Herm Edwards heard all of the noise questioning his hiring.
As the program has tripled its media attention from the last three seasons into just one summer, the football world turned to see how Edwards would begin his tenure.
The Sun Devil football train was bellowing down the track and steamrolled anything in the way, it was the UTSA Roadrunners on a hot Arizona night.
It was a blowout that made many Tempe natives forget about Todd Graham.
Arizona State (1-0) dominated the UTSA Roadrunners (0-1) 49-7 at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night in front of a full student section, but a rather sparse paying crowd.
Edwards had his opportunity to gloat, to puff his chest out and talk about the shellacking his team just handed a top five defense last season. He chose not to, instead choosing to put the negatives under the microscope and unleash a myriad of cliches.
“It was sloppy, if you’re going to be a good football team you can’t have 11 penalties,” said Edwards. “The thing that I probably liked the most, is as we were committing fouls, we didn’t lose our composure.”
The Sun Devils dominated their opponent in all facets of the game for this first time in years. Yes, it’s one game. Yes, UTSA isn’t a great team. But, the renewed attention to the program will look good for one week before ranked Michigan State flies into the Desert for a now highly anticipated tilt.
Before two minutes had come off the game clock, ASU was up 14-0 thanks to a 58-yard touchdown reception from N’Keal Harry and defensive lineman Shannon Forman’s unlikely 25-yard interception to the house.
The passing game started off hot, but it was the running game that put ASU over the top as Eno Benjamin dominated and Isaiah Floyd excelled in a change-of-pace role.
Benjamin ran for 131 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns, one in the running game and one in the passing game. He excelled in his first collegiate start and his teammates were quick to praise.
“He does not look like a first-time starting running back out there,” said Manny Wilkins. “He protected well, he caught the ball out of the backfield for a touchdown, he ran the ball really efficiently.”
Floyd shined in the second half when the score dictated it was time to rest some starters. He took his opportunity and gained 66 yards on five carries.
The Sun Devil defense despite the inexperience were impressive throughout the game. Danny Gonzales’ new 3-3-5 scheme had the players swarming all around the field and rattled the Roadrunner passing attack, and stonewalled any read-option attempts.
The Sun Devil defense held UTSA to 220 total yards of total offense, and kept the Roadrunners off the board until only 6:03 remained in the contest. It was a complete effort from the unit. The ASU defense had nine sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception taken back for a touchdown.
Edwards was unwilling to heap too much praise on the defense, but said they tackled well and forced turnovers that led to the victory.
UTSA head coach Frank Wilson pulled starting quarterback DJ Gillins near the end of the first half, but the Roadrunners didn’t fair any better with Cordale Grundy calling the signals. Neither quarterback could find a rhythm, and by halftime the Roadrunners become one-dimensional and predictable.
The Sun Devil defense pounced on the opportunity.
Wilkins started his swan-song season with a strong night, completing 16 of 27 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns. The offense fired on all cylinders all night, and the leadership of Wilkins shined in the blowout. Harry caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite the success, ASU battled mental errors that led to eight first half penalties. Under Todd Graham, ASU was among the least penalized teams in the nation.
Part of what made Graham’s team so disciplined was a rigid commitment to perfection. The sideline was notably looser on Saturday night, and the player’s appear to appreciate it.
“We have a lot more freedom than last year, and we have to respect that freedom,” said cornerback Chase Lucas.
Against more talented opponents, ASU won’t be able to dominate games with numerous mental mistakes. First-time safety Jalen Harvey was ejected for targeting in the second quarter.
It’s hard to harp on negatives during dominate wins, but it remains to be seen if ASU will be able to clean up the penalties.
For now, the Sun Devils are undefeated and can enjoy the spoils of a victory that was more than nine months in the making.
The football program gave the fans something to smile about, a rare occurance the last few seasons.