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NMSU vs. ASU: Sun Devils win home opener by narrow margin, 37-31

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It was a 6-point win for ASU in the Valley of the Sun.

New Mexico State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0) beat the New Mexico State Aggies (0-1) by a score of 37-31, winning its home opener for the 19th year straight beating the Aggies in front of a crowd of 46,596 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Two Arizona State quarterbacks played, four ASU running backs touched the field and both ASU junior college transfer cornerbacks snagged interceptions, as the Sun Devils captured a 37-31 win.

While head coach Todd Graham mentioned all he cares about is “being 1-0,” it was a win of less than a touchdown to a team who hasn’t beat a Power Five opponent since 2011.

The Sun Devils ran for just 79 yards compared to the Aggies’ 151. In overall yards, NMSU beat the ASU 549 to 400.

“We’ve got to run the ball better,” Graham said. “They were doing a lot of stunting and twisting and stuff inside... I don’t care if we don’t have one recorded run. When we’re throwing in those swaps, those are sweeps. That’s what we needed to stick to.”

And to put more aid to injury, the Sun Devils gave up seven sacks. Last season, ASU gave up a Pac-12 most 41 sacks.

“We gave up way too many sacks,” Graham said. “I don’t think we protected very well. And they were doing a lot of stuff inside.”

The Aggies had 27 first downs over ASU’s 19 and ran 88 plays compared to the Arizona State’s 70, bu the Sun Devils led from the get go, and that’s what ultimately won ASU the game.

Arizona State bolted out to an early 14-0 lead less than eight minutes into the contest. Walk-on corner Joey Bryant sparked the scoring after he intercepted a pass from Tyler Rogers that led to a nine-yard, 61-yard drive ending in a Kalen Ballage touchdown ran in the Sparky formation.

Arizona State’s next score came just two minutes later when Manny Wilkins connected with Jalen Harvey on a 53-yard touchdown pass to break open a two-touchdown lead with 8:26 left in the first quarter.

But what seemed the start of a Sun Devil blowout, turned to another uncomfortably close halftime score against a lowly ranked opponent. The second quarter was all Aggies, as NMSU scored twice, reminding the Sun Devils that at halftime they led FCS Northern Arizona 10-3 in 2016, and Cal Poly 21-14 in 2015.

After two straight Arizona State drives without a score, the Aggies muscled a 13-play, 89-yard drive that ended in a spectacular grab by Jaleel Scott in the corner of the end zone, putting the Aggies down just 14-6 just four minutes into the second quarter.

The Aggies continued to pour points on ASU in the absence of the Sun Devil offense production. In what was boosted by a 38-yard catch by Scott early in the drive, Rogers led the Aggies down the field with six complete passes before he dove into the end zone and put NMSU just a point away from the Sun Devils, 14-13.

The first half ended of on a Brandon Ruiz 56-yard missed field goal.

After a 13-point NMSU only second quarter, the Sun Devils fired back with 23 of their own points in the next 17 minutes.

The Sun Devils shaved over six minutes off the clock to start the second half to set up a 52-yard redemption field goal that was drilled by Ruiz. After an NMSU three and out, Wilkins unloaded for a 60-yard pass touchdown pass to Oklahoma transfer John Humphrey to put the Sun Devils ahead 23-13 on a one-play, nine-second drive. Ruiz then missed the point after.

Arizona State continued its offensive explosion when Ballage rushed for a 20-yard touchdown, as he scored his second of the night and put the Sun Devils ahead 30-13. The Sun Devils used just over three minutes to set up the 20-yard Kalen Ballage touchdown run.

Five plays following the scoring run, cornerback Kobe Williams picked off a Rogers pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown, putting ASU ahead 37-13 just over two minutes into the fourth quarter. Williams joined Bryant as the second Sun Devil to earn an interception. Graham had high praise for his entire secondary, including safeties Dasmond Tautalatasi and Chad Adams.

“I was kind of curious. I thought they did a really good job... That might have been the least amount of blown coverages I’ve seen,” Graham said. “I was proud of Das (Dasmond Tautalatasi). I thought Das and Chad (Adams) were solid. They were very solid.”

But after an all Sun Devil third quarter and start of the fourth, New Mexico State wouldn’t go away. Running back Jason Huntley broke open for 50 yards and scored a touchdown, as he put the Aggies closer, down 37-19. The two-point conversion was then failed.

The Sun Devils decided to dabble with Blake Barnett, who went three and out, before the Aggies came even closer and scored again. Under three minutes later, a 23-yard pass to Huntley made the score 37-25 with 5:04 left in the game.

A four-minute, 10-play ASU drive led by Barnett, ended in a punt and gave NMSU another chance with just 48 seconds left in the game. NMSU drove down the filed and Rogers delivered a 29-yard pass to Scott who scored a touchdown to end the game. The Aggies came up short, losing 37-31.

Again, as close as it was, Graham expressed his gratitude for a win.

“Two weeks from now, we’ll say win number one. And nobody cares. I’ll take an ugly win every week.”

ASU Stats

Offense

Leading rusher: Ballage (84 yards, 18 carries, two touchdowns)

Leading receiver: Humphrey (123 yards, six catches, one touchdown)

Leading passer: Wilkins (22-27, 300 yards)

Defense

Leading tackler: D.J. Calhoun (13)

Most sacks: Tashon Smallwood (2), Koron Crump (2)

Most forced fumbles: Smallwood (1)

Most interceptions: Williams (1), Bryant (1)