Oregon’s highly anticipated visit to Tempe on Thursday night has the potential to be a shootout.
Each team possesses a prolific offense that averages more than 40 points per game, but if Thursday’s Pac-12 contest is going to be high scoring, both teams’ running backs need to produce just as they have been all season.
The Ducks are averaging 302 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation. The Sun Devils meanwhile are averaging 188 yards per game on the ground.
“If you want to watch great running backs, this is a great game to come watch,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “I think six of the best running backs in America (are going to be) on the same field. … When you take those six guys, their three running backs and our three, there can’t be guys much better.”
The six backs Graham is referring to include Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall as well as ASU’s Cameron Marshall, D.J. Foster and Marion Grice.
All three of the Sun Devils’ running backs bring different skill sets to the table, and Graham thoroughly enjoys the versatility.
“What I like about our running backs is the diversity among them,” Graham said. “Obviously, D.J. Foster is dynamic (running) inside, outside (and) catching the ball. Cameron Marshall is physical, just a downhill physical runner. Marion has got the speed and breakaway ability.”
The trio of Sun Devil running backs has accounted for 19 of ASU’s 30 total touchdowns. Grice, a junior college transfer, leads the team with nine total touchdowns (five rushing and four receiving).
Across the field, the Oregon running backs are just as, if not more, explosive and that has not escaped the attention of the ASU defense.
“Those guys are all dynamic players,” redshirt junior cornerback Osahon Irabor said. “They are really explosive game changers. We are well aware of the talent that they have and we have to make sure we are making tackles in the open field.”
The Ducks are leading the conference in rushing and have rushed for more than 225 yards in all six of their games this season.
Barner, Thomas and Marshall have combined for 22 total touchdowns and are all averaging more than five yards per carry.
ASU has yet to solidify the kicking position, but Graham said redshirt sophomore Alex Garoutte would be the Sun Devils’ placekicker if the team played Tuesday night.
“If we decided today, it would be Alex,” Graham said.
Garoutte is a perfect 29-of-29 on point-after-touchdowns this season, but is six of 10 on field goals.
Junior Jon Mora, also competing for the starting job, has made one of two field goal attempts this season.
While Graham would prefer to kick extra points instead of field goals, he knows the kicking situation need to be solidified sooner rather than later.
“We’ve got to get that where somebody steps forward,” Graham said. “We can’t miss extra points and field goals.”
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