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ASU vs. Texas Tech: Lindsey’s offense is firing on all cylinders

Texas Tech v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Where do we begin?

The record-setting performance from running back Kalen Ballage? The incorporation of true freshman wide receiver N’Keal Harry? The sound play and comfort level of a starting quarterback who now has two full games under his belt?

There’s probably more reasons, but if you didn’t know why offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey was so sought after during the offseason, you know now.

Through two games, the offense looks as explosive and efficient as ever.

“That’s our system,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said of Lindsey’s play-calling. “I didn’t wanna convince him of what we were gonna believe him. “

The 2016 ASU offense is littered with playmakers at each of the skill positions, and Lindsey—through two games—has ensured he’s going to make use of it.

He has.

Kalen Ballage

“I wanted to get back to kind of the pure form of our offense,” Graham said. “If you wanna win—I know all of the fancy plays, everybody likes all of that—you have to run the ball. You have to be a physical football team, and I knew he and I believed with that because we came from the same coaching family.

“And he’s just getting started.”

Lindsey has made sure his team’s physical presence is felt in each of the first two games.

Let’s start with how he’s freed Ballage, the man whose name is now cemented in college football’s record books after tying the FBS single-game scoring record with eight total touchdowns in ASU’s 68-55 win over the Red Raiders.

“Scoring eight touchdowns wasn’t a part of the plan at all,” Ballage said. “I just wanted to win the football game and we ended up doing that. I just want to contribute to the team in any way I can.”

Ballage’s video game-like performance came as a result of Lindsey putting him in position to do so. It only took 15 touches for the 6-foot-3, 230-pound back to reach the end zone eight times, but how they came about was the most exciting.

His 13 carries translated to a career-high 137 rushing yards. His career-high 48 receiving yards came on two receptions; he was targeted four times. Lindsey made sure he fed Ballage, and he produced.

Ballage truthers have been liberated.

The hype surrounding him ahead of the season—comparisons ranging from Derrick Henry to now Leonard Fournette—feel almost justified, if not warranted now.

The Wildcat package (let’s go with “KB package” as title) he operated in around the goal line gives ASU a safe, surefire scoring look after squandering a high percentage of its chances a season ago. Finally, the potent combination of speed and size Ballage presents enables the Sun Devils to enter the area with confidence.

Still, let’s not forget Ballage’s backfield mate. Demario Richard ran the ball 30 times for 109 yards, catching three passes for 31 yards.

Richard didn’t score, but his presence made it possible to Ballage to reach the end zone on over half of his carries. The Sun Devils lined up the K.B. package at least seven times, with Richard on the field at the same time. The two were also on the field for at least two other plays.

For those familiar with our site, we’ve said the two of them on the field together is going to be a problem—tonight it was confirmed.

Even without Richard on the field, Lindsey has made it clear he’s going to utilize Ballage:

Through two games, Ballage has averaged 13.5 total touches per game under Lindsey. In 2015, under former offensive coordinator Mike Norvell he averaged 13.2 per game.

The difference? The output:

Through two games in 2016, under Lindsey, he’s averaging 9.7 yards per touch. In 2015, under Norvell, he averaged 5.2 yards per touch.

Yes, it’s a small sample size. Those skeptical are allowed to be, but there’s reason to be excited for what Ballage can do under Lindsey.

In his second game, against a Power-5 opponent, Lindsey’s offense generated a record-setting rushing performance.

Not to mention, it occurred on a night where the starting offensive line unit wasn’t fully healthy; starting right tackle Zach Robertson didn’t start, forcing right guard Quinn Bailey to slide over in his place, and center Stephon McCray moving to right guard, while junior transfer A.J. McCollum filled in at center.

Manny Wilkins

Remember the quarterback battle that was going on during the summer? It’s essentially been forgotten.

Through two games, Wilkins’ confidence has grown tremendously, as Graham said Saturday night.

“I thought he had a giant growth from Week 1 to Week 2,” Graham said. “And I’m not surprised.”

Lindsey isn’t asking him to do much—simply taking what the defense gives him by getting the ball out quick to the playmakers on the perimeter (such as Tim White and Cameron Smith), and on paced slant routes (N’Keal Harry, Jalen Harvey).

There’s a concentrated effort to stretch the field, but not solely horizontally or vertically. Instead the route combinations Lindsey’s incorporated make use of previous plays, then breaking from tendency with small wrinkles that don’t ask his quarterback to do too much.

“Just take what they give ya,” Graham said. “…we wanna minimize risk, and try to be simple.”

That’s allowed the redshirt sophomore to comfortably and confidently take the field. In two games, he’s 48-of-64 (75 percent completion rate), has thrown for 531 yards, two touchdowns and one pick (which was thrown in the first quarter of his first game).

Efficiency, some flare, and excitement for No. 5, who has assumed his starting role with quite the entrance.

N’Keal Harry

When we talked about how Lindsey and the five-star recruit had potential to be a big-time pairing, well, to think he’d be used so well and purposefully is shocking.

Harry presents a sizable target. He stands at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Measurables alone suggest he’s a quarterback’s best friend. Lindsey is making sure of that.

Harry hauled in six passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. The stat sheet says he was targeted on six passes. A significant amount of his targets, and routes ran, came on slants. It’s the same route former Southern Mississippi receiver Michael Thomas led the entire FBS in during the 2015 year.

The big target is off to a hot start through two games in Tempe. Lindsey knows what he has in him, and again, he’s going to make sure he uses him whether that’s as a safety valve target, a vertical threat to stretch the field, or as a blocker.