Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin has been a huge part of the Sun Devils’ success this season, thus why he was named a Doak Walker award semifinalists. Benjamin’s stardom plays a large part in what Herm Edwards has tried to create as the identity of Arizona State’s team.
However, as good as Benjamin has been, the duo of Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry have the most impact on if the Sun Devils make it to Santa Clara as the Pac-12 South representative in the conference championship. During the three-game winning streak, Wilkins and Harry have connected 20 times for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Keep in mind in ASU’s win over USC, Harry had a 92-yard punt return and Wilkins added a 45-yard touchdown run.
Despite the three straight wins, Wilkins and Harry know that they could do more according to offensive coordinator Rob Likens:
“You show them the film. I had (senior quarterback) Manny (Wilkins) and (junior wide receiver) N’Keal (Harry) in my office yesterday and we were just talking, like hey man, this, this, this and this,” Likens said. “They were like, ‘I know, I know, I know. We can be so much better, we can do things so much better. I don’t worry about the confidence of some of the guys on offense. I worry about their humility, whether they’re coachable or not, and our guys are, so they’ve passed that test with me. I can be honest with them.”
Likens continued to talk about how coachable Harry is even as the player of his magnitude:
“Sometimes when you have a great player with N’Keal Harry, they don’t like to be coached, so you’re walking around on egg shells with great players sometimes, like you don’t want to make them mad. He’s not like that,” he said. “You can say hey N’Keal you did this wrong, you can’t do that. He’ll be like, ‘I know coach.’ When you have players that are humble enough and coachable enough to be able to listen to where they need to improve and then agree with you, and then go out and change it, then you don’t have to worry about that.”
Wilkins’ numbers haven’t been eye popping, but he’s been efficient with what he’s done. Over the past two games, he’s completed over 70% of his passes for the first time this season. With Edwards installation of this new ground-and-pound identity, Wilkins has been asked to less, and in this case less has been more.
The redshirt senior quarterback showed more growth as well in his final game in Tempe. In the second quarter against UCLA, Wilkins had a ball picked off by Darnay Holmes, who returned it the distance to put the Bruins up 14-10.
Wilkins with under five minutes to go in the half got the ball back to help guide the Sun Devils on a touchdown drive to regain the lead and the momentum as they headed into halftime.
“The thing I was most pleased with was our ability to not fold when we threw the pick six because that,” Likens said. “It’s a fork in the road with the team’s character and maturity and it looks like we took the right turn when that happened, and especially (senior quarterback) Manny (Wilkins). For him to go out and take them on a scoring drive just kind of like erase that was huge, probably won us the game being able to go ahead and do that. So I was proud more so of how they handled the adversity in the game.”
Harry will always put up numbers, as he has all year. The spotlight has promptly been on him with every defense he’s faced this season. Benjamin’s rise to stardom has helped relieve some of the focus from defenses, but Wilkins’ leadership both verbally and physically by example has put the Sun Devils in a spot to win the South.
Wilkins and Harry’s (most likely leaving for the NFL Draft) time at Arizona State are ticking, they’ve come this far this season, they might as well attempt to put themselves and their team in one of the top spots in ASU history.