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ASU Football: Sun Devils top Texas Tech in wild, back and forth 68-55 victory

Behind an NCAA record eight touchdowns from Kalen Ballage, Arizona State picked up a crazy 68-55 win on Saturday night.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There was a reverse that turned into a flea flicker, multiple looks out of the wildcat formation, and another instant-highlight hurdle.

Everyone assumed that the Arizona State Sun Devils would open up the playbook after a vanilla-called season opener against Northern Arizona, and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey obliged on Saturday.

The result? A wild, drunken 68-55 victory over the visiting Texas Tech Red Raiders in a game that lasted late into the night at Sun Devil Stadium.

"Oh really," replied head coach Todd Graham when asked if the game plan was different from last week's.

The Sun Devils started a game that would be full of chess moves with some deception from the outset, throwing the ball three times on their first four plays in an effort to set up the ground game later.

That possession (along with Texas Tech's first series) resulted in a punt, but Arizona State would get on the board soon thereafter. A six play, 43-yard drive that alternated rushes with passes gave Graham's team an early 7-0 lead after Manny Wilkins completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry.

It was the Red Raiders who would score next, however, tying the game at 7-7 and providing the first of many punches and counterpunches to be thrown on this night.

After allowing a safety later in the first quarter, the visitors from Lubbock then took their first lead of the night via a free play, 59-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Patrick Mahomes after the Sun Devils jumped offsides.

The first quarter ended with the maroon and gold trailing 14-9, but the score wouldn’t stay that way for long. A pair of big personal foul penalties on Texas Tech moved the ball deep inside Red Raider territory, and running Kalen Ballage gave his team the lead back with an easy one-yard touchdown jaunt out of the wildcat formation.

That run was the first of eight touchdowns on the day for Ballage, tying the single game FBS record in the process.

"I don’t go into games thinking, ‘I have to get eight touchdowns tonight’," Ballage said after the record performance. "I'm not like that. I just want to win football games and that's what we did."

The running back got his second score of the night via the passing game, a wild reverse that turned into a flea flicker which left Ballage wide open at the 15-yard line. He would score without being touched by a defender, putting Arizona State ahead 23-21 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter.

With both defenses in the process of completely melting down, the first half scoring was far from over.

Ballage would go on to score two more touchdowns off of direct snaps before halftime, but Mahomes matched those scores with a pair of his own. The flurry of touchdowns resulted in the Sun Devils taking a 37-34 (yes, that's a halftime score) advantage into the locker rooms.

"It was a pretty intense locker room," said Graham when talking about the team's demeanor at before the game and at the half. "I could have maybe even played one play."

If the first half seemed like a train ride for both defenses that was struggling to stay on the tracks, the final 30 minutes was a complete trainwreck. Using some of that aforementioned intensity, Ballage and the rest of Graham's offense scored three unanswered touchdowns after Texas Tech scored the first seven points of the second half.

The third of those scores - a one-yard touchdown run coming off another direct snap - put the maroon and gold up 58-41 with 11 minutes left and appeared to resemble a dagger in the side of the Red Raiders.

We should have known better.

Mahomes and company would carve up the opposing secondary twice in the final 10 minutes, pulling the Red Raiders to within 10 after Arizona State led by 17 on two separate occasions.

"Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury does a great job," Graham said after the win. "That game was really frantic with the amount of adjustments that were being made back and forth. There was a lot of cat and mouse stuff and I love coaching because of that part of it."

The Sun Devils would ultimately win that cat and mouse game, getting a 43-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez before a game-sealing interception was made by De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes with just under three minutes to play.

That, in fact, would be the dagger, as the Arizona State offense was able to run out the clock without any timeouts left on the opponent's sideline. The final score was 68-55, marking the team's highest offensive output since 1979 and serving as a "coming out party" of sorts for first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey.

"I didn't want to convince him of what we wanted to believe in," said Graham when asked about the addition of Lindsey to the staff. "I wanted to get back to the pure form of our offense, which goes back all the way to 2006, 2007, 2008. What we're trying to do is run the ball and be a physical team, and I know he thinks the same way because we come from the same coaching family."

That thought process worked to a tee on Saturday as the Sun Devil offense passed their first test of the season with flying colors. The performance was wild, exciting, and extremely impressive for just the second game of the season.

The defense may struggle this year, but if one thing is for sure it's that the offense will keep this team in every game it plays.

If tonight was any indication, that's going to result in one fun season for Arizona State.