CAMP TONTOZONA, Ariz. — Less than a week ago, it looked like senior wide receiver Rashad Ross would end up lower than expected on Arizona State’s depth chart due to a poor start in fall camp. There were concerns about attitude and focus.
Ross has since surged back into the picture, though, impressing during ASU’s time at Camp Tontozona and starring in Saturday’s scrimmage.
In the scrimmage, which drew 5,142 fans, Ross caught five passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns. From redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly, the apparent leader in the quarterback competition, Ross caught touchdown passes of 92 and 37 yards. From redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, he caught a 20-yard strike.
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Ross was the clear standout in the game, marking a strong finish to cap a bounceback week. Ross also impressed in practice Wednesday and Thursday, perhaps making greater progress in the four-day stint than any other receiver.
“Coach said, ‘If you want to play, you’ve got to show it, and you’ve got to do it now,'” Ross said. “So I just stopped worrying about stuff, and that’s what I did.”
Added coach Todd Graham: “Rashad’s really had an outstanding camp.”
Ross suffered a shoulder injury on the first day of camp and spent nine of the first 10 practices in a green “no contact” jersey. He also drew stern criticism from coaches more than once during practices. But when the team got to Camp Tontozona near Payson, something clicked and Ross took off.
“It’s been a big difference (at Camp Tontozona),” Ross said. “The big difference has been (having) no distractions. And I just stopped worrying. Coach told me to stop worrying about my shoulder and put the pads on.”
Ross was the star of the day, but the storyline of the scrimmage was, of course, the ongoing quarterback competition. Graham, Eubank and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell sent mixed signals afterward, and the numbers didn’t establish much one way or the other.
Kelly finished 6 of 10 passing for 162 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also led a scoring drive that saw Jamal Miles rush 30 yards into the end zone. Eubank went 12 for 16 passing for 96 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions while also running the ball 15 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Mike Bercovici, running third in the competition, was 10 of 14 passing for 138 yards, a touchdown and the day’s only interception.
With the backfield depleted by injuries, freshman Terrell Davis and redshirt senior James Morrison saw significant action. Davis carried 16 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns — one on a 75-yard run — while Morrison carried 15 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. Freshman D.J. Foster was limited to avoid fatigue but finished with eight carries for 36 yards. DEFENSE STARTS SLOW, FINISHES STRONG
The offense was the talk of the day Saturday, but the defense quietly shined as well. The scrimmage was set up so the first-team defense was opposing the second-team offense and vice versa. In those settings, the first-team defense allowed only a field goal.
“I thought the (first-team) defense played well,” co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said. “We started a little slow, but I thought they picked it up and we got stronger as we went along. They started playing together, coming together as a unit today.”
Despite a late start to camp, junior-college transfer Chris Young has begun to impress at the spur linebacker position. The junior had at least five tackles Saturday (ASU did not track defensive statistics), including a few impressive hits early on.
“Chris has gotten in shape,” Randolph said. “His play has gotten better each day and, naturally, each week as we go through this.
“I wouldn’t say he’s caught up yet, but he’s working hard to get there. I’m really pleased with his progress so far.”
Junior safety Alden Darby and redshirt sophomore defensive end Jordan McDonald also logged at least five tackles each. Freshman linebacker Salamo Fiso made a few big plays, including a sack of Eubank and a fumble recovery and redshirt junior linebacker Grandville Taylor recorded a sack.
Redshirt junior cornerback Osahon Irabor impressed more than once, breaking up a Kelly pass and intercepting Bercovici.
Randolph didn’t think the touchdowns allowed to Ross were a coverage issue but rather a hazard of the team’s defensive style.
“We’re a pressure team, and when you’re a pressuring, sometimes they may get one,” Randolph said. “Guys were hustling, trying to get him down there toward the end. He sure can run, I can tell you that. I’m glad he’s on our team.” KICKING COMPETITION STILL ON
Graham told reporters Friday that redshirt sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte still leads the competition for the starting kicking job. However, junior walk-on Jon Mora got the first chances Saturday. Mora missed his first attempt from 48 yards but made his next from 37.
Garoutte made his only field-goal try of the day, that from 45 yards, and also went 4 for 4 on point-after tries. Garoutte’s field goal came immediately after junior walk-on Dillon Jackson missed the same attempt. HEALTH WATCH
— Junior running back Marion Grice left the scrimmage following the second play of the day with a turf toe injury and did not return. Graham said Grice has dealt with the injury for a while but should be ready for the season opener.
— Freshman receiver Richard Smith left the scrimmage in the second quarter with what Graham called a shoulder sprain. Graham didn’t seem to believe it was too serious, but Smith did not return.
— As expected, running backs Cameron Marhsall and Deantre Lewis were held out of the scrimmage with undisclosed injuries. Freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza was held out with a shoulder issue.