EL PASO, Texas - Even though he has temporarily traded in his sleek receiver pads for a bulkier model designed for running backs, Rudy Burgess hasn't changed his plans for the future. He came to Arizona State to play wide receiver, and that's where he intends to stay.
But now that he's averaged 154 yards in his two starts at tailback as a redshirt freshman, even Burgess admits he'll probably be lining up in the Sun Devil backfield a few times over the next three years.
His media guide measurements of 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds must have been taken when he was standing in a circus fun house.
But with injuries and suspensions leaving the team's top four tailbacks in Tempe, the littlest Devil came up huge in Friday's thrilling 27-23 win over Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
Darting through holes, Burgess kept the Purdue defense honest with 125 rushing yards on 20 strategically spaced carries.
“Our running game came up huge and that's a big credit to our guys up front,” Burgess said. “We might be the fifth or sixth tailbacks or whatever, but those guys are all first-team. They did the job.''
But it was Burgess who killed the Boilermakers with his specialty, as a receiver. He turned two fourth-quarter screen passes into touchdowns, including a 19-yarder with 43.9 seconds left that capped a wild finish that saw three lead changes in the final six minutes.
“Those plays weren't designed to score, but I got good blocking downfield and used my speed to break them,'' said Burgess, who rushed for 184 yards in his only other start of the season, a 34-31 win over Stanford on Nov. 6. “For us to win, someone had to have a big game. It turns out, a lot of us needed big games and we came through.''
With Loren Wade, Randy Hill, Hakim Hill and Cornell Canidate all scratched off the ASU tailback depth chart, Purdue's defense zeroed in on ASU quarterback Sam Keller with blitz after blitz. But ASU counter-punched with a balanced attack, collecting 158 rushing yards on 40 attempts.
“I just don't think (Purdue) thought we could run the ball. I don't think they thought we'd even try, because we don't have great stats and our tailback situation being what it is,'' ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. “But we told our guys privately we were going to run, and our goal was to run it 40 times.
“We wanted to shorten the game, and we felt our O-line and our tight end could knock their front seven off the ball. Rudy should have been the MVP of the game.” Keller, who was named the MVP after throwing for 370 yards and three touchdowns, also praised Burgess. “I'll gladly share with Rudy, he was amazing. If there's a nameplate on (the award), I’ll put, ‘Thank you Rudy' on it.''