After resting his aching body during Arizona State’s idle week, Sam Keller has looked good enough since resuming practice to earn a thumbs-up from coach Dirk Koetter for Saturday.
Koetter on Thursday tabbed Keller as the starting quarterback when the Sun Devils visit Stanford. The coach was unavailable for comment after practice but said on his weekly radio show that Keller’s right thumb injury — aggravated in the loss to Oregon on Oct. 8 — has sufficiently healed.
"Sam came back and threw very well, so the question with him was, ‘Is he going to be sore?’ " Keller said. "The last two days, he hasn’t been. There was never a doubt in Sam’s mind that he would be ready to go. He’s ready to go, so he’ll be our starter."
Keller, who has thrown for 2,067 yards and 20 touchdowns this year, said he felt like a caged animal while watching practices from the sideline.
"I can’t stand watching," Keller said. "I like to play, I like to compete, and I’m a fighter. So, watching and seeing the guys go to work and me not able to go to work just killed me."
With Keller out, backup quarterback Rudy Carpenter impressed enough while taking snaps with the first team that Koetter said he would have felt "comfortable" had the redshirt freshman needed to start.
Carpenter said the extra practice work last week was invaluable.
"I work my butt off every single day, from before camp until now, to get ready as if I were the starter," Carpenter said. "I’m only a play away from playing, every game, and I don’t want to be the guy who isn’t prepared."
Koetter has been pleased with the kick-return work of Terry Richardson, who is averaging 27.0 yards on kickoffs and 16.0 yards on punts. The junior has returned from a shoulder injury and found a stride, bringing a punt back 84 yards for a score against USC on Oct. 1.
Richardson said his success is due primarily to the return units jelling.
"It takes all 11 guys to execute and block and finish the play," Richardson said. "It’s like the offensive line and a quarterback — he needs everyone to block for him. It’s the same thing on a punt return. I’m just the guy with the ball. The blockers do most of the work."
R.J. STEPS UP
Koetter said that R.J. Oliver, whose comeback from foot and quadriceps muscle injuries has been long and arduous, should get his most extensive action of the season at cornerback on Saturday.
Oliver will join a cornerback rotation that includes Josh Golden, Keno Walter-White, Mike Davis Jr. and Littrele Jones. Oliver’s increased role at cornerback will enable Golden to play nickelback on occasion.
In three games this year, Oliver has six tackles and a pass breakup.
Saturday is Stanford’s homecoming. It is also one of sorts for Grayling Love.
The ASU center attended high school in Sacramento, Calif., and expects to have a sizeable contingent of family and friends at the game. The Cardinal can use the paying customers, as they averaged just 29,470 spectators in their first two home contests.
"I’ll have about 40 or 50 people coming out, so that will help them a little bit," Love said.