Arizona State running back D.J. Foster celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter of ASU’s 58-21 victory over UA. Foster finished with 124 yards on the night. “I felt comfortable back there,” Foster said about filling in for Marion Grice.
TEMPE — By the time D.J. Foster rushed for a 5-yard touchdown with 13 minutes 17 seconds left in Saturday’s Territorial Cup showdown against Arizona, his celebration was muted.
Fifty-one points, that’ll take some of the luster off any post-score celebration.
But not off Foster’s fine performance.
Filling in for the injured Marion Grice, Foster had a career-high 124 yards and two scores to help polish off bitter rival Arizona. And for the Scottsdale scorcher, who was named the game’s most valuable player, that was all the more sweet.
“I felt at home, felt good being back there,” Foster said. “It was about getting out of the mindset of the receiver stuff, getting in the playbook. I felt comfortable back there.”
While Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey won the individual rushing battle, 157 yards to 124, Carey was held to just 4.9 yards per carry.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “D.J. Foster is a special tailback. To be able to do what he did tonight, that’s not surprising to me at all. He’s a big-time player.”
Foster’s first carry on Saturday went for 12 yards and his second went for 10 yards and just like that, Grice was an afterthought.
When Foster carried for 29 yards, 7 yards and 14 yards in an early second-quarter touchdown drive — the 14-yarder ending in the end zone to give the Sun Devils a 20-0 lead — Grice was but a faint memory.
A surprise, considering Grice’s last six games included 908 yards from scrimmage and five TDs. But such is life in what-have-you-done-for-me-lately football, and when a backup running back is thrust into the limelight and performs, the world is his stage.
Throughout the week, Graham was coy about Grice’s status, labeling him questionable with a lower leg injury.
Grice was sidelined during the second half of the Sun Devils’ Pac-12 South-clinching 38-33 win at then-No. 14 UCLA last Saturday, reportedly forced to exit the locker room on crutches.
That put the onus on Foster to shoulder the load, and he did, making the most of each of his 23 carries.
And each yard was of particular importance, as Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly was somewhat inefficient, completing just 13-of-25 passes, albeit for 274 yards and two scores.
Kelly wasn’t much of a threat on the ground, either, gaining just 26 yards on 13 carries.
He didn’t need to do much, with the way the Sun Devils blocked up front.
“We physically dominated the game,” Graham, said. “I thought we dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We did a great job, we had a great plan, and our guys executed it.”
This wasn’t exactly the first time Foster has found himself in a position of importance.
He earned freshman All-American honors last year from Fox Sports Next, with games of 168 total yards against UCLA and 91 yards against Oregon and 132 yards against Colorado.
That, after an absolutely dominating senior season at Scottsdale Saguaro High.
Foster set state records for single-season touchdowns (60), rushing yards in a game (508) and rushing TDs in a game (10), while also notching records for career TDs, career points and points in a season.
“We saw him in high school. We offered him,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “He came (to ASU). He’s a good player.”
Saturday, it showed.
“D.J. did a great job,” Kelly said. “Some people forget how good he is. He embraced the role in practice. He runs the football hard.
“When you get the ball in his hands, he’s a playmaker.”
Foster was on display on Saturday night, but he wasn’t the only ASU player who rose from relative obscurity to wrestle the spotlight from the Sun Devils’ shiniest stars.
ASU redshirt junior tight end De’Marieya Nelson got eight crucial carries, gaining 35 yards with two TDs while adding three tackles on special teams and a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
“I kind of just had to pick it up, and I had to step up and replace somebody who couldn’t play,” Nelson said of adding to the running game.