but the whole team.
I’m going out on a limb here by saying Grice finds the end zone, and he helps ASU escape Rice-Eccles Stadium with a 35-27 victory. I have this game closer than most people. I expect a hard fought game, some sloppy play, and high emotions. But ASU pulls out the victory late.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Sam_Rabadi