TEMPE, Ariz. — After suffering a lower left leg injury in Arizona State’s Pac-12 South-clinching win over UCLA on Saturday, star running back Marion Grice has been categorized as day-to-day and remains questionable for ASU’s game against Arizona.
“We’re just going to evaluate it,” ASU coach Todd Graham said Monday. “It’s a day-to-day thing, and we’ll see how he progresses.”
Graham did not offer any further details on test results or specifics of Grice’s injury. The senior, who had 268 all-purpose yards in Saturday’s game, left the Rose Bowl on crutches. Grice suffered the injury late in the game as ASU fought to stave off UCLA’s comeback attempt.
ASU’s practices are closed to the media this week, so Grice’s level of participation will likely be unknown. If there’s one optimistic takeaway from Grice’s unspecified status, it’s that ASU has not ruled him out, but that could be a means of keeping Arizona guessing in its preparation.
If the Sun Devils are without Grice, who has 1,941 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns this season, they’ll turn to a tandem of sophomore D.J. Foster and redshirt junior Deantre Lewis. Foster has been used largely as a receiver this season, and Lewis’s snaps have been limited, but Graham likes ASU’s depth.
“If (Grice is unavailable), we just fill right in with the guys,” Graham said. “We’re not going to lose what we do with D.J. Obviously, D.J. is such an integral part of our passing game. Hopefully we won’t have to, but if that happens, we’ve got guys I’ve got a lot of confidence in with D.J. and Deantre.”
Quarterback Taylor Kelly’s running ability could also help. Kelly rushed for a season-high 99 yards on 22 carries in the 38-33 win over UCLA and had eight rushing touchdowns during ASU’s six-game winning streak.
While Grice’s status will be a major storyline this week, the Sun Devils are equally focused on Arizona’s top running back. Graham spoke highly Monday of UA’s Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s second-leading rusher with 155.9 yards per game.
“I think of all the backs we’ve faced and the ones I’ve seen on film, he’s the best back in the country, no doubt about it,” Graham said. “Probably the best back in the country last year, and he’s much improved from that. Just a tremendous downhill runner.”
Carey, who on Monday earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, has 1,559 yards on the season and has not been held below 119 yards in the 10 games he has played. He’ll be the biggest test yet of ASU’s run defense, which has improved a good deal since struggling early in the season.
ASU’s rushing defense ranks third in the Pac-12 and 19th in the nation. The defense allowed a few big games to opposing backs early in the year, including Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and USC’s Tre Madden, but held then-national leader Bishop Sankey to 22 yards in a dominating win over Washington.
Carey rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown in UA’s loss to ASU last season, and Graham knows he’ll be the key component to the Wildcats’ ability to move the ball Saturday. He is confident ASU’s run defense, now more settled in than early in the season, will be able to handle the challenge.
“I don’t think anybody’s totally shut him down,” Graham said. “Obviously you’ve got to do a great job tackling, you’ve got to be very disciplined in your run fits.
“He’s the key to stopping them. Tall order. He’s as good as there is.”
— ASU linebacker Chris Young earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors Monday, the conference announced. Young had a team-high 13 tackles and three sacks in ASU’s win over UCLA. One of those sacks came on a key third down in the fourth quarter and forced UCLA to settle for a field-goal attempt, which missed and preserved ASU’s five-point lead. Young is the fifth ASU player to earn weekly Pac-12 honors this season, the most for ASU since 2009.
— As of noon Monday, fewer than 2,500 tickets remained for Saturday’s Territorial Cup game. Many ASU fans lined up to purchase tickets at Sun Devil Stadium on Monday before the ticket office had even opened. They were treated to doughnuts delivered by Graham.
— Under the terms of the contract extension Graham signed in September, ASU’s win over UCLA netted the second-year coach $330,000 in bonus money. His contract called for a $100,000 bonus for reaching nine wins and 10 percent of his annual salary — $230,000 — for a Pac-12 Championship Game berth.