ASU’s Ballage-Richard duo hopes to find more success against Texas Tech
On Sept. 10, 2016, the potential of Arizona State’s backfield was unveiled.
Senior running back Kalen Ballage scored eight touchdowns (seven rushing, one receiving) to tie the FBS single-game record during the Sun Devils’ 68-55 win over Texas Tech. He carried the ball 13 times for 137 yards to go with two catches and 48 yards, and was instantly launched into the national spotlight for his performance.
Just over a year removed from that evening, Ballage said Tuesday that he’s put the game behind him. Instead, he’s looking forward to facing the Red Raiders this weekend; last year’s showing lost from thought.
“It was cool and everything, but as a whole, it’s a year ago,” Ballage said. “It’s time to just get over that. I’ve been hearing about it for a year. I’m looking forward to the next thing coming.”
Ballage, named an ASU captain for the first time this season, typically protrudes a more business-like attitude. This week though, his nonchalant tone could also be attributed to the rough start the Sun Devils’ rushing game has gotten off to this season.
The weaknesses of ASU’s rushing attack were at their most apparent during last week’s loss to San Diego State. The Sun Devils finished the evening with 44 rushing yards on 31 carries. Ballage was, as coach Todd Graham put it, “dinged up” for much of the second half of the game, while fellow senior tailback Demario Richard missed the contest altogether with a right knee injury of his own.
“I’m fine now,” said Ballage of his ailment. “Bumps and bruises — it’s football.”
“I’m chilling,” Richard said after fully practicing Tuesday. “I’m good every week.”
The impact of Ballage and Richard’s absence was only heightened by an offensive line struggling to win at the line of scrimmage.
Through two games, ASU attempted 71 rushes for 123 total yards (61.5 yards per game) and three touchdowns. That’s good for an abysmal 1.4 yards per carry — a mark that ranks 124th in Division I.
“We darn should be able to run the ball better than we’re running,” Graham said. “That has to do with execution. There’s lots of factors you can go and explain all that away; nobody cares about that, neither do I. It’s about performance.”
The backfield’s production is a stark contrast to the 577 rushing yards on 5.83 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns the Sun Devils tallied through the first two games of last season, which includes the past matchup against Texas Tech. That game marked the last time Ballage (137 rush yards) and Richard (109 yards) both surpassed 100 yards on the ground in the same game. The victory also highlighted ASU’s 5-1 start.
As for recapturing that form — something the Sun Devils have been apparently in search of since early last year — Richard said the team just needs to keep running the ball.
“Just basically get the ball in the playmakers’ hands,” he said. “Don’t shy away from it.”
Despite poor showings in each of the their first two contests, the Sun Devils seem insistent the running game is something that can be improved and remedied. Perhaps a visit to Lubbock to face a Texas Tech defense that gave up 177 rushing yards to Eastern Washington last week and surrendered 103.6 rushing yards to opponents in 2016 is just what the ASU running game needs to awaken.
“Just execute. It’s not a lack of talent,” Ballage said. “That falls on all 11 people on offense, and we’ve got to continue to get better.”
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