The offensive line, running backs and linebackers all struggled during the second week of the season, but there were some units that performed well during the loss.
Let’s take a look at Arizona State’s positional grades against SDSU:
Although the offense struggled mightily at times, redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins put together a solid performance Saturday night against a perennial top-20 defense.
He completed 20 of 33 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, a line to which he could’ve added another 50 yards an an extra touchdown had John Humphrey not dropped a sure score near the end of the third quarter.
He also did commit a key fumble, but Wilkins’ consistent accuracy on deep balls and ability to avoid an interception against one of the best secondaries in the country was a huge part of why the Devils were still in this game late.
Running backs: C-
It’s a bit difficult to determine how much the running back unit is at fault for only managing 44 yards on 18 carries, as the offensive line consistently failed to provide any sort of room to run through.
That being said, senior tailback Kalen Ballage is a game-changing athlete, and should be able to rise above mediocre play from his teammates and make a difference. He didn’t, and the Devils were forced into the spread often Saturday night.
Wide Receivers: B
For the most part, the ASU wideouts did their job against the Aztecs.
Against an extremely good secondary that led the nation in interceptions the last two years, the Devils receivers constantly found room over the top and were able to bail the offensive line out when Wilkins had to roll out of the pocket and look for a target on the sidelines.
N’Keal Harry wasn’t open as often as he should have been, but he was able to run a perfect fade route for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. Sophomore Kyle Williams continued to contribute early on this season with four catches for 71 yards and sophomore Frank Darby was great at stretching the field for the ASU offense, adding three catches of his own for 111 yards and a score.
Offensive Line: D
This is where things fell apart for the Sun Devils.
For the second straight week, Arizona State’s offensive line let it down in a big way. Wilkins was sacked five times and the line consistently failed to provide Ballage anything to work with against the Aztecs.
The Sun Devils would attempt to run the ball, then waste crucial possessions and get scored on on the other end. This forced Wilkins to have to air the ball out deep down field, a strategy he barely had time to try and execute before pressure reached him in the pocket. ASU has to figure it out here.
Defensive Line: B-
I would put a bit more of the blame regarding Rashaad Penny’s monstrous game on the linebackers, as, for the most part, the defensive line did their job during week two. Koron Crump and company totaled four sacks on the night and ten tackles-for-loss.
When programs like SDSU line up with upwards of seven blockers on each play, the most you can ask of your defensive line is to disrupt their rhythm and create small windows for the linebackers to pounce on. The pressure was their and the small gaps were there, but it was the linebackers who struggled to take advantage of them.
There’s no doubt that Penny is a tremendous, if not generational talent at running back for SDSU. That being said, a combination of missing tackles and getting absorbed by blocks sunk the Devils’ linebacker unit against the Aztecs.
As soon as Penny crossed the line of scrimmage, he consistently made guys miss in the middle of the field, often shaking tackles or simply running untouched for a huge gain. The linebackers have to be better, as constant poor performances last year were a key component of this team’s struggles.
This was another quietly surprising unit for the Sun Devils Saturday night. After allowing over 350 yards from Tyler Rogers and NMSU last week, the ASU secondary gave up just 73 yards on nine completions to the Aztecs. They weren’t tested often, but it was still refreshing to see a secondary that didn’t allow a single big play to beat them over the top or down the field.
The Aztecs’ passing line would’ve looked a bit better had they not had so much success on the ground, but overall, the corners and safeties for the Sun Devils did their job during the loss.