TEMPE, Ariz. — Running the football was not supposed to be this hard.
On the list of concerns heading into the 2013 season, the Sun Devils’ ground game was not chief among them, not with the returning one-two punch of Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, a pair of Doak Walker Award candidates who combined to rush for nearly 1,200 yards a year ago.
Yet, three games into the season, Grice (193 yards) ranks 139th in the country in rushing yards while Foster (32 yards) is not among the top 300.
It’s part of the reason why ASU is 107th in rushing offense averaging 108 yards per game, almost half as much as in 2012 (205.4).
“Playing from behind, obviously you’re going to throw the football a lot more, so can’t dig ourselves in a hole then we can rely a lot more on the run game,” running backs coach Bo Graham said. “We’ve just got to start fast and be more disciplined in the run game. From here on out, definitely need improvement in that part.”
Help may be coming in the form of Deantre Lewis, who as a freshman in 2010 had three straight 100-yard games. A gunshot injury, however, kept him sidelined all of 2011 and limited him to only two games last season.
“We’re going to increase his role,” Graham said Tuesday. “We’ve got to work in ways, do a better job of getting him in the game, getting him his carries, but from here on out, he’s definitely going to pick up his workload.”
With that comes the challenge of finding enough snaps for all three running backs, according to Graham.
At Stanford, Foster did not have an official carry and has totaled only six rushing attempts this season, seeing most of his on-field time at wide receiver.
“Every week is different,” Foster said. “I’m an athlete so at the end of the day, wherever they want to use me, whether it’s in the backfield or out in the slot, I just do it.”
Of course, there is one other reason for the lack of production from the running game: The quality of the opposition.
For the third straight week, ASU will face a top-40 rushing defense. USC is the third-best team in the country against the run, allowing only 59.3 yards per game.
“I see their second-level guys,” Graham said, “they’re not as downhill as weeks past, so should be able to get the ball up in the middle of the formation and get some good yards this week.”