After a barnburner of a win against Texas Tech, the Arizona State Sun Devils’ flat performance in its 32-28 victory over the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners was underwhelming to say the least. With that being said, 20 unanswered points and a lockdown performance from the defense is enough of a reason to still have somewhat unreasonable optimism.
Overall, Arizona State has plenty to address in the next week before they welcome California into Sun Devil Stadium for its Pac-12 opener.
Here’s what stood out the most in its win over UTSA:
The Sun Devil defense is boom or bust, but not bad
This seems like a preposterous claim, but despite the numerous missed tackles, the maroon and gold tightened up big time on defense. Other than Dalton Sturm’s 34-yard scamper and a one-play, 24-yard touchdown following a muffed punt, the Roadrunners did not have a second half drive exceed eight yards.
Rumor is, that’s a good stat.
Defensive lineman Ami Latu had a particularly solid night inside, regularly pushing UTSA’s center and right guard off the line of scrimmage.
However, big plays continue to be an issue. Six plays of at least 20 yards is too many for anyone’s liking, especially considering how many came after a missed tackle.
As a whole, Arizona State’s defense displayed the entire spectrum of what can happen. For every missed tackle, there was a solid open field tackle.
N’Keal Harry is good at football
Harry took on a bigger role with Tim White limited to fair catches, and he stepped up big-time. Five catches for 78 yards on 11 targets gave a glimpse into what Harry could be as the number one option.
Harry was strong on the ball all night, and he could’ve had two touchdowns had one not gotten called back for a holding penalty. And again, the running game was bolstered by Harry’s ability to block well at his position.
In short, it was a fun glimpse.
I’ll just leave this here:
Laiu Moeakiola is still ASU’s best option at SPUR
After starting the game at bandit safety, Moeakiola moved back down to SPUR with great success. He did well in Arizona State’s effort to contain Sturm’s scrambling abilities, and he brought stability and intelligence to the position. Three tackles and two pass breakups seems minute, but his communication is always a big point of praise when it comes to his game.
Graham also adjusted by keeping to linebackers inside the box at all times, spying on Sturm, and once the Sun Devils started wrapping up, taking better angles and gang tackling, the defense was solidified.
‘Sparky’ is still automatic
Chip Lindsey’s offense struggled to get into the red zone, but when it gets close enough to get into its Sparky formation, a touchdown seems inevitable. At some point, a team will scheme up a way to slow it down, but when Arizona State switched between Sparky and base offense, it clearly switched up the tempo enough to put UTSA’s defense on its heels.
Kalen Ballage’s patience and vision is impressive as he waits for the big guys up front to do their thing. And in a game where the offensive line did not have its best night, they were still able to lay out a few lanes for Ballage to find the end zone once again.
Manny Wilkins isn’t quite there, but he’s close
The redshirt sophomore started slow, going 4-of-12 for 67 yards and an interception, but he still showed the arm talent that helped him earn the QB1 title. A handful of strikes down the field to Harry and Gammage showed what he’s capable of as he gets more comfortable.
At the same time, Wilkins did not display the ball security that Graham enjoys. On more than one occasion, Wilkins put the ball in jeopardy with poor decisions and backfoot throws that we haven’t really seen in his young career. These are easy things to correct, but it has to be noted that Wilkins was erratic with the ball.
Also, hurdling didn’t really work this time.
Gonzalez is a savior
Settling for field goals is always a bummer for the offense, but in college, three points is never a guarantee. Luckily for Arizona State, Zane Gonzalez seems to be in the best form of his four years as a Sun Devil.
His only missed field goal came with the caveat of a bad snap, and even still, he hit two 54-yard attempts and a 45-yarder to keep his team within striking distance before making its comeback.
Oh, and his busy night landed him on top of Pac-12’s all-time scoring list.
So is Tim White
As everyone learned last night, fielding a punt is not a guarantee.
The fact that White, who many assumed wouldn’t see any action, was able to step in and at least read the ball, wave his hand in the air and catch it was invaluable.