Running back D.J. Foster was exactly that as a freshman: a running back. He was one of three backs on the Sun Devils to carry the ball more than 100 times in 2012, earning an All-Pac 12 honorable mention by season’s end after tallying more than 4.8 yards per carry.
Six games into his sophomore season, Foster’s role with the team isn’t as easy to define. The Scottsdale native has just 21 carries, instead contributing much more as a receiver with 32 receptions, second-most on the team.
“Wherever I can help the offense,” Foster said of his new role. “At the end of the day, the offense is more important than a player so I’m just happy to be a part of it. Whenever I can get the ball, I try to do something.”
While sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong has drawn a lot of the attention for his contributions in the passing game, Foster has caught only 10 passes fewer than Strong and he tallied 24 combined receptions in ASU’s three biggest games of the season against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Stanford.
But it’s the attention that Strong is drawing that has been beneficial for playmakers like Foster.
“[Strong] spreads the offense out and opens up the run for Marion [Grice] and me,” Foster said. “He’s a great offensive player and a great weapon that we have, it just helps me and the other playmakers on the offense.”
One potential explanation for Foster’s reversed role is the defenses that the Sun Devils have been matched up against so far. Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame each rank in the top 25 of the nation at stopping the run, but only one is in the top 50 in pass yards allowed and all four rank higher in run defense than pass defense.
Now ASU faces a different test with an upcoming matchup against the strong pass defense of the Washington Huskies that has allowed just 183 passing yards per game and has tallied seven interceptions and allowed five touchdowns. Still, Foster doesn’t think the gameplan will change much to include him in attacking the No. 69 rushing defense of UW.
“For our gameplan, that doesn’t really matter,” Foster said of opposing weaknesses. “We try to base it on what we do well; it doesn‘t really matter who we play.”
What ASU has done well is pass the ball, and that’s largely thanks to the contributions of Foster. Still, he’s listed as a running back and hopes he can take over the role for the Sun Devils after Grice’s departure at the end of the season.
“I want to be that guy and that’s what I plan on. Whatever happens happens, but I want to be the running back.”