This report card surely isn’t representative of anyone who graduated, yet the Sun Devil seniors will somehow be moving on after an embarrassing loss to Arizona Friday night.
For the final time this season (pending a miraculous bowl invitation), let’s take a look at how each unit performed:
For the most part, Manny Wilkins played a solid game against the Wildcats.
The redshirt sophomore finished the night completing 43 of 58 passes for 372 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also added 79 yards on 23 attempts rushing the ball. Wilkins played well, but was held back all night by offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s game plan. The Sun Devils opened the game with multiple drives that seemed to solely consist of screen passes to the outside. That scheme is built around making the defensive backs jump on the screen while the ASU receivers then beat them downfield in a sprint, yet most of the plays were downed exactly where they started even after the completion, at the line of scrimmage.
When Lindsey opened the passing game up a bit, the Devils saw flashes of the Manny Wilkins we saw the first four weeks. He was nimble in the pocket, creating space and finding receivers both in the flats and downfield. On 58 attempts, he miraculously completed 74 percent of his passes, a mark that will surely make many wonder what could have been had Lindsey provided him the opportunity to throw the ball more often this year.
Running Backs: C+
While junior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage contributed in this year’s Territorial Cup, it was mostly in the passing game. They combined for a measly 47 yards on 14 attempts rushing, but managed to grab 123 yards combined through the air. It was a quiet night for the two, as Richard served as Wilkins’ primary check-down man and Ballage was given dreadful blocking on the bubble screen routes. The quiet night shouldn’t excuse their performances, however, as their inability to rush the ball effectively early on in the game didn’t allow the Devils to slow the game down, hold possession and do things the easy way on offense without having to resort to deep shots downfield and short passes after a scramble.
The Sparky formation was also used Friday night, yet it consistently failed the team on fourth downs. This play seems to be wildly overused by the Sun Devil offense, which seems to not understand what opposing teams already have this year, there is only one possibility when they snap the ball: a run up the middle.
Wide Receivers: A-
Alongside Manny Wilkins, the wide receivers seemed to be the only unit producing anything positive for the Sun Devils Friday night. Senior receiver Fred Gammage had the best game of his Sun Devil career against the Wildcats, catching all 12 of his targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. Gammage was all over the Arizona secondary, making plays in between the hashes when played in the slot, burning corners down the sideline and making defensive backs miss on bubble screens. While we are surely left to wonder what could have been if Gammage played like this all season, it’s best to appreciate his final performance as a Sun Devil for what it was: dominant. Tim White was also solid against the Wildcats, tallying 69 yards on four catches and adding a score. While the departure of these two seniors leaves many open slots in the ASU receiving core, the future looks bright at the position as N’Keal Harry continued his incredible freshman year with a 51 yard performance in which he also caught a touchdown.
Defensive Line/Linebacking Core: F
As we’ve seen throughout the year—though tempered—head coach Todd Graham brought the blitz and the Sun Devils were unable to produce any kind of pressure against the Wildcats. While Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins only threw the ball eight times, he absolutely demolished ASU on the ground. Arizona came into this game with the smallest offensive line in the conference and absolutely leveled the Sun Devils on the ground, averaging 10.5 yards per play and tallying a total of 511 yards carrying the ball. The Wildcats were aided by a scheme that shifted their offensive tackles to the outside on assignments that would sweep across the line of scrimmage and create massive holes for Arizona to run through. This was the worst performance the defensive line and linebackers have put together all year long, and after coming into the season as one of the best front-seven units in the conference, the Devils will have to answer some major questions this offseason.
While they weren’t tested downfield all too often, the secondary’s performance was crucial in the Sun Devils’ nationally-televised demise Friday night. Arizona players were constantly running through wide open holes generated by the offensive line and slipping by would-be tacklers in the secondary for huge gains. While the big plays weren’t solely the fault of the secondary, the Devils’ inability to tackle when the Wildcats got into open space past the linebackers was emblematic of a season-long struggle to bring opposing players to the ground.