(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Following Arizona State’s 68-55 victory over Texas Tech, the night belonged to the now immortal Kalen Ballage.
The one thing he made a point to do, however, was deflect all praise. He brought his starting o-line, a unit that, like other groups on this young team, underwent a serious overhaul in the offseason, to the postgame press conference. He continued to fall back on humility while answering questions about his eight touchdown performance.
In a game that featured 123 points and 1,264 yards of total offense, Ballage scored 48 points and accounted for 185 of his team’s 652 offensive yardage. Still, all that mattered to the junior running back was his team’s victory.
“To me, honestly, I really don’t care about it [the record],” Ballage said. “You can ask these guys, that’s not important to me and they’ll tell you straight up, I want to win football games and that’s what this is about to me, that’s what we did tonight.”
Listen: Kalen Ballage and Quinn Bailey discuss the record-breaking night at ASU’s postgame press conference
Beside Ballage, Demario Richard and Manny Wilkins helped comprised a three-headed monster that seems to be the cornerstone of Chip Lindsey’s offense to this point. The three carried the ball combined 53 times, amassing 301 yards. Richard led the way in carries, toting the ball 30 times for 109 yards.
It was his leadership and sacrifice that paved the way for Ballage’s record-breaking night.
“That’s [Richard] my brother,” Ballage said. “He just told me he was proud of me and like I said, he knows, he was running behind these guys [the offensive line] and he knows how hard they’ve worked and he just told me congratulations on a great game.”
It was also a game in which Manny Wilkins continued to progress – in just the second start of his career, Wilkins completed 28 of his 37 pass attempts for 351 yards and two touchdowns. He continued to make an impact in the running game as well, running 10 times for 55 yards.
The jump from his first game to his second game was glaring, according to head coach Todd Graham.
“I thought that he had a giant growth between week one to week two and I’m not surprised,” Graham said. “Those bullets are flying, man, it’s a different deal and so it takes you a little bit to get your legs underneath you and just getting with the speed of the game.”
Coming into the game, it was Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech’s spread offensive scheme that garnered most of the attention. Given Arizona State’s unheralded secondary, it was going to be up to Lindsey and the Sun Devil offense to match the Red Raiders blow for blow.
While the secondary did allow 540 yards and five touchdowns through the air, the unit proved to be resilient when it was needed most, coming up with two pivotal interceptions, both courtesy of redshirt senior De’Chavon Hayes, to stave off Mahomes and the Texas Tech offense in the second half.
“We just went in with a game plan and stuck to it,” Hayes said. “In the second half, we just came out with that fire when we needed it. I feel like in the first half we were more conservative, you know and coach Graham preached on that in the locker room, that we needed to tighten up.”
When the dust settled, Graham pointed out the chemistry amongst the players on his team and how that proved to be the difference in what was the first large test they will face this season.
“Our guys have unique relationships,” Graham said. “They run really hard, they play really hard for each other. I love going into the locker room before the game and I see them [Richard and Ballage] standing up in front of the offensive line and talking to them and telling them how hard they’re going to run for them and committing to them, that’s unique, that’s something that’s a growth that we have right now on our team that I really like.”