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ASU Football: Positional grades from 37-31 victory over NMSU

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but the Sun Devils are 1-0. The Arizona State Sun Devils defeated the New Mexico State Aggies 37-31, and even though ASU won the game, the players and coaches shouldn’t spend too much time celebrating a six-point win over a team that plays in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Sun Devils got off to a hot start and it looked like ASU may have finally turned things around. But then the second quarter came around NMSU made a comeback and the Sun Devils went into half-time only up 14-13 solely because of a blocked PAT. Poor defense that began in the second quarter was the culprit for the Sun Devils as they allowed 549 yards of total offense and 18 unanswered points to end the game.

Let’s look at how each position unit performed:

Quarterbacks: B+

Manny Wilkins dominated the early parts of the game, as he led two consecutive drives for touchdowns and was solid throughout the game. Wilkins went 22-27 for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Wilkins showed signs of growth against NMSU by making good decisions throughout the night and didn’t throw an interception against the Aggies. Blake Barnett made his ASU debut late in the game and went 2-3 for 21 yards.

Running Backs: A-

Kalen Ballage had a very productive game with 18 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Although Demario Richard suffered a leg injury early in the game, Ballage was able to step up and be the workhorse. Ralston had no rushing attempts but caught three balls for 17 yards. Ballage was breaking tackles left and right and thrived the whole night. His two touchdowns are why the running backs deserve an A minus.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A

Jalen Harvey, John Humphrey and N’Keal Harry were the impact players of the WR/TE unit, and although Harry didn’t catch a touchdown he still hauled in six balls for 69 yards, broke plenty of tackles and made plays the entire game. Humphrey had the best performance out of this group as he caught seven balls for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive line: B-

The O-line gave up seven sacks against a much less talented NMSU team. Granted Wilkins is a scrambler which leaves him more susceptible to being sacked outside of the pocket, but allowing six sacks is definitely something this unit needs to improve on. On the positive side the O-line didn’t allow Wilkins to be under duress a dangerous number of times against the Aggies which deserves to be acknowledged. The offensive line also opened up a lot of running lanes for Ballage which has improved even more since last season.

Defensive line: B+

The defensive line had a productive night against the Aggies and ended the night with four total sacks. JoJo Wicker and A.J. Latu both had one sack and Tashon Smallwood had two. Wicker had three total tackles (two solo), Latu had three total (one solo) and Smallwood had five total tackles (four solo). Karon Crump was probably the most active on the D-line against NMSU with six tackles (six solo) and two sacks. This group was disruptive and productive for most of the game.

Linebackers: C

The linebackers had their way with stopping the run, but defending the pass was a different story. The Aggies offense picked apart the Sun Devils defense through the air, but mostly the linebackers in the second half and ASU couldn’t adjust. NMSU continuously threw short passes and the ASU linebacker corpse couldn’t contain them. On the bright side, DJ Calhoun had 13 tackles (eight solo), J’Marcus Rhodes was repeatedly in the backfield and had nine tackles (eight solo) and Christian Sam had eight tackles (six solo).

Corners/Safeties: C+

The corners and safeties were a roller coaster ride in the first game of the season. The bad side of this unit was that they gave up 398 passing yards with 549 total yards and started to cave in during the third quarter. The positive side for this group was that the both cornerbacks snagged interceptions. Joey Bryant had an interception and Kobe Williams had a pick six.

Kicker/Punter: B+

Freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz made his ASU debut against NMSU and did well for the most part. He was put in a tough situation on his first ever field goal attempt in college which was from 56 yards out which he missed but redeemed himself and hit a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter. Ruiz finished the night 1-2 on field goals and made 4-5 extra points. Sophomore punter Michael Sleep-Dalton also started his first game as a Sun Devil on Thursday night. Sleep-Dalton had a successful night. He punted six times for 226 yards and landed four of those punts inside the 20-yard line.