It’s not often that a team’s leader in rushing yards and touchdowns flies under the radar, but Arizona State junior running back Cameron Marshall has been doing just that this off-season.
While the majority attention has focused on the Sun Devils’ division title hopes, Brock Osweiler’s first season as starting quarterback or Vontaze “the meanest man in college football” Burfict, Marshall continue to go relatively undiscussed in the buildup to the 2011 season
Marshall wasted no time in starting off his sophomore campaign with a bang, as he scored three touchdowns and ran for 104 yards on just four carries in the season opener against Portland State. Despite that, he later settled into a two-back rotation with Deantre Lewis for the next several weeks.
With Lewis providing the game-breaking "lightning", the 5’11”, 223-pound Marshall provided the powerful "thunder." While he proved effective in moving the chains and getting the tough yards, his chances were limited, due to Lewis’ effectiveness and the nature of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offensive system. After his sterling season opening performance, he surpassed 15 carries only once, topped 60 yards only twice and four times posted a per-carry average under four yards.
However, with Lewis hobbled by injury late in the season, he took advantage down the stretch.
He rushed for 302 yards over the season’s last three games−including a 147-yard effort against UCLA−and added nine receptions for 89 yards as well.
All told, he led the Devils with 787 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and added another 227 yards and another touchdown receiving.
Coming into the 2011 season, there are signs that the attention Marshall’s performance deserves could be on the horizon.
He was named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the top running back in the nation.
Initially, most thought that he wouldn’t have a chance at the award due to a crowded backfield that has Lewis and the speedy Kyle Middlebrooks. However, Lewis’ recovery from a gunshot wound suffered in February has been slow to heal, resulting in speculation that he could redshirt this season.
Should that unfortunate situation unfold, it would place Marshall firmly in line to be the offense’s foundation.
With Osweiler in his first season as a starter, his maturation and assimilation into the role would be aided by a legitimate running game led by Marshall. The Devils will be facing three huge games in the season’s first month, with Missouri and USC’s visits to Tempe surrounding a road trip to an improved Illinois team. How they perform in that trio of games may very well determine the course of the entire season, not to mention the future of head coach Dennis Erickson.
A ground game that can be effective and control the clock will be absolutely critical for the Sun Devils’ chances. With the entire offensive line returning, the running lanes should be there. If not, Marshall has the power and skills to make his own.
If he can help power the Devils to those early season wins, he’ll surely be on everyone’s radar.
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