On Saturday, as the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats take the field to compete for the Territorial Cup, all eyes will be on the backfield.
Two of the Pac-12’s top three scorers, both running backs, will be in uniform — in separate jerseys — with G-R-I-C-E and C-A-R-E-Y strewn across their backs, respectively.
Some are calling the latter, junior Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona, the best running back to ever play in the state. And the other, ASU’s Marion Grice — whose status is questionable for the game — leads the conference in scoring, with 20 touchdowns. No one disputes that the two are the most important playmakers in the matchup.
Though potentially unfit to take the field with a lower leg injury, Grice is such a factor that Coach Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats will prepare extensively for him, anyway,
“We’ve got to prepare as if he’s playing,” Rodriguez told The Doug and Wolf Show on Tuesday.
“And, you know, they’ve got other good backs and other good players anyway, so they’re not going to change their whole scheme this late in the season.”
If Grice is, indeed, unable to play, ASU’s other rostered running backs, D.J. Foster, Deandre Lewis and R.J. Robinson, namely, say they’re ready to go. But he will surely be missed by the Sun Devils. The senior out of Houston has tallied 996 yards on 191 carries this season, finding the end zone 14 times on the ground. And his production doesn’t stop there. Grice has been an integral part of the ASU air attack, too, with a team-high six receiving touchdowns and 438 receiving yards on 50 catches — good for third on the team.
Thus, Rodriguez knows he must prepare his defense.
And he’s not the only coach in the rivalry who has respect for the opposing team’s top rusher.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham knows his team has one of their toughest defensive tasks all season in trying to stop Carey, the nation’s fifth-best rusher, despite missing six quarters of play to start the season.
“Of all of the backs that we’ve faced and the ones that I’ve seen on film, he’s the best back in the country,” Graham told reporters of Carey on Monday.
“No doubt about it.”
After setting a school record with 48 rushing attempts last weekend versus Oregon, Carey now ranks second in the country with 290 carries, accruing 1559 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Though less of a receiving target than Grice, Carey has managed 173 yards and a touchdown on 26 receptions this season.
Last week’s Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and a finalist for the Doak Walker Award seems to be the primary obstacle standing between his arch-rival Sun Devils and their opportunity to host the Pac-12 Championship in Tempe, which they would do with a win Saturday.
With ASU and Arizona taking front and center in the state Saturday, the eyes of fans will be on the back and center of the field — squarely on the team’s star backs.