(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Kalen Ballage’s eight touchdown performance in last weekend’s 68-55 victory over Texas Tech was nothing short of incredible. Still, one rather unbelievable fact continues to get lost in the shuffle – the state of the guys blocking for him.
Arizona State’s offensive line, a unit that entered the season with one lone returning starter, was missing Zach Robertson, a week one starter at tackle, due to an ankle injury.
You wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at the box score.
Against Texas Tech, the starting offensive line featured first-time starter A.J. McCollum at center, while Stephon McCray slid to right guard and Quinn Bailey took over for Robertson at right tackle.
301 rushing yards, zero sacks and seven touchdowns later, head coach Todd Graham will be faced with some difficult decisions.
“I tell him [Robertson], you know, you want to get back as quick as possible because we’ve got pretty good issues there at those places with the guys that we have,” Graham said. “We’ve got quality people there.”
Following the game, Graham raved about the retooled right side of his line and how each player excelled by playing out of their element.
“I was really proud of Quinn, Quinn did a great job going out to tackle and Stephon did a super job kicking over to guard,” Graham said. “You want to know a person that I’m excited about, I’m excited about A.J. [McCollum]. I mean, A.J., I mean, played really well. Obviously he has lots of things that he has to improve but the physicality that he played with, we were knocking them off the football.”
Still, regardless of who is playing on the offensive line, the level of efficiency the group has played at through the first two games seems to be fueled by the mutual appreciation felt, and reciprocated, by the guys running behind them.
Both the running backs, as well as the offensive line understand that each of their jobs are directly dependent on what the other group does, therefore, they do what they can to succeed as an entire unit.
“Offensive line doesn’t often get too much credit,” McCray said. “Kalen [Ballage] and D-Rich [Demario Richard], they love us and they always support us, I don’t think they ever doubt us.”
Beyond just the rushing attack, Graham continues to drive home the fact that no one single person on the team is going to be able to accomplish something without everyone else doing their jobs.
That message, according to Graham, has been taken to heart and implemented, specifically, by the offensive linemen.
“It takes 11 men to do anything,” McCray said. “Without us five, I mean, we would be out there short-handed.”
Robertson is expected to return this week in San Antonio, but with the experience McCollum earned and the outlook this group shares, to expect the upward progression of the offensive line to continue is not out of the question.
“There’s obviously a lot we have to clean up too,” Jones said. “Watching the film, we know that we made a lot of mistakes, we’ve just got to keep getting better, hopefully we can do that every week.”