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ASU Football Season Positional Grades: Running backs

The running back corps greatly improved over the course of the season and in key games provided the foundation of ASU's offense. See how the running backs graded out this season.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The one-two punch. Thunder and lightening. Terms to describe the Arizona State running back duo that, when healthy at the same time, punched holes through rigid defensive lines and found open space to break down the field and bulldoze its way into the end zone.

Sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage took over the backfield after D.J. Foster moved to receiver following Jaelen Strong's departure to the NFL. The selfless shift was also due to the coaching staff wanting to field a team of its highest skill position players on the field at the same time while filling Stong's ominous void.

This was the fourth time in the last four years that control of the backfield switched into somebody else's hands. In 2012 it was Cameron Marshall, in 2013 it was Marion Grice (both who went on to play in the NFL), followed by Foster in 2014 and Richard who started in the season opener against Texas A&M in 2015.

While it was slow rolling in rushing yards at the beginning of the season, in large part due to Ballage's three-game absence from mononucleosis, offensive output picked up once the duo was healthy, and yards on the ground started piling up once one tailback's play began to flow with the other's.

We hand out grades for each player who had an outing in the backfield in 2015 below.

Demario Richard: A-

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Palmdale, Calif., native had another statistically impressive season. He did struggle with turning the ball over, however he made up for it in his shoulders-down, take-no-prisoners running approach that kept the chains moving.

At the top of the depth chart, Richard was able to finish with 606 more yards than his total last season on 115 more carries, (last season he had 84 attempts for 487 rushing yards) accumulating to 1,093 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 199 attempts.

Richard sat out against Utah after an injury he sustained against Colorado, but he reminded ASU fans of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield and break downfield in the New Mexico contest where he the the ASU record for receiving yards by a running back. Richard caught four passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 93 yards, he also added 104 yards on the ground.

While Richard did have his record-setting moments he also had four games where he rushed for under 80 yards (73 for Texas A&M, 79 for UCLA, 21 for Colorado and 45 for Washington).

He also fumbled three times for two turnovers. However despite that, Baby Beast Mode built on his breakout freshman season, accruing 1355 all-purpose yards and was the most reliable running back in the backfield for ASU this season.

Kalen Ballage: B

Think of Kalen Ballage as a wrecking ball. He's New England Patriot Rob-Gronkowski-esque with his ability to break tackles, keep his legs moving and propel his body downfield while everybody and their mother is hanging on and trying to strip the ball from him. If you don't believe me, let me remind you of this play:

Ballage racked up 651 rushing yards this season with four touchdowns and was pivotal in both the Oregon and Arizona games, where he collected 127 and 110 yards, respectively, on the ground. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound bulldozer used a physical rushing style to create explosive plays, such as his 48-yard touchdown run where he shook off four would-be Washington tacklers to seal the comeback victory for ASU.

With 667 all purpose yards, Ballage is to Richard as Richard was to Foster in the 2014 season. While Ballage was disadvantaged at the start of the season with a long bout with mono that caused him to miss three games and lose a lot of his weight he had worked to put on in the offseason, Ballage came back strong and provided the speed and physicality as well as a mismatch for linebackers in his stocky frame that allowed him to oftentimes beat the secondary.

D.J. Foster-B+

In his newfound time at receiver, Foster quickly switched over from the perimeter to the slot as the Sun Devil offense found more efficiency in Bercovici's quick, short passes when there was so-oftentimes a collapsing pocket.

However wIth Ballage and Richard missing a total of four games combined this season, Foster was called upon to take some handoffs in the backfield as well as provide some momentum to keep ASU's offense rolling in times of stagnancy.

Foster's 276 total rushing yards are sprinkled throughout all 12 games this season, as Foster's main role remained as a wide receiver. While he had a much smaller impact at running back this season, Foster will leave his impression in the backfield as he graduates, totaling 2,389 rushing yards in his four years with the Sun Devils.

And fittingly his last rushing touchdown of the regular season, the only one in 2015, would come on senior day against Arizona. Overall, Foster did what the team needed him to do in the backfield, and no matter the numbers, his insurmountable leadership is something that can not be replaced.

De'Chavon 'Gump' Hayes-INC

Hayes stared the season out in competition for reps at running back and when production in games just didn't pan out, he saw most of his time swing to special teams and was even thrown into the mix at cornerback in multiple practices.

Despite lots of preseason praise over what Hayes could add to this running back corps, the redshirt junior and transfer from Lackawanna college rushed for only six yards on seven attempts in the season opener.

He did collect 162 yards on nine kick returns and 143 yards on 17 punt returns to help ASU on special teams. However his production was sub-par compared to what the others offered and for that reason he only saw attempts the backfield in six of the twelve games he played this season.

Final Grade-B+

Overall, Ballage and Richard in conjunction with each other, along with spurts of momentum provided by Foster in times of need, allowed ASU to accrue even more rushing yards than it did in 2014 with 2,223.

Ballage battled his way back from injury to pose a force that many teams' secondaries could not contain, and Richard made history with his ability to double as a receiver out of the backfield.

These elements combined provided a positional group that improved as the season went on and developed into one of the most-relied upon groups as the Sun Devils crept down the stretch this season. Together these running backs will only get better, and their level of production will be one of the deciding factors in ASU's ability to pull off the win over West Virginia in the New Year's Cactus Bowl.

Now, will it be a member of this group that will be awarded MVP in the bowl game and make history in the process as Richard did last season?

We'll get back to you on that one in 2016.