Saturday’s game at Texas Tech is a textbook example of what can happen when you start out too slow. A 21-3 deficit was too much to overcome for the Arizona State Sun Devils, but the offense moved the ball well in the final three quarters, giving the ASU a chance. The defense and special teams, though, left much to be desired.
Despite unrelenting criticism of redshirt junior Manny Wilkins after last week’s loss to San Diego State, he’s been the most consistent offensive player for ASU. That continued Saturday, as Wilkins completed 27 of 41 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. However, Wilkins did have his worst play of the season on the game’s final drive. On third down and 15, needing a touchdown to send the game to overtime, Wilkins took a 15-yard sack instead of throwing the ball away, essentially ending ASU’s chances.
Running backs: B+
Seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard both found the end zone Saturday, but it was what happened between the goal lines that should give ASU fans hope for the ground game. Both senior backs averaged 3.5 yards per carry, and Ballage was effective in the Sparky formation to keep drives going. Richard also contributed to have success in the game by helping Wilkins stay upright as a blocker, something missing from the first two games of the year.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends: B
Saturday was a coming out party for sophomore Kyle Williams, whose seven catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns show the converted defensive back is a force to be reckoned with in the passing game. Sophomore N’Keal Harry set career highs with 13 catches for 148 yards, re-introducing himself as the outside force he was a season ago. Redshirt freshman Frank Darby scored for the second straight week, though it was a rushing touchdown on a lateral from Wilkins. However, this rating is hurt by the tight ends, who didn’t contribute much, if anything, to the cause, either blocking or in pass routes.
Offensive Line: C
The experiment of sophomore Cohl Cabral at center didn’t last long, as a poor snap on the second drive resulted in a Texas Tech recovery and touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Zach Robertson had two false start penalties in his first start of the season, one on the first drive of the game and one on the last. Wilkins was kept relatively clean Saturday, though, only taking two sacks and the running game looked a lot better, totaling 168 yards on 44 attempts.
Defensive Line: B
Junior JoJo Wicker sacked senior quarterback Nic Shimonek twice and the Red Raiders gained just 72 yards on the ground with 2.5 yards per carry. While Texas Tech isn’t known for its ability to run the ball, keeping the Red Raiders from consistently moving the ball on the ground is the first step toward slowing down their dynamic aerial offense.
The ‘backers were forced into a lot of coverage, not a strength of this unit. But redshirt junior Christian Sam and senior DJ Calhoun led the Sun Devils with 11 and 10 tackles respectively. Senior Koron Crump left the game in the first quarter due to an injury, putting junior Abraham Thompson into the game. Thompson recorded two tackles and one QB hit, but Crump’s pass rushing presence was missed as Shimonek had plenty of time to throw, for the most part.
Redshirt junior Joey Bryant sacked Shimonek, but that was the lone highlight from a unit picked apart by the senior quarterback. The Red Raiders compiled 543 yards through the air, burning Bryant and sophomore Kobe Williams on the outside, and eventually redshirt freshman Chase Lucas.
Special Teams: C-
To say the special teams unit was lacking is an understatement. Freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz missed a 41-yard field goal on ASU’s first possession and redshirt sophomore punter Michael Sleep-Dalton had a punt blocked because the line didn’t block senior receiver Ja’Deion High. Pretty good returns by Ballage and redshirt sophomore Ryan Newsome save the grade slightly, but two critical errors changed the course of the game.