Though it hadn’t much this season, the Rivers were flowing for Fresno State.
Ronnie Rivers, that is.
The sophomore running back rushed for 214 yards, contributing to Fresno State’s (12-2) 436 yards of total offense en route to the Bulldogs 31-20 win over Arizona State (7-6) in Las Vegas.
With that, the Red Wave grabs their 12th win of 2018, the first time ever in program history.
It was a celebratory rushing day for Eno Benjamin as well, as he topped Woody Green’s ASU single-season rushing record. But it was Rivers who stole the show.
Coming into Saturday afternoon, the sophomore held 531 rushing yards to his name this season. The 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl MVP and his stout offensive line dominated the depleted ASU defense.
A tie game at the end of two quarters, the Devils looked to be in it as much as any of their close games in 2018. More often times than not, they looked to be controlling the game.
An Aashari Crosswell interception, followed by a Brandon Ruiz 44 yard field goal, gave the Devils a lead late in the third quarter.
After a communication mishap by the Sun Devil defense, Rivers found his way running free for a 68 yard touchdown.
That, followed by an absent devil offense, led to the Bulldog Vegas party.
A day that marked the end of Manny Wilkins’s career ended unfortunately. A hard hit on his final play—which ultimately ended in an interception—left him holding his knee on the ground for several minutes.
Wilkins walked off the gridiron in his own power, for the last time in the maroon and gold.He finished the day with 121 total passing yards and two interceptions.
Benjamin finished with 118 yards on the grass, and 1,645 on his astonishing season.
“Well, his effort and his second effort, his ability to every week, focus in on what he needs to do. The extra time he spends in the building,” said head coach Herm Edwards said of his running back’s season. “I mean a guy like Eno, in pro football we call him a pro’s pro. He’s constantly sitting in the office learning, he sits with the offensive linemen, so all of those things are a a credit to his work ethic. To work as hard as he does, his effort. He shows up on the field. He shows up on the field. That’s why he obviously broke the record.”
ASU’s offense missed N’Keal Harry, there’s no doubt.
Three second half points, sparked by an Aashari Crosswell interception, left the Devils in the dust and the Bulldogs atop Sin City. Offensive coordinator Rob Likens was asked about the difference in the offensive between the two halves.
“(Fresno State) started committing more defenders into the box and started doing a lot of slanting and blitzing some backers,” he said. “And when that happens, and you can expect that, you know when it comes down to it, when you’re a running team like we ended up being this year, in order to move the ball and score a lot of points you have to on play-action passes. You have to because the (defense) is going to squat down on the underneath plays like you saw on the pick-six. We hit one and it got called back and then we just failed to hit a big play in the play-action pass game.”
While bowl games are an end to a season that was, they also act as a preview to a season that will be.
Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, in several areas, showed that he is more than capable in being Arizona States number one receiver in 2019. His 192 total yards led all Sun Devils as he was the go-to wide-out, kick returner and punt returner. Aiyuk showcased his raw skills as the season wore on, and proved himself today without number one on the field.
“He did a nice job, yes he did. We’re going to rely on him next year and there’s some other young ones (freshman Geordon) Porter and some guys like that,” Edwards said. “When you lose a guy like N’Keal, he can tilt the field when he lines up. When he’s not in there I thought the young guys stepped up and played pretty well.”
Arizona State finished 2018 with a 7-6 record, the first of the Herm era.
Though an inauspicious ending, it’s important to note the strides the program made.
“Well, we built somewhat of a foundation due to Manny and some of the seniors. I think going forward now with Eno and some of the seniors coming back we kinda set a standard of what we try to accomplish, we didn’t accomplish our number one goal and that was to try to play for a Pac-12 Championship,” Edwards said. “That’s it, we needed to go 5-0 down the stretch and we finished 4-1. Fell a little short. But I think now with recruiting is about to take place, I think bringing in more guys to add to Eno and the rest of the guys that we brought in last year, we have the ability to build something pretty nice around here.”
With many freshman showcasing their mastery, and a strong recruiting class coming to Tempe, the 2018 season isn’t one that will go down in the record books, but it could the start of a long successful journey.