Under Todd Graham, the Arizona State Sun Devils have prided themselves on playing mistake-free football and being a “run, play-action pass” team. In his final game at the helm, ASU lived up to neither of those statements.
In a 52-31 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack in the Sun Bowl Friday, the Sun Devils weren’t just beaten: they were dominated.
The Wolfpack offense took the field 11 times against ASU. Of those, N.C. State failed to score three times. Once they came within a yard, but turned the ball over on downs. Once they punted. And once was the end of the game.
But they were not flawless, especially on special teams. ASU’s first scoring drive, which resulted in a 24-yard field goal by freshman Brandon Ruiz, was kept alive by a roughing the punter penalty. The Wolfpack even muffed a punt that gave the Sun Devils a short field.
But none of it mattered, not with the way ASU played.
The Sun Devils came out slow, turning the ball over on their first possession on a fumble by sophomore wide receiver Kyle Williams.
Despite senior running back Demario Richard coming off the best four-game stretch of his career on the ground, the game plan early seemed to focus around the aerial attack. Coming out of the gates, 10 of ASU’s first 12 plays from scrimmage were designed pass plays, with Richard and senior running back Kalen Ballage each receiving a carry.
By the time Richard held the ball for the second time — 16 minutes into the game — ASU was already down 14-0.
For years, Richard and Ballage had been used to setting the tone in games, to various degrees of effectiveness. But with the opponents’ best defensive lineman on the sideline in street clothes, the Sun Devils relied on the right arm of redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins to establish themselves.
When throwing to sophomore N’Keal Harry it worked to the tune of nine catches for 142 yards and a touchdown.
When throwing to others? Not as much.
Throwing to everyone that isn’t Harry, Wilkins completed 48 percent of his passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted three times, including one in the end zone.
Neither the offense nor the defense set each other up for success in the first three quarters, digging ASU into a 21-point hole with 15 minutes remaining, needing a prayer to make it a game again.
Even when the offense became productive in the fourth quarter, two failed onside kicks gave N.C. State a short field, something it didn’t need to score on a porous Sun Devil defense, but a gift nonetheless.
In the end, the Sun Devils were outclassed in nearly every phase of the game, sending Graham out the same way he came in, watching a blowout in a bowl game.