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ASU vs. Texas Tech: Ballage sets the record, but Manny Wilkins is the unsung hero

Kalen Ballage may have gotten all of the attention on Saturday, but Manny Wilkins was the key to a big victory against Texas Tech.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A little over one week ago, it was announced that sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins would be the starting quarterback for the Arizona State Sun Devils.

It wasn't much of a surprise as Wilkins was the "veteran" in a sense. Head coach Todd Graham had said that the team had known for weeks which signal caller was going to start, however, no one really knew how he was going to perform.

The real surprise was the difference in performance Wilkins had between his first and second starts as a Sun Devil.

"I think that he had a giant growth between week one and week two," Graham said after Saturday's win against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Let's go back to week one.

Against FCS opponent Northern Arizona, Wilkins threw for 180 yards and a 74 percent completion rate in his first career start. The sophomore did have zero passing touchdowns but only threw one interception.

On the rushing side, he ran for a total of 89 yards on 14 attempts, had two hurdles (he hurdled again last night, I really think this should be a running stat) and had one touchdown.

With week one, the run game was the heart and sole of Arizona State's offense and was essential to its victory. Everyone who had a rushing attempt, with the exception of senior punter Matt Haack, scored a touchdown and there were no passing touchdowns scored in that game.

Last week, running the ball was how the Sun Devils gained yards, got down field, and eventually blew out the Lumberjacks.

"If you want to have to run the ball," said Graham on Saturday.

Overall, Wilkins' performance in week one was fairly average. Aside from the hurdling, nothing really special came out of it. Granted he hadn't really played in two years, so not much was expected, but it's not like he underperformed.

Week two was a slightly different story.

Although he was overshadowed by running back Kalen Ballage's record setting night, Wilkins played an incredible game which ended in a deserving 68-55 victory.

"I am really proud of Manny and the offensive line tonight," Graham said. "It's really hard to point out individuals in a win like that."

Wilkins ended with 351 yards, had a 75 percent completion rate, two passing touchdowns, and threw zero interceptions.

Even though the percentage only went up one percent, let it be known that he completed more than he even attempted last week (20-27 vs. 28-37).

When it came to throwing the ball, this week it just looked like a whole new Manny. Granted, this is largely due to offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and him really opening up his playbook, but still, someone had to execute it.

Last week, the plays that were seen were limited and as a result, so was Wilkins' performance.

What was fun to watch in Saturday;s game was there were multiple plays where the intended receiver was wide open. Not only was the receiver wide open, but a big play was made after the pass was completed. The way Texas Tech's defense was exposed through Lindsey's plays and Wilkins' execution was like poetry in motion.

Every time the Red Raiders got down field and scored through their high paced "Air Raid" offense, Wilkins and his offense responded with a scoring drive of their own nearly every time.

While the ground game may have belonged to Ballage, Wilkins was still efficient ending with 55 yards on ten carries, while not losing any yards when he ran the ball himself.

And yes, he did hurdle another defender.

It may have been Ballage's night for the record, but the other hero was Wilkins and his "perfect" game. He was efficient, he was electric, and he was a key part to Arizona State's victory.

"What I like is that I could sense in that locker room and with our team that this was a big game," said Graham. "And [Wilkins] stepped up big time."

Against the Lumberjacks, Wilkins was a caterpillar; average and moving along. Against Texas Tech, he emerged as a butterfly, flapping his wings up and down the field and leading his team to a big victory in the process.