Manny Wilkins only threw it 22 times for 199 yards and a touchdown in his final game in Sun Devil Stadium, but he still combined for three total touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ 31-28 win over UCLA on Saturday. Wilkins contributed 60 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, he had 14 of the Arizona State’s 59 carries.
That’s the difference between Wilkins’ time under current head coach Herm Edwards and former head coach Todd Graham, is Wilkins isn’t asked to do it a lot. This season through 10 games, Wilkins has thrown 28 times or more three times, two of those in the first three games of the season. In 2017, he threw over 28 passes eight times, that number was seven in 2016.
Things are different now. It’s never been easy for Wilkins, and that was the theme as he entered the post game press conference one last time in Tempe.
“Life could take you so many different ways, and you just trust God’s plans. Just stay the course. Good things happen. I’m ecstatic, though. I’m blessed to be a part of this football team. It means the world to me,” Wilkins said with much emotion in his voice. “Like I said we just stayed the course, no matter what the play was — it was all about who wants it more. I think you could see, it’s the look in our eyes right now, we damn sure wanted it”
Edwards established early on in his Arizona State regime that they were going to be a ground-and-pound team. The better play of the offensive line as a whole and the star emergence of sophomore running back Eno Benjamin have helped fulfill that plan. It’s led to closer games, more wins, but most importantly taking less off the shoulders of Wilkins.
But everyone, Edwards, Benjamin included, wanted to make sure the Wilkins and the seniors left with one last victory at home.
“I mentioned that all week and talked to the team before we went out,” Edwards said. “I told them ‘We need to do this for these guys.’ I talked about it in the meeting last night. If they have aspirations to play at the next level some of them will have opportunities, but as you mentioned most of them will not. I told all the other guys ‘Look at them and watch them when they walk out of here when they get introduced. That’s going to be you one day.’ This happens. This is part of football.”
“We knew it was the last game here for the seniors,” Benjamin said. “I don’t on the field we were really thinking about that, it was we just have to win this game to get where we want to get to.”
Coaching changes, injuries and a back-and-forth support from a fan base has all been a piece in Wilkins’ time in Tempe. In his final season, he’ll finish it having won 5 of the 6 home games this season, including two upset victories over top 15 ranked teams.
Wilkins’ career is far from finished, now bowl eligible, the Sun Devils are inline for at least three more games. It could be more, Wilkins and crew are still in control of winning the Pac-12 South. Arizona State will have to win two road games, double of the amount they’ve won this season in their single road victory over USC. One will be in a most likely a cold-weather matchup in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks and one final Territorial Cup in Tucson against the Arizona Wildcats.
“We want it. We got two left. It’s time to move one, enjoy this one. It’s time to take care of business next week,” Wilkins said. “Week-by-week-by-week. We know what’s at the end we would be foolish if we didn’t think about it, but we have a tough game next week that we have to take care of. We all know what comes after that so business each week.”