- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Marion Grice has provided the Arizona State faithful with plenty of “wow” moments, but few that actually make him say “wow” about himself.
Two Saturdays ago in a 53-24 win over Washington, the ASU running back had a self-actualized “wow” moment when he elevated to haul in a Taylor Kelly pass in the end zone with one hand. Though his entire body was already out of bounds, he was able to rotate and contort and land with his left elbow in bounds. Initially called out of bounds, the play was reviewed and ruled a score.
That was touchdown No. 16 of the season, and the first of three he would have in the game to give him a nation-leading 18 touchdowns on the season.
“I told myself, ‘You’re out of bounds. Get up and try again,’” Grice said. “When they replayed it and said I was in bounds, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I knew some part had to touch in bounds. When I was in the air, I was like, ‘Well, I already know my whole body is out of bounds, let’s see if I can get my elbow down first.’ I didn’t actually think I could do that.”
While Grice doesn’t wow himself often, he’s been wowing his teammates and the Arizona State coaching staff for quite some time. When Grice gets inside the 20, something happens. Call it a nose for the end zone. Call it a switch flipping in his head. Call it good old-fashioned sticktoitiveness. Grice simply scores. And at the end of the day, that’s what this game is about.
“That’s exactly the conversation I had two weeks ago with coach [offensive coordinator Mike] Norvell,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “What is it about him? We can’t put our finger on it. He has a knack for sliding, slipping; he had that unbelievable catch; he’s got a knack for it. We ask each other, ‘Who does he remind you of?’ And he doesn’t remind us of anybody. He’s really unique. And I think that’s what makes him a special back. He wants to get in that end zone. He never takes a direct hit. He slides. He’s a glider and obviously tremendously talented.”
Besides leading the nation in scoring with 18 touchdowns, here are a few other notable Grice numbers to consider, courtesy of the good folks at ASU:
Grice has scored a touchdown in 10 consecutive games.
He led the nation’s running backs with eight receiving touchdowns last year and is on pace again to do it this year. He leads all backs with six receiving touchdowns.
Grice was one of just four FBS players in the past decade to score 12 touchdowns before October and one of two players to do it in just four games (Temple’s Bernard Pierce was the other in 2011, Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree had 14 in five games in 2007 and MSU’s Javon Ringer had 12 in five games in 2008).
Grice is averaging a touchdown every eight touches, second in the league among players with 90 touches behind Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks.
And perhaps the two most ridiculous stats: Grice has more touchdowns this season (18) than he does negative plays for his career (16); and in 301 career touches (214 rushes, 74 receptions and 13 returns) Grice has yet to fumble.
What Grice doesn’t have are the gaudy rushing numbers that many feel are needed to be considered an “elite” running back. He’s only averaging 79 rushing yards per game and five yards per carry, he’s tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (12) despite having fewer carries than the three other backs with 12 touchdowns (Bishop Sankey, Tyler Gaffney, Byron Marshall).
With his scoring production, you’d think he’d be getting more Heisman hype. Or, really any Heisman hype for that matter. But hybrids are rarely recognized for the simple fact that they aren’t easily categorized. Oh well, says Grice.
“That’s fine,” Grice said. “It doesn’t frustrate me. I do things other running backs can’t do. That’s a positive. I might not touch the ball 40 or 50 times like some other guys. But I know if you give me the opportunity to make a play, I’m going to make it for you.”
The Sun Devils (5-2 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) head to Pullman, Wash., to face the Cougars (4-4, 2-3) tonight ranked No. 25 in the AP poll and likely on the BCS bubble. It’s the third time this season the Sun Devils have been ranked. And each time they entered the polls, they would exit a week later. That’s a trend Grice and Co. want to reverse tonight.
“We’re in the second part of the season and now it’s time to finish,” Grice said. “We had an opportunity to build on being a ranked team and we lost both of those games. We learned from those games and now we’re ready to finish the season strong.”
With five games remaining, more “wow” moments are expected.
4hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
1dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney