Think of any superhero movie. At a certain point in the film, the hero gets knocked down, testing his will, his strength. The opponent looks as if they can’t be defeated. That moment happened to the Sun Devils on Saturday.
Spartans’ quarterback Brian Lewerke got drilled by linebacker Darien Butler on a blitz. It didn’t matter. Lewerke got enough on it to get the ball to receiver Cody White. White rose above safety Langston Frederick for a 31-yard touchdown to put the Spartans up 13-3 with 16:27 left in the game.
The Sun Devils, who struggled the first three quarters to score, looked out of it. But much like that hero in the movie, they found a way.
Arizona State (2-0) went to their strengths, their powers, even the ones unknown coming into the season. Herm Edwards’ team put together 13 fourth quarter points, including kicker Brandon Ruiz’s 28-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to send No. 15 Michigan State (1-1) back home to East Lansing with a 16-13 defeat.
Sun Devils 16-13, Ruiz hits the game-winner. Another Blackout, another upset. pic.twitter.com/fkH83jh5sd— House of Sparky (@HouseOfSparky) September 9, 2018
“It feels great man, it honestly does,” quarterback Manny Wilkins said. “All the mistakes we made, all the throws that I missed, at the end of the day we came in at halftime and made the adjustments that we needed to make. And we won the game, that’s all that matters at the end of the game.”
Wilkins didn’t play his best game, but it wasn’t needed. After the Spartans scored, the next drive Wilkins put together three straight throws of gains over 14 yards. The offense sputtered inside the 10 and they settled for a field goal to make it 13-6. Wilkins finished the night going 30-for-48 for 380 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown went to his superstar receiver N’Keal Harry. Wilkins hit receiver Kyle Williams for a 38-yard gain. He then sent a jump ball to Harry, who won it against Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne. Harry rolled into the end zone after the 21-yard toss from Wilkins. And just like that, the game was tied.
“That touchdown was really just me and Manny being in the same page,” Harry said. “He trusted me to come down with the ball. And he put the ball in the perfect spot. He put it in a spot where the defender really didn’t have much chance to getting to it. At that end of the time it’s all the extra work that we’ve done after practice, throughout the past couple years and it showed.”
#Pac12AfterDark things are happening in Tempe! pic.twitter.com/Zy1E0WpIE1— ESPN (@espn) September 9, 2018
The Arizona State defense got the ball back from the Spartans very quickly in the fourth, allowing Wilkins and company to have 4:55 to try and win the ball game. And they did. Edwards decided not to go for the end zone from Michigan State’s six-yard line, kneeling out the clock to set up for the Ruiz winner. But as Wilkins alluded to after the game, that drive isn’t possible without the coaching staff and running back Eno Benjamin’s big play.
On third-and-8, Wilkins found Benjamin wide open, he then proceeded to keep chugging along for a 25-yard gain. It was perfectly designed.
“We knew they were going to play man. We knew that if we lined up Eno on the boundary, that the linebacker was going to have to run with him and go through all those guys,” Wilkins said. “We made the perfect play call. Coach (Rob) Likens called the perfect play. Rub for Eno, we put him in the flats. That was the difference there at the end of the game.”
Wilkins, Harry, Benjamin, the offense, that’s the Sun Devils’ super power that was known. The defense was a power that was just discovered tonight. All night, the inexperienced defense kept Arizona State in the game.
Three plays stand out the most. In the Spartans’ most successful drive of the first half that ended in a field goal. The Sun Devils came up with a big stop on third-and-1 at their own 14-yard line. On a deflection in the end zone, Tillman safety Dasmond Tautalatasi intercepted a ball that Lewerke intended for his tight end Matt Sokol. And on Michigan State’s opening drive of the second half, defensive tackle Renell Wren blew up a third-and-2 play to force the Spartans to settle for another field goal.
The young defense could’ve allowed 21 points instead of six on those drives. The game could’ve been out of reach way earlier than it seemed or just unreachable entirely. But defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales’ group gave the Sun Devils a shot at a win and took full advantage of it.
“Coach G(onzales) always gave us credit for getting to the ball. Which I understand, but his game plan is something else. Over the two weeks he’s done for us is crazy,” safety Jalen Harvey said.
The Spartans put up 377 yards on the Sun Devil defense, they bent but did not break. And through two weeks they’ve only allowed 20 points. A crazy number many thought could not be obtainable.
“Congratulations has to be given to our coaching staff and players. When you play a game like this against a team that has a lot of firepower,” Edwards said. “They’re historically one of the better teams in college football. How do they (ASU) react? I thought our guys reacted pretty good. I’m happy for our football team.”
At the end of the day, the biggest congrats goes to Edwards. A man who heard all the doubts about his skill as a head coach, if he could do it at the college level. He didn’t let it bother him. And now Edwards is a man at the helm of a football team that is 2-0 and just handed the 15th best team in the country a loss.