It wasn’t the prettiest performance by any means for the Arizona State Sun Devils when they managed to squeak by the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners, dropping 20 unanswered points en route to a 32-28 win on Friday night.
We’ll address the defense tomorrow. For now let’s stick with the offense.
Despite finishing with 469 total yards, Arizona State’s offense didn’t move the ball with the same ease it did against Texas Tech last week. Let’s take a look why this was, and what the style of play-calling did that enabled ASU to generate points.
To view the full charting of ASU’s offense against UTSA, click this link. We’ve provided quarter-by-quarter breakdowns below, followed by insight on what was called.
Quarterback Manny Wilkins was making his first career road start, and it showed early on.
ASU opened up with three consecutive running plays to begin the game, but then relinquished a sack on Wilkins’ first drop back of the evening. On the ensuing plays, Wilkins connected with freshman N’Keal Harry on a back-shoulder strike downfield, then overshot him. He later missed on a throw to Jalen Harvey, who was wide open.
Although Wilkins looked a little nervy at the start before settling down, two factors had a significant impact on his performance.
1. Tim White
White, who had led the team in targets entering Friday’s contest with 18 (10 vs. NAU, 8 vs. Texas Tech), was absent from Friday’s game. The receiver has been dealing with an ankle sprain this week, and head coach Todd Graham wisely opted to allow White a week off ahead of Pac-12 play. For Wilkins, the absence of White meant he was without his top target and the team’s most reliable big play threat out of the slot who also serves to keep defenses spread out.
Against Texas Tech, Wilkins had White available as an option near or behind the line of scrimmage; he wasn’t afforded that luxury against UTSA. As a result, Wilkins was forced to attack the Roadrunners defense downfield and towards the boundary.
Wilkins threw eight passes at or behind the line of scrimmage against Texas Tech, with White being the target on four of them; against UTSA, he threw four passes at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Without White, Wilkins would have to get in rhythm in a different manner. He eventually found some form, but it was clear UTSA was subsequently able to focus on other components of Chip Lindsey’s offense without No. 12 on the field.
2. UTSA stymied the Pass Option of the RPO game
Sure, the broadcast overall wasn’t the greatest, but the color commentator caught on during the first series: UTSA’s corners pressed ASU’s receivers at the LOS on the outside throughout the night, not allowing Harvey or Harry any type of free release like they enjoyed last weekend.
The check a receiver is responsible for making when met with press-man coverage is to run a fade route, which helps explain why so ASU’s receivers ran so many vertical patterns.
This can be noted as a byproduct of White’s absence, too. With him in the lineup, defenses are stretched both horizontally and vertically. UTSA was able to focus on defending the run while forcing Wilkins to beat them deep.
In fact, Wilkins threw 12 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air before reaching its target versus UTSA; he threw just four of those type of throws against Texas Tech.
N’Keal Harry’s contribution
He’s so good. He is so, so, so good. He is so, so, so, so, so, so good.
Arguably the greatest positive that can be taken from White’s absence was the involvement of Harry. He finished with five receptions for 78 yards and a score, and led the team in targets with 11 (12 if you count a touchdown pass he hauled in that was called back because of a holding penalty). Three of Harry’s catches went for first downs, and another for a touchdown.
Whether it was by design, or just by the fact he kept getting behind his defender, Harry’s involvement and early contribution is exciting. He’s yet to top 100 yards in a single game, but he should manage to at some point in the season.
After tying the NCAA single-game scoring record, running back Kalen Ballage didn’t have an explosive encore. Though he was given the chance to see the ball, and he was solid.
Ballage carried the ball 14 times for 62 yards and a touchdown in ASU’s win, and caught five passes for 41 yards on six targets. We’re not going to get caught up on it, but he also returned four punts and one kickoff.
ASU manufactured a total of 24 touches for Ballage (25 potential). Lindsey even drew up a shovel pass and a screen call during the same drive to get the ball to him. Time will tell as to whether or not he’ll be featured more often on offense, but this was one of the most balanced distribution of touches between Ballage and Demario Richard (22 carries) have been since they both arrived in Tempe.
What’s still interesting to me: Richard and Ballage were only on the field at the same time for two plays not run out of the Sparky formation (the first play of the game where Ballage took a jet sweep after motioning from the slot; another in the fourth quarter where Ballage was thrown a pass out of the slot coming off play-action).