Arizona State junior running back Demario Richard insists everything is easy for him right now, but the Sun Devils have lost three of their last four games and Richard has been held under 62 yards rushing in each of those games.
Even though ASU used its run-based "Sparky" formation on 21 of 59 offensive snaps against Washington State Saturday, the Sun Devils averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on 35 attempts against the Cougars.
Still, ASU's longest play of the night, a 52-yard touchdown run by junior Kalen Ballage, came out of the "Sparky" formation, and Richard believes a weak Oregon run defense presents the Sun Devils with another opportunity to try and revitalize their rushing attack.
First-year defensive coordinator Brady Hoke's Oregon defense ranks No. 10 in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 248.4 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry to opposing backs. Additionally, the Ducks are surrendering a conference-worst 538.6 yards per game, which is the worst margin in the Pac-12 by an average of more than 50 yards per game.
“It’s easy work,” Richard said of ASU's "Sparky" package. “It’s easy, but people are starting to adjust to it, trying to adjust to it. That’s hard-nosed football, whoever sticks their nose in there. Like I said before, try to stop it but as you can see on short downs nobody wants to stick their nose in there so it’s easy work, man. Hopefully, we run it a lot this week. This defense is suspect.”
After sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins exited Saturday’s contest after the Sun Devils' second offensive possession with an injury, ASU turned to true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole, who started the season as the team’s fourth-string quarterback.
Behind a young signal-caller who still is learning the nuances of first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s offense, Richard believes that studying the game and opposing defenses has become an even more crucial part of his weekly schedule.
Richard explained that with his experience at various levels of football, reading defenses has become easier, and he hopes that translates for a quarterback like Sterling-Cole who may need help at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s too easy,” Richard said. “When you’ve been playing the game for over 10-plus years, you know, it’s easy. It starts to come easy when you’re a student of the game, not just playing football. It’s going out and, ‘Okay, I’m not about to watch my film this week, I’m going to run in and just run the football.’ When you’re actually a student of the game, you’re up here. Nobody else is up here watching film, you're by yourself when you’re up here or when you’re at home watching film by yourself or when your roommate is somebody on the defense, they’re helping you read a defense. He’s a veteran on the field, it’s easy. Especially if my roommate is a DB, he’s telling me when he rolls this way it could be a Cover 3 or it could be a Cover 3 robber.”
The Palmdale, California native said working against ASU’s defense each day in practice has played a critical role in his development. Richard said aligning against a complex, blitz-heavy scheme on a daily basis pays dividends when the Sun Devils prepare for a team with an athletic, rangy front like Oregon's.
“It’s easy work, when you’re going against our defense there’s nobody in the country that can run this defense,” Richard said. “That’s why blitzes and stuff like that don’t really phase me, because you can pick up that defense, you can pick up any defense in the Pac-12, any defense in the country honestly.”