(Photo: Nicholas Badders/WCSN)
When a hurt John Humphrey was forced out of last week’s game against San Diego State, it looked like the Sun Devils had lost their only legitimate deep threat in the passing game.
Just plays later, his replacement dashed those doubts.
Though the redshirt sophomore Humphrey is, when healthy, ASU’s top long ball target, his injury has opened the door for a couple of new faces to stake a claim for playing time.
Frank Darby began to make his case against the Aztecs. The redshirt freshman was put into the game when Humphrey’s knee was dangerously twisted in a pile during the fourth quarter. His first contribution in the starter’s place was a big one.
Despite being interfered with, Darby muscled his way past a defender to haul in 53-yard touchdown catch on a 3rd and 27. It cut the Sun Devils’ deficit to 10 points, putting them within striking distance of catching SDSU.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 10, 2017
“It was really cool to see him get that opportunity to make a play,” quarterback Manny Wilkins said. “At first I thought they were going to call an offensive pass interference, so I got a little frustrated. But he made a hell of a play, kept his eyes on the ball, caught it over his shoulder, and that’s what you want as a quarterback; a guy who can go get the ball.”
Though ASU’s comeback bid fell short, the discovery of Darby’s downfield ability will help cushion the blow felt from Humphrey’s probable absence.
Humphrey was very limited in practice this week, sitting out of most drills while sporting a knee brace.
An official decision on his availability for this week’s trip to Texas Tech has not been made yet. But, even if he does play, the Oklahoma transfer won’t be 100 percent. The door will be open for Darby to make another game-changing play. Or plays.
“He brings it every day,” offensive coordinator Billy Napier said of Darby. “He’s a guy you can count on to be high energy; he’s got a great approach.”
It has not been an easy road for Darby to get into the wide out rotation. Last season he was redshirted and forced to settle for a role on the scout team. He didn’t waste his time with ASU’s reserves however, and was named Co-Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year.
The New Jersey native was tested out at defensive back for the early portions of this spring’s camp, but has swiftly climbed the depth chart since returning to the receivers’ room.
“He’s engaged in the meetings…All he’s done is get better,” Napier said. “(Receivers) coach (Rob) Likens is an outstanding coach. Frank has a good skill set, and I think as we go forward he will continue to improve and prove he can contribute.”
In addition to his long score last week, Darby also made his first collegiate catch in the first half, coming down with a 42-yard strike to set the offense up at the 1-yard-line. He finished the night as the team’s leading receiver, recording 3 catches for 111 yards.
His week two performance was impressive, yet Darby is not the only option ASU can to turn to in the wake of Humphrey’s injury.
Another transfer, Ryan Newsome, is ready to make his Sun Devil debut after missing out on the start of the season with a leg injury of his own. The former Texas Longhorn has waited a long time to return to the playing field; he senses this week’s trip to his home state is his shot to prove himself.
“This is a really fitting opportunity for me to go out and play for my team, and get back home for my family,” Newsome said. “It will mean a lot for me to get back on the field and contribute any way I can.”
While being forced to sit out last year due to his switch of schools, Newsome also made waves on the scout unit. He was the one who shared the Player of the Year Award with Darby.
Finally healthy, Newsome thinks he too can fill in for his close friend and former roommate, Humphrey.
“I feel like I bring that element (of a deep threat) as well,” Newsome said. “You never like to see a guy go down, especially (Humphrey); I’m probably closest with him than anybody…He’ll be back out there, but while he is gone, we have just got to step up.”
There should be plenty of chances for the two replacements to fill the stat sheet, and scoreboard, against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders ranked last in total defense and scoring defense a season ago, highlighted by the 68-point outburst they suffered against ASU.
They played well in their season opener against FCS-level Eastern Washington, giving up just 10 points. But, Kliff Kingsbury’s team doesn’t have much of a track record containing quality offenses.
Wilkins also enters Saturday night’s contest off the back of a strong start to the season. He has completed 70 percent of his passes, thrown 4 touchdowns, and is yet to toss an interception.
This week might be Newsome’s and Darby’s one chance to break into the lineup this season, but all the components are there for them to flash. They’ve both waited long enough for their chance.