(Photo: Jannah Din/WCSN)
Only four teams in the nation have accumulated more points this season than the Arizona State Sun Devils, but the team still might be just finding their offensive rhythm.
“It’s hard to stop our offense,” ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “As long as we protect the football and don’t have negative yardage plays, it’s hard to stop all our playmakers with our running and passing.”
Particularly hard to stop as of late has been the running game, as the Sun Devils have switched their focus to the ground game. In the first five games of the season, the team averaged 34 rush attempts per game, but eclipsed 50 attempts in each of their last two victories.
One week after tallying a season-high 58 rushing attempts in a win over the Colorado Buffaloes, the Sun Devils racked up 51 carries against the Washington Huskies.
“That’s what we want to establish,” Kelly said. “We want our offense to establish the run and set up our play action and passing game.”
After struggling to develop a run game against the highly-ranked defenses of Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame, ASU accumulated over 250 yards rushing against USC, Colorado and Washington, earning victories in all three games.
At the head of the multi-faceted rushing attack of the Sun Devils is running back Marion Grice, who leads the team with 111 attempts for 553 yards on the ground. For the senior, the recent change to increased rushing plays for the ASU change wasn’t unexpected and is something that he expects to see continue for the remainder of the season.
“Honestly I feel like we’re going to run the ball every game,” Grice said. “It’s pretty much just take what the defense gives us and if they give us the running game we’re going to run the ball. I’m just looking forward to us to run the ball from here on out and I’m excited for it.”
The player on the roster just behind Grice in carries isn’t either of the backup running backs, Deantre Lewis or D.J. Foster, but the team’s quarterback, as Kelly averages over eight rushing attempts per game.
“It’s very important,” Kelly said of his rushing contributions. “When defensive ends start crashing on [Grice] and they want to stop our spot throws, they kinda forget about accounting for me. Once they start accounting for me as a runner, [Grice] can start gashing them and it opens up our passing game as well.”
Despite the recent focus on rushing the ball, Kelly’s passing has ultimately been the source of most of the team’s offense in the first seven games of the season. His 2,236 yards passing rank seventh in the nation and far out-pace the 1,693 yards he accumulated in the first seven games of 2012.
“I feel a lot more comfortable now within the offense,” Kelly said. “I feel a lot more comfortable in the pocket. The [offensive] linemen have done a great job of protecting me and so have the running backs so I feel a lot more further along than I was last year.”
After a bye, the Sun Devils will get back to work with a three-game stretch against Washington State, Utah and Oregon State, each of which rank outside the top 50 in scoring defense and allow an average of 26 points or more.
While tests against the more statistically-sound defenses of UCLA and Arizona follow, ASU looks to have a opportunity to continue to establish itself as one of the best offenses in the nation.
“We haven’t accomplished our goals yet but we’ve got to keep pressing on them and eventually we will,” Grice said. “We don’t want to lose focus so we just need to come out and practice hard and put a lot of points up.”