Resurgent Deantre Lewis makes an impact

It had been more than two years since redshirt junior Deantre Lewis saw significant action at running back. Just four games into the 2013 season though; he's off to a fast start.

Heading into the 2013 season, most Sun Devil fans expected to see the Arizona State offense take a step forward in year two under Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell. Not only did the team finish on a three game winning streak to end last season, but it also returned a number of experienced playmakers poised to have breakout years.

However, one player who seemingly slipped under the radar was Deantre Lewis, and perhaps rightly so. After redshirting in 2011and playing primarily on the defensive side of the ball in 2012, fans and coaches weren't quite sure what to expect from the versatile running back who stormed onto the scene as a true freshman in 2010, rushing for 539 yards while also hauling in 23 receptions for an additional 370 yards of offense in one of the most electric first year campaigns by any Sun Devil in the program's history.

Lewis spent the offseason continuing to rehab his leg back to full strength in an effort to regain that burst of speed he possessed as a freshman which set him apart from most other running backs throughout the country. He made his return to the offense in the spring and showed occasional glimpses of his former self during fall camp, but still the doubt remained. Plus, with two highly touted backs in senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster already in the fold, many wondered just what kind of opportunity Lewis would ultimately get.

But it didn't take long for him to answer many of those questions and erase the doubt.

Lewis rushed 53 yards on eight carries in the team's season-opening win against Sacramento State to go along with two catches for 52 yards, including a 57 yard break away run off a Michael Eubank shovel pass late in the contest.

He saw very limited action in ASU's following two games but was once again back on the field last Saturday during the Sun Devils' second half domination of USC. Lewis had five carries for a season-high 64 yards, including a 45 yard scamper when it looked like the Trojans had no answer for Arizona State's rushing attack late in the game.

Through the first four games of the season, Lewis has rushed for 134 yards and is averaging nearly 8.4 yards per carry, giving the Sun Devils not just two, but three, very capable ball carriers.

"I'm feeling pretty confident," said Lewis. "I used to feel nervous every game, but now I'm just going out there and doing my job. I feel like nothing can stop me. If the bullet didn't stop me, I don't think anything else can. I just feel more confident in everything I do now."

While the Arizona State offense flexed its collective muscle against the Trojans last Saturday, putting up 42 second half points and 612 yards of offense for the game, it was Lewis who put the finishing touches on the win. With less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Arizona State took over at its own 38 -yard line. After a pair of Foster runs, Norvell called for a fly sweep, something the team picked up on after being gashed repeatedly by it against Wisconsin just two weeks prior, with Lewis in motion.

"We've had it, we just never really ran it," said Lewis. "We didn't really have a formation to run it out of but after Wisconsin, we watched how they lined up, so we adjusted to that and it's worked out pretty well for us."

The result was a 45-yard run by the junior, the longest of the season by a Sun Devil running back, setting up a first and goal for Arizona State. Norvell immediately called for the team's jumbo package; with sophomore quarterback Michael Eubank coming in for his third goal line attempt of the game.

"Honestly, I just wanted some water and some air at the time," Lewis recalled. "To me, scoring's a big deal but I feel like if I help put us in a position and we score, then I did my job. I don't feel like I have to score every time. As long as I can put my team in the best position to score, then I feel like I did my job."

Sensing an opportunity to reward the young man who has fought to overcome so much over the last three years, Head Coach Todd Graham called a timeout to allow the offense to regroup - and for Lewis to catch his breath. And rather returning to the field with the previously called-for jumbo package, Graham and Norvell decided to give Lewis a chance to finish the drive himself, which he promptly did with a one yard scoring run on the very next play.

For Lewis, it marked his first touchdown in nearly three years (Washington State, 10/30/10) and a brief moment of reflection.

"It was emotional for me," he admitted. "I started to get a little teary-eyed. It was very emotional but I'm glad they put me back in there for that and I'm glad I got it."

For the Sun Devils, it capped off a dramatic 62-41 over their divisional foe and a chance for Lewis, a native of Norco, Calif. 50 miles Southeast of Los Angeles, to bask in the enjoyment of finally beating the hometown team he always used to cheer for.

"I was always a Trojan fan growing up," he said. "That's the college I always wanted to go to. But as I got older I started going away from it and started looking at other choices. My options were either here or Oregon and I ended up choosing here.

"It means everything (beating USC), because if we had lost, I would have heard it from all of my hometown friends. So it's good that I can have those bragging rights over them."

Last season, Arizona State (3-1, 1-1) averaged 205.5 rushing yards per game but had struggled to consistently move the ball on the ground through the first three games this year, especially at critical times. However, in its win over USC, the Sun Devils rushed for a season-high 261 yards on 35 carries, moving the ball at will.

While the team's rushing numbers still leave something to be desired (146.3 ypg), the offense overall now ranks 11th nationally in scoring (44.3 ppg) and 15th in total offense (505.0 ypg), thanks in large part to an offensive line that has risen to the challenge early in the season.

"I believe this is the best offensive line that I've seen since I've been here," Lewis commented. "I feel like we have a great opportunity to start rushing more. I feel like in that second half we learned how to rush for more yards so I feel like it's going to come a lot more natural to us now.

"I feel like we've performed pretty well but can pick it up some and that'll come as the season goes along. Some of the stuff that we're doing is kind of new, so we're picking up on it and as you can see during the second half against USC, that's when we started opening things up and everything started flowing and we felt unstoppable at the time. I just feel that as the season comes, it's going to be harder and harder to stop us."

The challenges don't get any easier for the Sun Devils, who after playing Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC in consecutive weeks; will travel to play Notre Dame (3-2) this weekend in the latest installment of the Shamrock Series at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

The Irish, who fell to Oklahoma last weekend, 35-21, in South Bend, offer the Sun Devils an opportunity to earn another win against a marquee team on the national stage and a chance to correct some of the road woes that have plagued the team in recent seasons.

"Practice today, I feel like we came out here and got after it offensively," Lewis said. "We know it's a big week. We know we're going away and when we've had problems, it's been during away games. So we really need to focus at practice this week, unlike Stanford where we were up and down a lot at practice.

"I feel like we came out here and had a lot of energy. There's just certain stuff that we need to pick up on and that's just mental errors. So we need to pay attention during film study, go over our corrections at night, and come out here and get after it."

The Sun Devils kicked off the week by unveiling the new uniforms that the team will wear during this weekend's contest, featuring flame-themed helmets and sleeves to complement the team's black jerseys and pants. While the new look drew a wide-range of reactions both locally and nationally, the team can't wait to show them off on Saturday, said Lewis.

"These are nice. These are pretty nice," he remarked, holding up his helmet to admire the new design. "These are like the best helmets I've ever seen. Everybody loves them."

Arizona State will have a chance to create some college football history on Saturday, as no team has ever defeated USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. While there have only been 13 teams that have had the opportunity, including the Sun Devils in 1998, the results have not been favorable for those who have tried. But with a win over the Trojans already, the Sun Devils have positioned themselves to pull off the unimaginable.

And for Lewis, who can recall watching the Trojans and Irish battle each season, the opportunity couldn't be any sweeter.

"Growing up as a USC fan, you always hated Notre Dame. So I'll always hate Notre Dame, no matter what."

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