TEMPE – Arizona State head coach Todd Graham called it the play of the game. Rick Smith’s fumble late in the third quarter that Notre Dame capitalized on two snaps later with a touchdown to go up 24-13. The Fighting Irish would eventually win 37-34.
“That was a critical point in the game and we had just not done that (this season),” he said of the turnover, one of three the Sun Devils had Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
That play may be a reason why Smith, a sophomore, was not working with the first-team offense Tuesday. Another Smith, freshman Cameron Smith, was the receiver lined up with the rest of the starting unit.
“He can really stretch the field vertically,” Graham said after practice. “We’re increasing his reps.”
The wide receiver position, for the second straight year, has become a question mark offensively for the Sun Devils.
Aside from redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong, who has recorded four straight 100-yard receiving games and leads the team in both catches (39) and yards (569), ASU does not have another viable option at that position.
Two running backs, D.J. Foster (31 catches for 329 yards) and Marion Grice (27 catches for 219 yards), plus a tight end, Chris Coyle (13 catches for 224 yards) are the team’s second, third and fourth-leading receivers, respectively.
Rick Smith and redshirt senior Kevin Ozier each have nine catches and no other receiver has more than four.
Cameron Smith only has three catches, but he’s seen limited action after a hamstring injury kept him on the sideline for ASU’s first two games.
“I think Cameron has a lot of potential,” Graham said. “Obviously, still a young guy and still trying to figure things out; he has tremendous potential and needs to help us even more.”
Graham has said those exact words about another big play threat, another freshman, 6-foot-4 Ellis Jefferson. However, he’s yet to see the field because of a groin issue. It’s unknown how far along he is in his recovery.
There’s also junior Joe Morris, but he too has been hampered by injury — a foot injury caused him to miss most of fall camp and has slowed his development grasping the offense.
Graham, meanwhile, said he has not lost confidence in Smith. “I’m just concerned about him taking care of the ball. You’ve got to move on from that stuff like that. That’s something we talk about all the time.”
It’s clear though, after five games, Graham wants to see more production from the receiver position.
“I think Jaelen is playing at a high level, now we have to get other people playing at a higher level,” he said.