Jared Cooper

Coop’s Corner: Run Devils Run!

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The running game looks to have reemerged for the Arizona State offense over the past several weeks and could be the difference maker going into the final stretch of the regular season.

He may not be the biggest guy on the team. He is the youngest guy on the Sun Devils, but he has the mental maturity of a veteran. A four-star recruit out of Palmdale High School in California, freshman running back, Demario Richard, is 17 years old. Richard chose the Sun Devils over several other big schools including Michigan State, Nebraska, and West Virginia.

Richard brings strength, toughness, and quickness to the Sun Devil run game and has been continuing to receive opportunities as the season progresses. His breakout performance this year came in the overtime win against Utah as he rushed for 116 yards on 14 carries, none of which went for negative yards. Although it may have taken several games to see a big performance, it takes time to see success. “I was just being patient, waiting for my time to come,” said Richard.

In the last game against Notre Dame, Richard ran for 51 yards and a touchdown, which helped the Sun Devils to victory by a score of 55 to 31, accomplishing a feat ASU failed at three times prior. The Fighting Irish have a rich history with 11 national titles and are looked at as a national powerhouse in terms of college football. Looking back on the big win, ASU running backs coach, Bo Graham said, “Going up against a team like that measures where we’re at and the work that we have put in the past few years.”

Richard’s vast improvement is not going unnoticed, and he is consistently receiving more playing time every week. Not only has he matured mentally, but Graham described this young back as a natural runner. “He’s just picked up things very well and been able to play multiple positions,” said Graham. “I think that’s why he’s been able to produce a little bit more.”

Aside from Richard, the offense’s running game as a whole continues to improve as the season progresses. Now nine games into the season, the Sun Devils rank 44th in the nation with an average of 192 rushing yards per game. With only three games remaining, Graham explained that the younger backs are learning the running back position more, making the group and lineups more versatile. “I think young guys have come on and collectively as a group we keep pulling on that rope and everyone’s been producing,” said Graham.

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The top rusher and leader of the running back group is junior, DJ Foster. On the season thus far, Foster has 821 yards and six touchdowns on 141 attempts while also catching 39 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns. As the main man in the backfield, Foster takes on a leadership role for the young backs helping them develop as players and teammates. For Richard, he tries to gain as much as he can from such an experienced player, but it’s not always football related. “He’s always telling me to keep my head up and keep my head in the books off the field,” said Richard. “Basically, like coach Graham said, another mentor to me.”

With the toughest part of the schedule over, the Sun Devils now face three more Pac-12 games to finish the season, with their first coming this weekend in Corvallis, Oregon against the Oregon State Beavers. Oregon State enters the game on a four game losing streak and in last place in the Pac-12 North division. The Beavers strongest aspect of their team is their passing offense as it is ranked 30th in the nation with 280.4 passing yards per game, only four spots lower than ASU (383.7 per game).

The Sun Devils running game could have a big day Saturday against the Beavers. When examining tape throughout the week, coach Graham said that they like to play a lot of zone, making them more of a conservative defense. This could allow for less men in the box for the Beaver defense, giving ASU a large upside in the run game. “What we got to do is take advantage of our offensive line’s physicality,” said Graham. “(We need to) do what we do the best and hopefully that’ll get us over the hump.”

One factor that could play a role in this weekend’s contest is mother nature. When ASU played Washington a couple weeks ago, the wind throughout the game and rain prior had an effect on the matchup. With the Sun Devils heading up north, the weather forecast predicts a cold twenty-five degrees around game time, a large difference than a typical ASU home game. However, Graham said that although it will be chilly, they are prepared for any obstacle thrown at them, “No matter what the situation, we got to adapt to it, and overcome it.”

The Sun Devils could be ranked in the Top 5 with a win on Saturday at Oregon State but coach Bo Graham has another thing on his mind. “We’re happy with it, but, we got to go win this Pac-12 Championship.”

Saturday’s game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Oregon State Beavers will be at 8:45 pm on ESPN from Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.

About Jared Cooper

Jared Cooper

Jared is an Intern this season for ASU Devils Den. He is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications studying Broadcast Journalism with a focus in sports broadcasting. In addition to interning at ASU Devils Den, he works in the Marketing Department for the Phoenix Suns. Jared is a former Sparky the Sun Devil, ASU's mascot, from 2011 to 2013.

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