D.J. Foster leads the Sun Devils in all-purpose yards (371 rushing, 454 receiving), as well as yards per carry for players over 30 carries (5.5) and yards per catch (15.7).
The ASU coaching staff defines an “explosive play” as rushes of 12 yards or more and receptions of 16 yards or more, and the former Scottsdale Saguaro standout leads the team in such plays with 28 total (17 receiving and 11 rushing).
Sun Devil Head Coach Todd Graham said ever since he first watched film on Foster, it was impossible not to witness his jaw dropping ability.
"I watched him score ten touchdowns in one game,” Graham recalled. “I was pretty impressed. My first impression on film was, 'Wow, this guy's a special player.' The dynamics of his ability to run the ball and his ability to catch the ball are special. He's not a very big guy but he's a really good inside runner.
“He's a complete back. On film, I thought, 'This is a guy we have to get.'
The Sun Devil skipper wasn’t only attracted to Foster’s playing abilities, but also to his personality and character.
“He lives his life like the values of our program,” Graham explained. “He's a guy that's all in and is buying in. I think he is becoming a leader as a true freshman and that's pretty hard to do. I watch how he responds to things that he's doing. I watch how his teammates respond to him.
“The thing about D.J. Foster is that I knew he was fast, I knew he was dynamic, and I knew he was talented, but the toughness of that kid is something that has really exceeded my expectations. He has that about him and people follow him. He doesn't say a lot. He's a man of few words but he's a guy that's developing into being a leader. You can see that his teammates gravitate to him."
Marion Grice leads ASU with nine touchdowns (four rushing, five receiving), and three of those scores came against UCLA last Saturday. 12 of the 80 junior’s touches have gone for scores and he’s ranked third in the conference with 9.0 points scored per game.
"He's done a lot,” Gram commented. “Marion is a very elusive receiver out of the backfield and he has great hands. (Running backs) Coach Porter has done a great job with those guys. Obviously that group has a whole lot of productivity. When you look at him, D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall, those guys do a lot of different things. They work extremely hard out there and Coach Porter has done a great job developing that and it is just part of what we do."
Graham feels that is no coincidence that the running backs have been carrying the load offensively, since some his prior teams executed his scheme in a similar manner.
"We have always utilized our running backs since 2006,” Graham noted. “They have always caught a lot of balls out of the backfield and we have done a lot of things to utilize them. Obviously, the three-back is a statement within our offense. The tight end position, the move tight end position, has always been one of our top scorers.
“At Tulsa ours was one of the top scorers in the history of the school, so obviously it doesn't surprise me. It has been adaptive to the guys we have and I think (Offensive Coordinator) Coach Norvell has done a nice job at doing that and Coach Porter has developed those guys to get the ball to our best guys."
As frustrating as the 45-43 loss to UCLA was, Graham feels as if his team’s morale hasn’t sunken knowing that there is still plenty for them to play for.
"These guys right now have a great sense of their purpose,” Graham remarked. “We watched film yesterday and they understand where we are at. This thing is wide open and we have to look at nothing past just going up and trying to beat the top-ten ranked team in the country at Oregon State. That is our focus right now.
“Our guys had a great spirit and a great attitude, just like they have had for me all year long. I know they are going to go up there for me and play hard and prepare to win and that is what we have to do. That is the great thing about things in the south right now, it is wide open and no one is sitting any better than we are. We still have an opportunity and I liked our guys' attitude and approach yesterday.
“We were down 17 at Missouri and we came back. We were down nine against UCLA and came back. I'm really proud of how these guys respond and how hard they're playing for us. They've never let up one bit. We're coming off way too many mental mistakes on defense. We have to get those things corrected. We have a chance to redeem ourselves this week. That's what is great about this conference.”
Graham is naturally cognizant of the challenge that lies ahead playing the 13th ranked Beavers on the road, a team that he feel is well coached and presents one of the tougher defensive squads ASU will face.
"Their defensive line is a strength for them,” Graham said. “It starts up front and they are very sound about what they are doing. They have stayed pretty healthy and haven't had too many guys get hurt, so they are pretty solid there. Really impressed with how well they cover in space in the secondary. They are not going to make stupid mistakes and they are very, very well coached on both sides of the football. They are very sound in what they do and as good as coached team as we've played."
Much of ASU’s struggles on defense last week were due to the absence of defensive linemen Will Sutton, who was held out with a bone bruise on his knee and Junior Onyeali who left early in the second quarter of the UCLA contest with a shoulder injury. As of Monday afternoon the availability of both for the Oregon State game was unknown.
As a result, Mike Pennel, who served a three-week suspension for not meeting team standards, saw his first extensive action of the season.
"I thought he did a good job,” Graham said. “I think Mike played around twenty-something plays. We had a lot of guys that didn't have a lot of plays but I think Mike did a good job. I thought he was out of his gap one time but he had a great attitude. He was encouraging his teammates. He's really done a great job since he's been back.
“I was really proud of him, along with a lot of the other guys, and how they were battling.”
Fellow lineman, Davon Coleman, was suspended for a good portion of spring practice for the same reason as Pennel was earlier this season, but was able to correct those issues in the off-season and being a significant contributor all season.
"If you've been around Davon much, he's a charismatic person,” Graham stated. “I went over to his locker after the UCLA game and he had tears rolling down his cheeks. It means something to him. I'm very proud of how he's played. He played two different positions and he's playing fullback on offense. He's a guy I'm really proud of.
“You want to do this job and you want to impact people's lives. He's a guy that I can see how he's transformed himself. I'm really proud of him. He's a tough guy too. He's playing through a lot of pain."
One positive aspect to come out of the loss to the Bruins was the Sun Devils’ field goal kicking. This special teams aspect which was much maligned for the entire season, showed some glimpses of a hopeful turnaround. Against UCLA walk-on Jon Mora was perfect 3 of 3 on his field goal attempts allowing his team a chance for a comeback.
"I could see after he made the first field goal he was pretty relieved,” Graham commented, “I could sense that. He is really a talented kicker, really is, and he just has to settle in a little bit. Making those three field goals will definitely give him so confidence and hopefully create some consistency there. He did a good job, really did."