With Cameron Marshall graduating to the pros, 2013 was the year in which we would be treated to two Todd Graham recruits running the show. And neither Marion Grice nor DJ Foster disappointed after spending much of the previous season as glorified wide receivers.
2013 Expectations: Entering Graham's second season, Arizona State fans expected their team to field one of the finest running backs tandems in the Pac-12.
Even though Cameron Marshall led the team with 148 total touches, Grice and Foster's combined 2012 production still registered as the fourth-most yards from scrimmage of any Pac-12 running back tandem. And when you factored in their versatility and the explosiveness potential of Mike Norvell's offense, many a fan couldn't help but salivate.
Of course, that wasn't even taking into account one Deantre Lewis. Lewis, who had one of the most electrifying freshman seasons in school history, was two years removed from his bullet wound injury and seemed more than poised to finally bounce back.
All three gentlemen seemed poised for breakout seasons as long as they could get the necessary touches. And that proved to be a big if.
2013 Production: After expecting some sort of mega-committee, what we got was the Marion Grice show in 2013 with senior eating up 191 of the 417 non-quarterback carries.
Despite missing the final three games of the season thanks to a cryptic leg injury, Grice still earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. Grice failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards in his first six games of the season but had no trouble finding pay dirt, racking up 15 total touchdowns across that span.
Yet oddly enough, when began doing his most efficient running, there were less scores to be had. In his final five games of the season, Grice had three games with 118 or more rushing yards and averaged 120.2 yards per game. During his six-game touchdown tear, Grice only averaged 4.8 yards per carry once. Over the last five games of his Arizona State career, Grice chugged out an absurd 5.95 yards per tote yet only managed five total touchdowns.
Even with the touchdowns on decline, one has to assume that Grice would have at least tied the single season record for all-purpose touchdowns if he managed to stay healthy. Instead, he finished his season with 1,434 total yards and 20 all-purpose touchdowns, two shy of the program record.
Arizona State went 1-2 without Grice in the lineup but it certainly wasn't because of lack of production from the next man up. After being relegated to a slot role for most of the season, Foster looked like a man who sorely missed his natural position when he was asked to rise to the occasion in the final three games of 2013.
Foster set a new career-high in rushing in his first start against Arizona, finishing with a line of 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Two weeks later in the Holiday Bowl, he managed to top himself by compiling 132 yards and a touchdown on only 20 carries.
Foster found pay dirt at least once in each of his starts. In the Pac-12 Championship game, he was all the offense Arizona State could muster, scoring the Sun Devils only touchdowns of the evening off two big plays (a 51-yard run and a 65-yard catch-and-run).
While Foster did solidify himself as one of the most explosive players in the conference down the stretch, Arizona State would still be wise to pair him with another back. Although he made it his goal entering the season to prove otherwise, Foster has yet to show that he can in between the tackles on a consistent basis. There's little doubt that he can carry the load if need be but his skill set would likely be most effective if he's able to split a workload.
What remains to be seen is if Deantre Lewis can be that man to spell him. At times in 2013, Lewis showed flashes of his freshman year form. Those instances were fleeting and usually followed up by a bonehead mistake but by the eye test, he certainly appeared to be Arizona State's most dynamic ball carrier at times, even more so than Grice.
But as Lewis continued to put the ball on the ground, it was clear the coaching staff was losing confidence in him as the season wore on. After fumbling in back-to-back games, Lewis was only called upon to carry the ball 13 times over the final six games. And considering that Grice was gone for three of those, it seems as if Lewis might be back at square one when it comes to fighting for playing time next season.
Who is Returning in 2014?
D.J. Foster: 14 games, 93 attempts, 501 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns, 63 catches, 653 yards, four receiving touchdowns
Deantre Lewis: 13 games, 58 attempts, 301 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, nine catches, 107 yards
Who is leaving?
Marion Grice (senior): 11 games, 191 attempts, 996 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 50 catches, 438 yards, six receiving touchdowns
R.J. Robinson (senior): nine games, 29 attempts, 114 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, one catch, seven yards