ASU football's offense looking to build upon foundation against USC

The Sun Devils have answered some questions on the offensive side of the ball, and will try to get those involved in conference play

Through the first three games of the season, ASU football's offense has yet to meet, let alone exceed preseason hype and expectations.

Injuries have been an inhibiting factor, as sophomore running back Kalen Ballage became ill with mononucleosis and the Sun Devils have shuffled offensive linemen in and out of the lineup. Gump Hayes and Tim White have each dealt with injuries as well, limiting ASU's ability to stretch the field.

Plenty of new faces did not gel as expected, as redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien and White are still working their way into timing with redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici.

With a tilt against No. 18 USC on the horizon, there is still clearly plenty of work to be done to recreate an offensive attack that put together 541 total yards in a 38-34 win over the Trojans last season. In the game, Bercovici was 27-for-45 for 510 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winning Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Gary Chambers said that facing USC's scheme last season can only help Bercovici, who will be making his seventh career college start on Saturday. 

"I think just being out there more is going to make him comfortable," Chambers said. "The situation he was in last year was kind of forced on him, and he made the most of it and took it well. This year, he's the captain. He's leading us there and now, it's just going out there and being comfortable playing football."

Since tallying those big numbers last season, Bercovici has only exceeded 300 passing yards once (317 yards vs. New Mexico last week).

That said, there are some glimmers of something more when it comes to ASU's offense.

One thing that has aided Bercovici in the passing game this season has been the progression of the running game behind sophomore Demario Richard, who compiled 255 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico last week. 

Senior center Nick Kelly said the development of the running game opens up the entire offense for the Sun Devils.

"It makes Demario a threat, which he is," Kelly said. "It also makes the o-line look good. He's a great running back, and it's awesome that we're getting Kalen Ballage back this week too. He's going to be a big help in the backfield. Gump Hayes is going to be back too, so we're getting all of our running backs back in action all healthy."

Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said much of Bercovici's success against New Mexico came from an unexpected source — his legs.

"I think he really established himself as a runner and forced some teams to have to account for him," Norvell said. "If he does that, I think it brings a whole other level to this offense, and I think he's definitely improving...if they don't account for him, he's going to take advantage of it with his legs. If they do account for him, then he's going to take the ball and get it to the guys out on the perimeter."

Kelly reiterated that the key to the offense is tempo, which is often reliant upon efficiency in the passing game and the ability to consistently get yards in the run game.

"We're always looking for that high-tempo offense and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it just depends on the play," Kelly said. "We're always shooting for the high-tempo offense that we love to play."

Chambers said he doesn't think ASU's offense is nearly as productive as it should be.

"There's no ceiling," Chambers said. "We're always getting better. We're never going to settle, and we don't plan on it."

Practice Notes:

- Ballage was back in a green non-contact jersey after appearing in maroon on Tuesday as a safety precaution as he recovers from mononucleosis. He did not appear to be limited in any way during the media viewing portion of practice.

The rest in green were: redshirt junior wide receiver Fred Gammage, redshirt freshman wide receiver Jalen Harvey, freshman offensive lineman Dillon Faamatau, redshirt junior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola (limited), junior wide receiver Cam Smith, redshirt sophomore tight end Grant Martinez and sophomore safety Armand Perry.

- Redshirt sophomore linebacker Marcus Ball was not at practice for the second straight day.

- Sophomore linebacker DJ Calhoun had a club on his left hand at practice, but appeared to be a full participant.

- Lucien, who Graham said was "doubtful" to play against USC with a left knee injury, was in maroon again Wednesday. He did not participate in the 11-on-11 session open to the media.

- ASU's offense pulled a play out of Ole Miss's accidental playbook after Bercovici found redshirt sophomore Ellis Jefferson for an odd touchdown during 11-on-11 play. Bercovici had pressure in his face and threw into coverage, where senior cornerback Kweishi Brown tipped the ball in the air right towards the running Jefferson for the score.

- Graham spent time talking to freshman defensive back Kareem Orr and redshirt senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington after practice Wednesday.

Related Links:

ASU football's Graham: Running back Kalen Ballage could return vs. USC

ASU football's Jordan Simone a steady bastion of leadership in youthful secondary


Reach the reporter at fardaya@asu.edu or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.

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