Arizona State's offense didn't find its rhythm until late in the third quarter in its season-opener against Northern Arizona, but first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey was satisfied with the way sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins responded to adversity in his debut as a starter.
Wilkins, who attempted his first career pass against Northern Arizona in a 44-13 victory, won the starting job over redshirt freshman Brady White during fall camp.
Wilkins finished his night 20-for-27 for 180 yards, and Lindsey said Wednesday he saw no opening jitters from a quarterback making his first start.
“I thought he handled himself really well,” Lindsey said. “I was really worried about him being too amped up, you know, and too excited, but I thought he handled everything in stride. Even when he made the mistake (Wilkins threw an interception on ASU's second drive of game), he came right off the sideline, got on the phone and said ‘Hey, I should’ve gone here, it’s my fault, won’t happen again,’ that’s what you want. There wasn’t any bad body language, wasn’t any fussing and fighting.”
Lindsey indicated Wilkins showed a nice grasp of ASU's offense, and stayed positive even after throwing a first quarter interception. His response to adversity impressed Lindsey, and that's something Lindsey hopes his quarterback builds upon in week two.
“Win, lose or draw, good, bad or indifferent, the quarterback is important, as far as people looking to that guy,” Lindsey said. “Obviously, going into the season, none of our guys have really played yet. It’s a little different, but I think once they saw how (Wilkins) handled things, he was very positive up and down the bench with our players. I think that’s extremely important. This thing is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We’ve got a long ways to go, we’re going to improve every week.”
Wilkins was in control of an offense that didn't expand its playbook much Saturday, but that was by design. ASU’s offense only threw the ball 27 times, and many of those were quick screens designed for wide receivers Tim White and N'Keal Harry, who recorded a 34-yard touchdown on a screen pass later determined to be a rush.
Wilkins' ability to run the ball Saturday aided the Sun Devils' rushing attack, as he finished with a team-high 89 yards on 14 carries. After practice Wednesday, junior running back Demario Richard mentioned how ASU's versatility in the backfield is similar to a wrestling tag team.
“It’s like wrestling around here, it’s like a tag team,” Richard said. “It’s like, ‘Alright, my turn.’ Next thing you know, tag Nick (Ralston) in he goes in for a score, tag Kalen (Ballage) in he goes in for a score -- now we’ve even got Manny in the trio, tag Manny in for a score. It’s like a tag team wrestling match for us. I’m excited, we showed you guys a sneak peek of our offense and how explosive we can be.”
Looking ahead toward Texas Tech, the Red Raiders' defense allowed 370 total yards of offense to FCS opponent Stephen F. Austin in a 69-17 victory, with 312 of those coming via the Lumberjacks' passing game. Nevertheless, Lindsey said the Red Raiders are accustomed to facing up-tempo offenses, and ASU will need to improve its execution to ensure a strong performance Saturday.
“They’re athletic and fast. I think they’re improved,” Lindsey said. “Obviously, they played well against Stephen F. Austin. They’re used to going against tempo, I think everyday, you can see that. Coach Gibbs does a great job. I’ve known him for awhile, he was at Auburn one time when I was growing up in the south and coaching in the south. So, got a lot of respect for him, and he’s been at the highest level. So, we’re going to have to really play well and really execute to have an opportunity to score some points.”
News and Notes
- Senior offensive lineman Stephon McCray didn't practice with the first team offense during an 11-on-air tempo period Wednesday as junior college transfer A.J. McCollum worked with the first unit at center. McCray warmed up normally and participated in individual drills, but didn't work with either the first or second unit after starting Saturday's game against Northern Arizona.
- Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Zach Robertson warmed up in the injury line and was walking gingerly throughout the warmup period. Robertson still participated in individual drills and worked with the first team offense during the 11-on-air period, but was clearly not playing at full speed.
- Junior linebacker Christian Sam wore two different shoes to practice Wednesday and appeared to have a running shoe on his right foot with a cleat on his left foot. Sam was injured early in Saturday's game, and left the field in a walking boot. Sam worked out at Muscle Beach during drills.
- Senior linebacker Salamo Fiso missed Saturday's contest due to disciplinary reasons. After warming up normally on Wednesday, Fiso jogged over to Muscle Beach to ride a stationary bike while the rest of the defense went through individual drills.
- During individual drills, ASU's defensive line worked on defending screens. After practice defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said Texas Tech runs screens as well as any team in the country.
- Sophomore offensive lineman Quinn Bailey practiced with the tackles during individual drills. Bailey has practiced with the guards and tackles this fall and may have been working there to prepare if Robertson is unable to play at full speed.