BY DON WILLIAMS
SAN DIEGO– Texas Tech’s task at the Holiday Bowl is at least a little bit easier. The Red Raiders won’t have to deal with one ofArizonaState’s most prominent players.
ASU coach Todd Graham said second-team all-Pac 12 running back Marion Grice probably won’t play in Monday’s game, because he’s been unable to practice with the lower-leg injury that kept him out of the last two games.
“We thought it would be about a three- or four-week process,” Graham said Saturday, “and it’s been a little slow going. We had hoped that he’d be able to make it back and play. But it’s pretty doubtful that he’ll have an opportunity. He’s not practiced.”
Graham made the announcement during a joint press conference with Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury at the Omni Hotel. Their teams square off at 9:15 p.m. CST Monday at Qualcomm Stadium.
Grice, a senior from Aldine Nimitz, has rushed for 996 yards this season, caught 50 passes for 438 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. That’s helped ASU average 41.0 points per game, eighth in the nation.
Grice’s absence means an expanded role for sophomore D.J. Foster, which could be just as problematic for Tech. Grice got hurt in the Nov. 23 UCLA game, and Foster ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns the very next week against Arizona.
Foster, a former top-100 national recruit, is an all-purpose player who’s rushed for 369 yards, caught 58 passes for 630 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
“Does that hurt us? It does,” Graham said. “D.J. does so much for us as a versatile player at the receiver position. We’re not going to lose that. We’ll still utilize him in that role, but he’ll be the primary tailback and it’s just going to be more snaps for him.”
Graham said the Sun Devils also will look to Deantre Lewis, who’s rushed for 300 yards, and De’Marieya Nelson. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is a dual threat, having rushed for 685 before deducting 212 in sacks and other lost yardage.
“They do such a good job schematically that they get good matchups,” Kingsbury said. “The quarterback gets them in the right play (so) that whoever’s back there is going to have a pretty good shot of having success. And I think that Foster kid is very capable of having a great game.”
ArizonaState(10-3) and Tech (7-5) are meeting for the first time since 1999 with the Red Raiders trying to snap a five-game losing streak. Even with the Sun Devils down one leading rusher, Tech has no easy assignment against the Pac-12 South Division champions. The Sun Devils were on a seven-game winning streak before losing the conference title game to Stanford three weeks ago.
“It’s the most talented team I’ve seen on film this year on both sides of the ball,” said Kingsbury, whose squad lost to three ranked teams.
Kingsbury declined again Saturday to reveal which of his two quarterbacks he’ll start, but suggested that freshman Davis Webb and sophomore Michael Brewer both are likely to play.
“We’ll see how the game goes,” Kingsbury said, “but I feel like they both practiced at a high enough level that I feel comfortable putting them both in.”
ASU has as many marquee players on defense as offense, led by two-time all-America defensive tackle Will Sutton and first-team all-conference defensive backs Alden Darby and Robert Nelson.
“It’s the best defensive line I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching,” Kingsbury said. “Sutton’s probably the best defensive lineman I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching. We’re going to have our hands full.
“We’ve got to find ways to try to slow them down a little bit. They do a great job with their safeties of reading the quarterback’s eyes and attacking the football. It’s a great scheme, and it’ll be a huge challenge for those young quarterbacks.”
The Sun Devils are among the top 20 in the nation in sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions. That might be due in part to all the attention blockers have to devote to Sutton, who was Pac-12 defensive player of the year for the second year in a row.
“He’s my absolute favorite player in 28 years on game day,” Graham said.
Graham added that he and Sutton had clashed in the past, but said Sutton has shown remarkable maturity this year, evidenced by teammates choosing him as a captain.
“When I first came, I don’t know that that was even on the map,” Graham said. “He really bought into how we were doing things.”