Arizona State features an immaculate 4-0 record and is on the verge of being ranked in the last edition of the AP Top 25. It was not really expected, but it is definitely a good surprise.
The ground attack, pulled by a diabolical pair of running backs, is as good as advertised. The same can be said about the very good run defense. Plus, the group of receivers has developed into a deep, dangerous unit mixing explosive youngsters and trusted veterans.
Manny Watkins is far from a liability we feared he could have been. The sophomore quarterback is the heart and pulse of this year’s offense, showcasing terrific legs and a surprisingly solid arm.
All these points helped ASU staying undefeated this past Saturday.
Well, maybe not the running game. The Cal defense was primarily focused to stop the threats of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. It worked in the first half, as the Sun Devils came relatively empty, going back to the locker room with a 14-point deficit.
3-and-out. INT. 3-and-out. FG. 3-and-out. 3-and-out. TD.
ASU could not get anything going but Todd Graham made the right adjustments at half-time. It worked against Northern Arizona. It worked against UTSA. And once again, it worked against California.
In each of these three games, the Sun Devils were either down on the scoreboard, or either facing unexpected adversity. The final results? Only wins.
Todd Graham and Chip Lindsey put the game into the hands of their quarterback, and Manny Wilkins answered magnificently. His last performance against Cal might show in the best possible way his influence on ASU’s destiny.
First half: 5 of 10 for 62 yards, run TD, INT.
Second half: 16 of 20 for 228 yards, pass TD, 2 run TDs.
Behind the clutch game of its quarterback, ASU has proved to be a comeback team in 2016. But what now?
It’s relatively easy to come back against defenses (or lack thereof) like Texas Tech or California. It will be much harder to climb out of early, deep holes against better Pac-12 teams.
ASU needs to develop a team that comes in to play starting in the first quarter.
The volatile secondary does not help. Injuries and suspensions in the front-seven either. Manny Wilkins is still learning the quarterback job. The whole team remains a rock that is currently being molded.
All these will keep holding ASU back for a little while. However, the state of the program looks brighter than we imagined and these issues could be resolved as the year plays out.
The next three weeks will be crucial to evaluate the Sun Devils and their development.
Trips to talented-but-dysfunctional USC and to secretly decent Colorado loom, as well as the reception of UCLA. These Pac-12 South foes can hang with anybody and a false start will probably cost more than just a scare.
The Sun Devils possess the strengths to become a true contender for the Pac-12 title. But for now, they also have flaws that prevent them to aim at the top of the conference. You would logically think of the defense.
But being a one-half team is also one of these flaws.