(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Arizona State rode 17 fourth quarter points to a 32-28 win on the road against UTSA. The road test may serve as a big wakeup call going forward for a team that is now 3-0.
Quarterback Manny Wilkins overcame a slow start to throw for 264 yards and played a key role in their game winning drive.
The near defeat led to many takeaways that were in stark contrast to the team’s first two victories of the season.
- The loss of Tim White hurts in more ways than one
There is no doubt that Wilkins would have loved to have White as an option at wide receiver, but losing him as a returner also had a huge impact early on. Kalen Ballage and Gump Hayes were forced to share the load in the return game and both struggled immensely.
Each misplayed punts that turned into fumbles and gave the Roadrunners possessions in Sun Devil territory. They were mistakes caused by inexperience but it was a situation they had to be in because of the loss of White.
Eventually, desperate times led to desperate measures and the injured White was forced to return punts in the second half. He wisely leaned on fair catches while protecting the ball in the process.
White’s absence did lead to the continued discovery of an emerging bright spot in the offense.
- N’Keal Harry continues to show he is the real deal
Harry tore the Roadrunner defense to shreds, even when it didn’t count. His first “touchdown” catch was a 55-yarder that was called back because of a hold. Not much later, he scored his first real touchdown when Wilkins connected with him for a 27-yard touchdown.
“I just tried to get off the ball as fast as I can,” Harry said. “I just tried to make a play and that’s what happened.”
He continued to be a matchup nightmare for UTSA all game long, catching five passes for 78 yards. The absence of White forced the defense to double team Harry more than ever before, but Harry proved to be far too strong as the true freshman continued to evolve into a number one receiver.
- Zane Gonzalez is back to his 2014 form
Not only is Gonzalez back on track after what some consider a “down year” last season, but the senior is looking better than ever. He converted on two 54-yard field goals, which put him in the lead for most career points in Pac-12 history. In addition, Gonzalez made from 45 and 26 yards, although he did miss from 53.
Gonzalez also served as a positive source when ASU was struggling. His long field goals kept them in the game when the offense was failing to convert on touchdowns.
“I was just trying to get points on the board for the offense,” Gonzalez said. “Whatever we can to win the game. They set me up for field goals, and I missed one, I regret that, but other than that try to step up for them and do as much as I could.”
He is now 8-for-9 on the season, with six of those made field goals coming from 40 yards and beyond.
It’s a much needed start to the season for Gonzalez, who had a career low 76.5 field goal percentage last season and was just 4-for-10 when kicking from more than 40 yards.
- Defense, specifically missed tackles, continues to be a weakness for the Sun Devils
Roadrunners quarterback Dalton Sturm had a field day against ASU’s defense, collecting 286 total yards and four touchdowns. Sturm entered the game with -5 total rushing yards, but tore apart the Sun Devils, picking up 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 15 carries. It helped that he didn’t face much pressure until the final drive.
Sturm also passed for 229 yards while staying turnover free. Missed tackles haunted ASU, especially within the secondary. Sturm broke free often from the defense and looked like an elite mobile quarterback at times. UTSA had entered the game averaging 20 points in their first two games, and eclipsed that number by scoring 28 against ASU.
Towards the end of the game, the defense started to limit Sturm.
“We started keeping two linebackers in the box,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “We went into the game and said that the number one play they will run is the quarterback draw and the quarterback scramble, so we were very prepared for that.”
The big positives for the Sun Devils defense were that they held UTSA to only 5-for-15 on third downs. They also had only 14 first downs, but a lot of that can be attributed to favorable field position throughout the game.
They also had a huge stop at the end of the game, preventing the Roadrunners from winning the game in the final minutes.
Graham highlighted one player in particular as a difference maker.
“De’Chavon Hayes played unbelievable down the stretch in this game,” he said. “Defensively he played lights out.”
- Kalen Ballage is human
After tying the NCAA record for touchdowns in a game, Ballage’s performance wasn’t quite as significant on Friday night. He had 103 yards of total offense and predictably took a back seat to Demario Richard in the running game.
The Sun Devils did not use the Sparky very often after the formation was responsible for six of Ballage’s touchdowns last week. It was at least partially due to the fact that ASU had minimal chances at the goal line. They did pull it out on their final drive and ended up scoring the third time they used it.
“I don’t know if I have ever felt better about a win that was so hard,” Graham said. “We did as many things wrong that hurt ourselves as we could, but this team has great character, and I love the poise.”
Ballage’s performance from last Saturday was hard to top, so him falling back to earth and into his normal role in the offense isn’t exactly surprising. He proved he is enough of a dynamic player to still make an impact.