The Arizona State Sun Devils are coming off another disappointing season in 2016 and have been itching to correct their fortunes for the 2017 season. Questions surrounded the program heading into the first game of the year with New Mexico State. Can Coach Graham keep his job? Does Manny Wilkins stay healthy? How does that young back end defense perform?
Obviously, all those type of questions will play themselves out as the season progresses, but those questions will be constants for the Sun Devils.
However, the first concern for the Sun Devils are the New Mexico State Aggies.
The Aggies came to Sun Devil Stadium for their season opener and looking to ruin the season debut of the Sun Devils. This is one of those games that Arizona State struggles with. It’s a game that should be a blow out and easily controlled, but ends up being much closer than it needed to be.
Arizona State needed to pounce on the Aggies quickly and they did.
All it took was the first possession for New Mexico State.
New Mexico State quarterback, Tyler Rogers throws the interception to the Sun Devils Joey Bryant. From there the Sun Devils went on a nine play, 61 yard drive capped off by a Kalen Ballage touchdown from seven yards out and just like that it was 7-0 Arizona State.
The Sun Devils made the Aggies go three and out on their next possession to give another their offense another crack at scoring.
Arizona State wasted no time in taking advantage of the quick turnaround. It took two plays for the Sun Devils to put another touchdown on the board.
Sun Devil quarterback, Manny Wilkins completes a pass to Jalen Harvey for 53 yards and ASU goes up 14-0. It looked like it was going to a long night for the New Mexico State Aggies.
Hold that thought.
Just when you thought it was safe to think the Sun Devils would be in control all game long, it wasn’t safe.
New Mexico State decided that it wasn’t going to go quiet into the desert night. In the second quarter the Aggies put together a 13 play, 89 yard drive that ended with Tyler Rogers throwing a strike to Jaleel Scott in the back corner of the end zone. The catch by Scott was a Odell Beckham Jr. type of catch which made the crowd go “ohhh.”
Suddenly it was 14-6 and the Sun Devils looked lethargic, tired, and almost uninterested.
The Aggies on their last drive of the half took the ball 89 yards in 11 plays and scored with a misdirection play. New Mexico State had the complete attention of the Sun Devils and the fans that came out to watch the game on a simmering 108 degree evening.
At the halftime break it was Arizona State up by just a single point, 14-13.
Manny Wilkins, who won the starting job over Blake Barnett, played a solid first half. Wilkins was 12-17 for 161 yards and a touchdown.
The issue was with the defense. The young secondary was getting picked apart by the Aggies quarterback Tyler Rogers. Rogers passed for 184 yards in first half and the Aggies had the momentum going into halftime.
Arizona State could ill afford to get beat by a Sun Belt team. That would have got Coach Graham fired after the game.
Whatever was said at halftime in the Sun Devil locker room, it worked. Arizona State came out with bad intentions and was looking to put the hammer to New Mexico State.
The first possession for the Devils resulted in a 52 yard field goal and gave them just a little breathing room at 17-13.
However, what came next was something that the Sun Devils hadn’t done in long time. Connect on deep throw.
Manny Wilkins took the next possession and made it a one play possession by connecting with John Humphrey on a 60 yard post pass. Wilkins put the ball right on the money to Humphrey in the end zone.
All of sudden ASU was up 23-13, had all the momentum, and had their fans breathing a little easier. The Sun Devils were not done scoring. Three minutes later, Kalen Ballage rumbles in from 20 yards out and the lead balloons to 30-13.
Fans started heading to the exits on this balmy evening.
The fourth quarter started with a bang for the Sun Devils. Kobe Williams picks off Tyler Rogers and scampers 49 yards to the end zone to push the lead to 37-13. The Sun Devil faithful were breathing easy.
Don’t forget this is Sun Devil football.
The last quarter of play for the Sun Devils was something that they shouldn’t be to proud of.
With about 8:30 minutes left in the game, the Sun Devils had a 24 point lead reduced to six points. That shouldn’t happen. At all.
Arizona State wins the game 37-31, but the defensive missteps numerous. Missed tackles, playing loose coverage, and letting big plays happen were the issues late in the game. If New Mexico had a few extra minutes on the clock they may have tied or won the game.
“We are 1-0 this week and that is all I care about. I’ll take an ugly win every week.” Coach Graham said in the post game presser.
Sun Devil fans want wins, but they want convincing wins where their team puts their collective foot down to put their opponent away.