Foster’s big-play ability makes ASU offense more dangerous than ever

ASU running back D.J. Foster rushed for a career-high 147 yards and three touchdowns against Weber State.

TEMPE, Ariz. — D.J. Foster expected to finish in the end zone each time he touched the ball in Arizona State’s season-opening win over Weber State.

"That’s just how I think," Foster said. "I expect a touchdown every time I touch the ball."

Foster scored on two of his first 15 touches against Weber State, reaching the end zone on short runs from a few yards out. But it was his 19th touch — a career-best 57-yard touchdown run — that showed what the junior offers the Sun Devils’ offense.

"I was just being patient and I finally got a chance to make a move and I just tried to make something out of it," Foster explained.

As Foster takes on a role of featured back for the first time at ASU, his ability to change games on one play gives the high-powered offense a dynamic it lacked the past two seasons, and his versatility makes the ASU offense perhaps more dangerous than ever.

Not that Marion Grice, ASU’s primary back the past two years, wasn’t capable of big, game-changing plays. Foster just seems to have a different gear that distinguishes him from Grice.

"Just really different backs," coach Todd Graham said. "D.J. is a home run hitter. You saw the one (against Weber State). Any time he breaks, he gets past, he’s going to go to the house."

Added offensive coordinator Mike Norvell: "Marion was a great back, but D.J. is different. I think you see the explosiveness he has. Any time he touches the ball he can go to the end zone."

ASU vs. NEW MEXICO
When:
4 p.m. Saturday
Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor)
Radio: KTAR 92.3 FM (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst)

There is no disagreement: Put the ball in Foster’s hands and there’s a good chance he’ll get you six points. ASU’s last four games to support the notion.

Foster stepped in as the No. 1 back for ASU’s final three games last season after Grice was injured. From then to now, Foster has three games of at least 100 rushing yards and an average of 116.3 yards per game. He has seven rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in that stretch.

In ASU’s 45-14 win over Weber State, Foster rushed for a career-high 147 yards and three touchdowns.

"He’s on a good streak right now," Norvell said. "He knows he’s the guy. That’s something where you see that confidence. When he’s on the field, there’s no big eyes. He’s been there, he’s done it, and he’s had a lot of great success doing it."

Foster downplays the idea that knowing he’s "the guy" makes him run more confidently. He insists his motivation is making the most of the time he has left at ASU and being part of a winning program.

But Foster surely knows the individual potential he possesses. It’s what got him to this point. Interestingly, the path he has taken at ASU has mirrored the one he took at Scottsdale Saguaro High School.

In his first two years at Saguaro, Foster played receiver and quarterback as he gained size. Then when the starting running back got hurt, he stepped in.

"The rest was history from there," Foster said. "It’s crazy how it’s really the same story. I’m trying to just stay on the same path and keep working hard."

In his first two seasons at ASU, Foster was more of a receiver, typically starting in the slot. In the two seasons combined, he caught 101 passes for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing 195 times for 994 yards and eight touchdowns.

Now 15-20 pounds heavier than when he arrived at ASU, Foster again takes on the role of lead back. He believes his style now is more physical than when he was a freshman, which sometimes makes Graham uneasy.

"He likes running over people instead of running around ’em," Graham said. "Sometimes I’d like him to just run around ’em. But I like his mindset. He’s my kind of tailback. He is an intense competitor, and I like that about him."

Foster admits he likes running opponents over and sometimes lets his instincts take over in those moments but also says he’s gotten smarter since taking on the No. 1 job, finding the right mix of physicality and finesse.

"When it’s time to go and be physical, I know," Foster said. "When it’s time to just kind of not take the unnecessary hits, I know. I understand now that being in that main position I’ve got to take care of my body as much as I can."

Foster’s new role as the lead back doesn’t mean, though, that he’s done being a receiver. He had four catches against Weber State, and Norvell says the balance going forward will typically depend on what defenses show. He’ll feel good about the offense if Foster is getting 20-30 touches per game regardless of how they’re split.

And as much as ASU likes Foster as a running back, his ability as a receiver is too great to take away from the offense.

"As a receiver he’s a real challenge to deal with out of the backfield," Graham said. "I think he’s much harder to handle probably than what Marion was out of the backfield. Marion’s strength was his counter running and his perimeter running. I think D.J. can do it all — inside, outside."

Grice, too, made plenty of big plays as a receiver, but Norvell points again to Foster’s explosiveness as the difference between the backs.

"He just has so much versatility in what he can do and just his explosiveness makes him so dangerous," Norvell said.

Graham has expressed belief that Foster could rush for more than 1,000 yards this season while also racking up 1,000 receiving yards. Foster says he doesn’t think about specific statistical goals — "I just really want to score every time I touch the ball," he says — but enjoys those expectations.

Norvell doesn’t set stat-based expectations for Foster either. He’s plenty content to just watch his top playmaker take the ball and make something happen.

"I don’t put any limitations on him and what he can do," Norvell said. "It’s just making the most of every opportunity to get the ball in his hands and do what he does. I know those explosive plays are going to come.

"I don’t have a set number in my mind of what I want him to do, but if he stays on track doing what he did the other night I think we’ll be in good shape."

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