Arizona State’s win over NAU was definitely not a blueprint for the upcoming season.
But, a win is a win.
Let’s soak it in and understand it could have been worse. The Devils did not lose against a team like Eastern Washington or Northern Iowa.
I hear a lot of people complaining about how frustrating ASU was in the first half, for instance. Stomping on NAU was not a goal, but instead, it’s easy to guess Todd Graham wanted a smooth awakening.
No excessive stress, no injuries. Just a game to get things going and weave the newcomers into the team.
ASU apparently did not suffer any setback during the game, while key contributors earned meaningful reps against other players than their counterparts. We all know Todd Graham had to find a whole new offensive line, rebuild a new secondary and more importantly, start a new quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins earned the starting gig following an offseason during which he led the offense without real concerns. Fellow sophomore Brady White finished second over true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole and injured Bryce Perkins.
Wilkins had to go through one last test against NAU to solidify his starting position ; nothing leads to believe he failed it.
He completed 20 of his 27 passes for 180 yards and no touchdown (the pass to N’Keal Harry that ended in a TD is actually considered a run, but whatever). He did throw a interception, which is not optimal but expected for an inaugural start.
However, here is the deal breaker: Wilkins added 89 yards and a touchdown on 14 rushes.
The sophomore quarterback eventually closed the game as the best ASU rusher. This is exactly what Todd Graham wants at quarterback. The offensive schemes were often criticized as being too predictable by the past. New quarterback, new options. The most obvious one appears to be quarterback versatility.
Todd Graham best years in Tempe happened with Taylor Kelly at the helm. Don’t forget how efficient he was to punish opponents with his legs.
On Saturday night, nothing really extravagant emerged for the new offense. Todd Graham and Chip Lindsey probably wanted to hide their playbook for next week’s game against a way more challenging opponent in Texas Tech. Anyway, Manny Wilkins was the center of attention for a good reason.
The dual-threat quarterback will be the center of attention in 2016, by bringing the heat in the air or on the ground.
ASU owns one of the Pac-12 most interesting running units, with ‘Thunder’ Demario Richard and ‘Lightning’ Kalen Ballage. Manny Wilkins is the cherry on the cake, the third option that could open up the whole offense. If you only take care of the running backs, Wilkins is going to make you pay for it.
The test against the Lumberjacks was not the most convincing of all, but you would expect Todd Graham to actually try multiple things. And providing confidence to his new quarterback could end up very useful.
There is no need to panic.
Manny Wilkins will dictate how the Sun Devils play. But the passing chart should not be your only focus ; the damage he makes on the ground will be the success barometer for ASU.
Add ‘Hail’ to ‘Thunder’ and ‘Lightning’.