Now that is what we expected from D.J. Foster.
In Arizona State's three-game winning streak to open up the 2014 season, Foster was a human highlight reel at running back for the Sun Devils. The junior from Scottsdale rushed for over half a thousand yards in the victories, totaling 510 yards on the ground to go along with five touchdowns. Amidst Foster's torrent start to the season, Heisman talk surrounding the running back began to swirl in Tempe. But, after the injury to Taylor Kelly in the third of those initial games, on the road at Colorado, Foster cooled down significantly, failing to reach 100 yards on the ground in any of Arizona State's ensuing conference games.
While Kelly was kept out of action with a broken bone in his foot, Mike Bercovici stepped in at quarterback and the rushing workload for Foster dipped. The junior 14 carries in the three games Kelly missed and barely eclipsed the century mark in rushing over the course of Kelly's absence, rushing for a total of 104 yards in the three games Bercovici started. WIth Bercovici boasting a better throwing arm than Kelly, the majority of the offense was through the air, and Foster's touches on the ground took a toll. Foster was able to contribute in the passing game, catching seven balls for 92 yards and a touchdown in the October 18th win over Stanford, but the running back's totals on the ground significantly dropped.
Even when Kelly returned to face Washington and Utah Foster was kept bottled up by opposing defenses. Foster managed only 36 yards in Seattle and 53 against the Utes, although Arizona State was able to escape with narrow victories.
Finally on Saturday, it was Foster's turn to dominate again. Earning a healthy 21 touches against a staunch Irish defensive line, Foster made the most of his workload as he rushed for 120 yards on the day. With Kelly continuing to make strides towards being the quarterback he was pre-injury, Foster's opportunities continued as well. Kelly's ability to tote the ball on the ground and run opened up consistent space for Foster, as he carved up Notre Dame en route to his best game since Kelly's injury.
Now that is not what we expected from Demario Richard.
The true freshman running back from Palmdale was slicing and dicing his way through high school defenses at this time last year as a 16-year-old. Now, the 17-year-old running back is making his presence felt in Tempe, and he continued his breakout freshman season with another solid performance on Saturday.
Like many players on Arizona State, Richard did not receive a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. On Saturday, he made the Irish pay for ignoring him in high school, as the 5'10", 203 pound back rushed for 50 yards on 13 carries, including a first-quarter touchdown plunge that put the Sun Devils up 17-3. Richard also made plays in the passing game, with a huge 40-yard catch-and-run that put Arizona State in position at the Notre Dame 4-yard line to re-up its lead to double digits. Having set up the goal-to-go situation, Richard got the call on 1st-and-goal and caught a four-yard pass from Kelly to extend the lead back to a safer 41-31, giving the Sun Devils a ten-point cushion with 4:30 left.
It may have been the defense that stole the show on Saturday, but the return of Arizona State's lethal rushing attack paced the Sun Devils on Saturday in a game they nearly blew. It may not be exactly what we expected, but Arizona State lives to play another day.