Arizona State just refused to get going against UTSA in its first road game of the season. To say the team struggled in the first half of its first road game would be an understatement as the Roadrunners ended the first half with a 14-12 lead.
After Zane Gonzalez knocked in a career-high 54-yard field goal, UTSA marched 75 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown catch from Aron Taylor.
The Sun Devils and UTSA then traded three-and-outs before last week’s superstar Kalen Ballage made a critical mistake. The junior running back attempted to field a bouncing punt, failed to do so, and UTSA pounced on the opportunity. The Roadrunners needed just three plays to go 15 yards, finished by Jalen Rhodes’ 11-yard catch.
The bad times kept rolling for the Sun Devils. After what looked like a long-range bomb from Manny Wilkins to N’Keal Harry was called back by a holding penalty, Wilkins was intercepted by UTSA defensive back Nate Gaines.
The maroon and gold remained within striking distance thanks again to Gonzalez, who banged in another 54-yard field goal with eight minutes left in the half to cut the deficit to 14-6.
Harry hauled in a 27-yard pass from Wilkins just before the half ended to bring his team within two points as the teams went to the locker rooms.
Somehow, the start of the second half was even worse than the first. Quarterback Dalton Sturm escaped what looked to be a sure sack and turned it into a 34-yard rushing touchdown on his first series of the third quarter.
Following a missed Arizona State field goal, the Sun Devils held the Roadrunners to a three-and-out. That’s where things, again, got worse.
De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes tried his hand at fielding a punt, muffed it, and UTSA took advantage by scoring a touchdown a play later via a 24-yard pass from Sturm to tight end Shaq Williams.
Finally, things started to turn around for Arizona State.
After running the ball for 13 straight plays, the Sun Devils aired it out for a few plays. On the third consecutive pass play, Wilkins found Fred Gammage down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown, bringing ASU within three points, 25-28, with 11:40 left.
Both teams exchanged three-and-outs as the fourth quarter continued, and it was Arizona State that broke the deadlock first. The Sun Devils marched their way 58 yards down the field over nine plays, finished by a power-right run in the “Sparky” formation.
Once again, Kalen Ballage found the end zone, and the maroon and gold went up 32-28 with 3:15 remaining.
After spotty tackling and assignment discipline to start the game, Arizona State forced UTSA into four consecutive three-and-outs to spark the comeback effort. Junior defensive back J’Marcus Rhodes seemingly put the game on ice, intercepting Sturm with 1:44 remaining in the game, but Rhodes went out of bounds before intercepting the ball, so offense retained the ball.
However, defensive linemen Ami Latu and sophomore JoJo Wicker sacked Sturm on consecutive plays to secure the win.
While it was nearly a panic-attack of a loss for Arizona State, the Sun Devils advanced to 3-0 on the season with the California Golden Bears coming to Tempe next Saturday.