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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ASU offense finds strength on ground after injuries in passing game

    Arizona State’s high-powered passing attack has become Arizona State’s high-powered rushing attack.

    A school traditionally associated with airing it out (see: Jake Plummer, Andrew Walter), ASU has found sudden success on the ground from the legs of running back Ryan Torain, who’s third in the conference with 84.5 yards per game.

    “”Since Delvon Flowers my first year (in 2001), we’ve had kind of a string of backs in the 185-195 pound range,”” said ASU head coach Dirk Koetter. “”And as we looked around the (Pacific 10 Conference), we felt like the successful running teams, one thing they had was a bigger back. It didn’t have to be their feature back, but at least a bigger back.””

    Enter the 6-foot, 215-pound Torain, who gives the Sun Devils a change-of-pace from 5-foot-10, 186-pound speedster Keegan Herring.

    Though Herring entered the season as the team’s starter after a record-setting freshman campaign, Torain’s signing out of Butler (Kan.) Community College this past offseason gave Koetter that bigger back he’d been seeking.

    And now, six touchdowns and 930 yards later, Torain leads an ASU rushing attack that ranks second in the conference.

    “”They have a lot more balance this year with their running game,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”I’m really impressed with Ryan Torain. I think he’s a very complete back.””

    After years upon years of being near the top in the Pac-10 in passing offense, 2006 has been a stark change for the Sun Devils, who now rank seventh in the category with just 196.7 yards per game thanks in large part to injuries that have decimated the wideout and offensive line positions.

    First it was receiver Rudy Burgess, who suffered a concussion Sept. 9 at home against Nevada (he returned the next week at Colorado). Two weeks later, right tackle Andrew Carnahan tore his right anterior cruciate ligament.

    Wideout Terry Richardson then strained a right knee ligament in practice Oct. 19, and right tackle Steve Berg (torn right ACL, Oct. 28) soon followed suit.

    Then, Nov. 4 at Oregon State, wideout Nate Kimbrough tore his ACL. That same game, Burgess suffered a high ankle sprain.

    “”I think this was a real talented team at the beginning of the season,”” said ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter. “”But who are our most talented guys? They haven’t been playing. They’ve been hurt or they’ve had things happen.””

    Of the bunch, only Burgess and Richardson are expected to return today. But the duo could prove to be exactly the spark the Sun Devils have been searching for.

    Richardson’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown essentially won last year’s Territorial Cup for the Sun Devils, and before his injury this season, the senior had been averaging 33.6 yards per kickoff return.

    Burgess has been shifted between offense and defense this season because of injuries in the defensive secondary, but like Richardson, his impact could likely be felt in the return game, an area that ASU already leads the Pac-10.

    “”They’ve been through a lot of guys offensively,”” Stoops said. “”You have to look at their receivers, their injuries. That’s very disruptive.””

    Even when considering the injuries, Carpenter has been much maligned this season in Tempe after a highly-publicized incident in which former ASU quarterback Sam Keller was named starting quarterback following fall camp and Koetter subsequently changed his mind to give Carpenter the reins.

    Keller, who would have been a senior this season, went on to transfer to Nebraska, and Carpenter has since completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,118 yards and 18 touchdowns this year. But it’s his 13 interceptions that have fans questioning Koetter’s choice in quarterbacks.

    “”Expectations for Rudy were very high – by him, by us, by everybody – based on what he did last year as a redshirt freshman,”” Koetter said. “”We’ve got to realize that Rudy’s not playing with the same cast of characters around him – with the (injuries to the) O-line and the receivers – that he did last year.

    “”From a protection stand point, and from a route-running and receiving standpoint, it’s been tough for Rudy to be consistent, because he hasn’t had consistency around him.””

    With Burgess and Richardson back in the lineup, Carpenter may find that consistency today.

    “”They always score points, they always have that capability,”” said UA linebacker Spencer Larsen. “”They haven’t done so as much this year as they have in the past, but I think they’re just as explosive.

    “”They can hit their stride at any time.””

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