A running back, defensive lineman and of course, quarterback Manny Wilkins took the podium after Arizona State’s 41-30 win over Colorado on Saturday night.
They put respect where it was due.
“It’s the offensive line, 110 percent,” Demario Richard said on his 189-yard career high performance.
The Sun Devils had given up six sacks amidst the USC debacle, averaging 3.88 sacks allowed per contest — good for the third worst in the nation. Behind the line of scrimmage, Wilkins had been tackled 30 times in 2017. On Saturday night, not a single time was he taken down for a loss.
As an extreme rarity, it was the first time the event took place all season.
The Sun Devils were ahead of Colorado, 34-30, with just under three minutes to go. Trying to run the clock, drown the Buffaloes with points and secure the win, Graham mouthed to Richard: “You have to get your pad level down. We have to make three first downs.”
Richard didn’t answer. Graham said the offensive line responded for him: “Hey coach, we’re chilling out. We’re good.”
From their own 15-yard line, two plays passed before the Sun Devils had the game in their own hands, running out the clock on the Colorado 17. Richard had amassed a 63-yard run, slicing through defenders and into the red zone.
Five plays and roughly two minutes of clock later, Wilkins leaped into the end zone, giving ASU a 41-30 lead with 52 seconds remaining.
“I was just thinking ‘It’s my time, I have to seal the deal.’ I know the offensive line is 110 percent confident,” Richard said of his 63-yard run. “We worked hard all week in practice and they’re starting to build their confidence when we play great games at home. I’m proud of them and we’re going to keep working like champions in November.”
In Arizona State’s 48-17 loss to USC, the Sun Devils had sacrificed 99 yards on 10 penalties — the most in Graham’s tenure as a head coach since 2010. Four of those 10 penalties were on the offense, and two of them were on offensive linemen: Cohl Cabral and A.J. McCollum — both on false starts.
On Saturday night, the Sun Devils had just one penalty. Neither offense or defense was to blame. It was on an illegal block in the back on special teams.
“I’m just really proud of our guys. Three hundred eighty-one rushing yards and one penalty,” Graham said. “One hundred percent ball security. Pretty disciplined football.”
Also of relation to the up-front battle, the Sun Devils sacked Colorado quarterback Steven Montez five times. Coming into Saturday night, Montez had been sacked just 17 times.
The Sun Devils had held Utah to just one sack in their 30-10 win and two sacks to then-No. 5 Washington in their 13-7 upset.
Moving forward, ASU’s next opponent, UCLA, gives up an average of 38.8 points per game, ranking 122nd in the nation. In sacks by, UCLA has just 15, which is tied for the second-worst in the Pac-12.
After a monstrous 381-yard rushing performance, ASU is poised to maintain its momentum in Pasadena.