Run, Cam, Run (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Last season, Arizona State threw 527 passes, the second-highest total in school history. Adding in the 84 sacks and quarterback scrambles to that figure, the Sun Devils dialed up a pass play on nearly 65% of their 950 plays from scrimmage in 2011.
With former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone now in Westwood, and Mike Norvell now in control of the Sun Devil offense, that figure may invert itself as ASU adopts a run-heavy attack
Part of the reason for that change is the offensive philosophy. Another part of it is that ASU will have a brand new starting quarterback under center. Lastly, when you have a loaded backfield as the Sun Devils do, why not use your best weapons?
Head coach Todd Graham agrees.
"We're running 80+ plays a game, and Cam's going to get 30 of them," Graham told reporters at ASU's Media Day.
"Cam", of course, is the Sun Devils' dynamic senior running back Cameron Marshall. After becoming the first ASU running back to top 1,000 yards in a year since 2006 (1,050) and tying the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 18, Marshall is now not only the centerpiece of the Sun Devil offense, but recognized as one of the nation's premier runners.
Last month, Marshall was named to the Maxwell Award (best player) and Doak Walker Award (best running back) watch lists, helping to elevate his profile from Tempe's best kept secret. Such recognition is satisfying for Marshall.
"It's great. There have been a lot of great backs that have won that award. To be seen as one of the better backs in the nation is a great feeling."
Making his achievements all the more remarkable is the fact that he played much of last season on injured ankles. After undergoing minor surgery and missing spring practices, Marshall is feeling fine.
"The ankle feels great. I've been able to run around well and do everything. There's a degree of soreness, but that's expected. Other than that, I feel great."
He'll need to feel close to 100% to hold up to the role that Graham and Norvell have in mind for him. The rigors of the running back position take their toll.
While some may view the "30 touches" a game as a bit of hyperbole in this day and age, recent history suggests otherwise. Last season at Pitt, Graham and Norvell ran their featured back, Ray Graham, into the ground. Over the season's first six games, Graham had 31, 33, 28, 29, 30 and 26 touches on offense. That workload ultimately broke Graham, as he missed the final five games with injury.
One factor in Marshall's favor is his size. Ray Graham stands just 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, while Marshall is a chiseled 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds. Marshall feels he's ready for work
"I'm looking forward to having a bunch of carries and carrying the load for the team," he said.
So after such a banner year, what does Marshall see for himself in 2012?
"At minimum, I want to be better than last year. I would love to get 20 touchdowns and I would love to get 1,500 yards or so. I have high expectations for this year."
Should he be able to meet those goals, Marshall would find himself in some incredible company. He's just an attainable 1,293 yards behind Freddie Williams for second place on ASU's all-time rushing list (he'll need an unrealistic 2,057 to pass rushing king Woody Green). With 11 more rushing scores, Marshall will pass Green's career total of 39 for tops in school history. Pretty esteemed company to say the least.
While having his name near or even atop Green's is a remarkable honor, Marshall isn't focused on such things.
"I don't think anybody who is in a position for record plays specifically for that record, they play to reach their potential. I would love to reach my potential. I think in reaching my potential, I can get those records, but I don't play to get those records."
While the ASU offense won't need him to end his career with a handful of records, they likely will be able to go only as far as his powerful legs can take them.