Arizona State earned the Pac-12 South Division crown by defeating UCLA at the Rose Bowl, which overshadowed the possible loss of Marion Grice.
Championship teams possess depth. It's nearly impossible to replace the 1,941 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns Grice produced. Running backs D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis are great alternative options. Foster and Lewis haven't been featured in 2013 due to Grice, but both have been featured at Arizona State throughout their respective careers.
Talent won't be the problem for Foster and Lewis. The pedestrian statistics from the two aren't indicative to their capabilities. Foster and Lewis have combined to accumulate 452 rushing yards and that isn't overly impressive. Foster is getting 4.4 yards per carry on the season and Lewis provides 5.5 yards per carry. Those averages are very solid. With Grice likely sidelined, running back coach Bo Graham remains confident in Foster and Lewis.
"We're very confident in [Foster and Lewis] abilities. We've been cross training them all year in case something happened," Graham said. "So if [playing without Grice] is something we have to do come Saturday, we feel great about them picking up the slack and accepting a new role."
On the gridiron, Bo Graham doesn't think there will be any major adjustments. He went on to say all three running backs can do similar things and particularly noted their common denominator of protecting the quarterback. If Grice doesn't suit up, it's feasible to think red-zone execution may not be as productive. Bo Graham disagrees.
"I think all three of those guys are dangerous when they have the ball in their hands. They are a threat to score," Bo Graham said. "I think a lot of that has a lot to do with opportunity. Marion has got a lot more opportunities. So these guys just have to accept the challenge and rise to the occasion. And get some of the same production."
Bo Graham thinks the biggest area of concern without Grice traces back to leadership and dependability.
"The biggest thing with Marion, if he can't play, is just his leadership," Graham said. "Just being the guy we trust back there to make the right decisions. It's time for one of the other guys to get back there and be as consistent as him."
One players injury or demise leads to another players opportunity. The family atmosphere Todd Graham installed can be seen via the running backs camaraderie. Even though Lewis expects to finally get more looks than usual, he mainly feels bad for Grice.
"For Marion, I'm very hurt because me and him became close. Through these past six weeks, we've actually become really close," Lewis said. "It sucks to see him go down like that."
Heading into the 2011 campaign, Lewis was out the entire year because of a gun shot wound. He understands how difficult it can be to watch from the bench. Lewis usually cheers on Grice and now their roles could switch. Assuming the plan goes as Lewis envisions, the cheers are going to continue because of his dynamic offensive skill set.
There's no sugar coating it; Lewis takes on a daunting task. However, he doesn't believe there will be any additional pressure.
"It just means I have to take on a bigger role. And carry this offense in order to be as productive as it was before." Lewis said.
Lewis won't be taking on the responsibilities alone. Foster mainly lines up at wide receiver, and he's watched his carries decrease from 102 to 42 from last season to this year. Grice holds down the top spot obviously and Lewis fills in, allowing Foster to be on the outside and create mismatches against linebackers. In Tuesday's practice, Foster went back to his natural position at running back.
The complicated Mike Norvell offensive scheme can be hard to digest. And then try learning two different jobs. Foster has been forced to understand the wide receiver position and running back.
"I still pay attention [to the running backs] in practice. Coaches do a good job of making sure I'm always knowing the running back stuff," Foster said. "Cause who knows, whenever something happens. Like Marion isn't feeling too well right now with his injury. You just got to always be ready. Our coaches have done a good job making sure I know both positions."
Foster bulked up to about 200 pounds in the offseason to be able to sustain more hits. While doing so, he didn't lose any quickness or agility. The training from August probably feels like years ago, but it could allow Foster to cope with the upcoming bruising hits. The plan for Foster was to put on weight so he can carry the rock more. It didn't pan out that way. Foster never complained, whined or frowned about the decreased touches, showcasing maturity well beyond most young sophomores.
At the same time, Foster sounded excited for the chance to be back in the ground attack.
"I definitely have more confidence and stuff going in the backfield and taking [Grice's] spot," Foster said. "Just helping carry the load a little bit more."