December 13, 2008

Season Review: RB

When the season began, everyone knew Arizona State didn't have a star running back and the hope was that a running back-by-committee system would work.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, it didn't.

Coach Dennis Erickson gave three different guys, Dimitri Nance, Shaun DeWitty and Keegan Herring a chance to shine in 2008, but none played well enough to distinguish themselves from the others. All three guys were mediocre at best.

ASU finished the season averaging just 89.1 yards per game, ranking it ninth in the Pac-10 and 113th in the nation.

Granted ASU's running backs were running behind a below-average offensive line, but the Sun Devils only had one run of more than 30 yards all season.

Also, the running backs weren't very involved in the passing game. Nance was the only back with double digit catches.

In August, it was obvious this season's rushing attack wouldn't be near where it was in 2007, but it appeared the ground game would at least be able to keep opposing defenses honest.

Instead, opponents could drop seven or even eight men into coverage because they knew ASU struggled running the football.

The lack of success on the ground was something Erickson and the whole offense talked about throughout the season. Changes in personnel were made but the problems persisted.

As a team, the Sun Devils only passed the 100-yard mark five times, and there were only two games in which an individual running back had more than 100 yards.

In ASU's final two games of the season, the Sun Devils combined for just 59 yards on the ground.

Many believed Herring, the only senior running back, was going to have a standout season as the featured back in 2008. One publication even named him a pre-season first-team All Pac-10 selection.

That didn't happen.

Herring had a solid fall camp, but then he injured his right hamstring just four days before the first game of the season. The injury forced him to miss three of the team's first four games.

Then, even when Herring returned to full strength his production very limited until he exploded for 144 yards on 22 carries at Washington.

Throughout his career at ASU, Herring's trademark was his ability to take any handoff to the house - he was known as a homerun hitter. However, that ability never showed up this season as Herring's longest run only went for 29 yards.

Herring finished the season with only 401 yards and three touchdowns, both career lows.

He finished his ASU career ranked ninth on the school's all-time rushing list.

Nance had a roller coaster ride of a season. He went from featured back, to one of many in the mix, to the bench, then ended the season just like the rest of ASU's rushers: in a funk.

Nance was the Sun Devils' top rusher in 2008, but that's not saying much. It would be generous to say his overall season performance was below average.

Nance played in 11 games, started the first six of the year and had 410 rushing yards on the season to go along with three scores. Those three touchdowns however, came in the first two games of the year.

Throughout the year Nance was plagued with ball security issues, which could be a result of torn thumb ligaments the junior suffered against UNLV.

He fumbled the ball five times this season, and three of those times the opponent recovered. Nance even had a three-game stretch (against Georgia, Cal and USC) in which he had a fumble in every game.

Nance's best game yardage-wise came against UNLV when he had 92 yards on 20 carries, but his best game impact-wise was against Washington State. Nance did not see the field in the first half against the Cougars, but he rattled off 47 second-half yards and sparked the ASU offense in the victory.

DeWitty was a bit of a question mark when the season began as the junior was coming off of his redshirt season. Also, he was injured for much of fall camp with a nagging hamstring issue.

However, when DeWitty was healthy during camp he was noticeably improved.

Earlier in his career, the 6-foot-2, 227-pounder ran very upright but he was running much lower when he had the ball in camp. That continued throughout the year.

DeWitty's season got off to a slow start as he missed the first game of the year, and had just 78 yards through the team's first seven contests.

Then against Oregon State, DeWitty received his first start of the season, second of his career, and made the most of his opportunity rushing for 110 yards against the Beavers.

DeWitty started the next three games, but injured his back against UCLA and was unable to play against rival UA.

He finished the season with a career-high 270 yards on the ground, but DeWitty did not have any touchdowns in 2008.

Ryan Bass was the No. 4 running back on the team, but he saw very limited action and some questioned why Erickson didn't redshirt the true freshman.

Bass played in only seven games and had 26 carries for 120 yards.

Bass may hit the hole quicker than any other running back ASU has, but he had well-documented fumbling issues during fall camp which could have been one reason Bass' carries were scarce.

However, Bass only fumbled the ball once all season long, and that fumble was recovered by ASU.

Athletically, Bass is very similar to Herring, but he's a little thicker, having added over 15 pounds already since arriving in Tempe. He could become a big play threat out of the backfield in the future, and he will almost certainly see more reps next season.

The only other running back to receive any carries in 2008 was junior Jarrell Woods. Woods played in two games and had six carries for 19 yards.

Surprisingly, ASU's running back of the future may be James Morrison.

The walk-on from Phoenix Saint Mary's had an outstanding fall camp and at times looked like the best back on the roster.

However, because of the perceived depth at the position, Erickson decided to redshirt the 5-foot-11, 220-pound freshman.

Morrison was playing well on the scout team before breaking his ankle Sept. 17.

Morrison is expected to be ready for spring practice and it has been decided by Erickson that Morrison will be on scholarship beginning this spring.

Grade: D The running backs were perhaps the most disappointing group on the team in 2008. While they were running behind a poor offensive line, they didn't even do a good enough job to keep opposing defenses honest. Nobody in this group stood out this season and it had to be disappointing for Herring to have his worst season in Tempe as a senior. However, Herring is the only senior back on the team and Morrison appears to be the real thing. Morrison and Bass could possibly be an impressive lightning-and-thunder combination next year if they have the blocking up front.

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