In a game that looked more like a track meet, Arizona State earned a team win over Texas Tech and broke some individual records to go along with it.
Despite only having seven touchdowns in his career prior to Saturday night, ASU junior running back Kalen Ballage only needed to touch the ball 13 times to break the ASU and Pac-12 record, and tie the NCAA record with eight touchdowns in a single game in ASU's 68-55 win against Texas Tech at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Sun Devils (2-0) stayed undefeated against non-conference teams under ASU head coach Todd Graham with the win against the Red Raiders (1-1). The 123 combined points scored on the night broke the record for most points scored in an ASU game, eclipsing the 116 points totaled in ASU's 61-55 triple-overtime loss to Oregon in 2015.
“I am really proud of this win and I don’t think I have ever been so proud of this team and how hard they fought," Graham said. "Our whole locker room is ecstatic because our mission is to win and to be champions and I love the character and toughness that our guys showed tonight.”
ASU's win over Texas Tech is crucial when it comes to the rest of the Sun Devils' season moving forward. The Sun Devils could potentially open the season 4-0 after playing UTSA and Cal in the next two weeks. ASU plays UTSA on the road, but the Roadrunners are a spread team with an unsettled quarterback situation. In the following week, ASU returns to Sun Devil Stadium to face an Air Raid team in Cal (1-1), which lost 45-40 to San Diego State Saturday night.
Following his team's win against Texas Tech, Graham said it "was a big game" and the win will move the team forward as the season progresses. Graham specifically said he saw strides of improvement from ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins, who notched his second career start.
"Every win means a lot and each week we go out there and take it day-by-day and focus up this next week and not take any team lightly and do what we do and have fun," Wilkins said.
The Sun Devils' offense went stride for stride with Texas Tech's Air Raid attack, finishing the game with 649 total yards of offense and 351 through the air. Taking away ASU's one-play drive before halftime, the Sun Devils scored touchdowns on six consecutive series for the second-straight week.
"They put on a great show but our defense got a couple of stops and we tried to capitalize on it as much as we could," Ballage said. "We got out there and said we are going to have to be unstoppable every time we touch the field and that’s what we ended up doing.”
Wilkins finished the night going 28-for-37 for 351 yards and two touchdown passes and Ballage finished with 13 carries for 137 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in addition to two receptions for 48 yards and a receiving touchdown.
With eight touchdowns total, Ballage tied the NCAA record set by fullback Howard Griffith of Illinois in 1990 for the most touchdowns by any player in a single game. Ballage also tied the FBS record for most touchdowns in a quarter with four in the second quarter. The last time that happened was in 2002. The previous Sun Devil record of five touchdowns in a game was set by former running back Ben Malone in 1973.
“To be honest, I really don’t care about it (breaking records)," Ballage said. "You can ask these guys, I really don’t care about it. I want to win football games and that’s what this is about to me and that is what happened tonight and scoring eight touchdowns wasn’t a part of the plan at all, I just wanted to win the football game and we ended up doing that. I just wanted to contribute to the team in any way I can.”
The Sun Devils went into the half leading 37-34 after Ballage had a mere six carries for 41 yards, but three rushing touchdowns in short-yardage situations. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound running back also had two receptions for 48 yards and one touchdown at half. The 37 first half halftime points were the most by ASU in a half since the Sun Devils racked up 42 in the first half against Washington State on Oct. 31, 2013.
“I thought we had giant growth tonight and a gigantic performance," Graham said. "We were better this week than we were last week and we still have a lot of things to work on to improve even more. We have to figure out ways to win and this team has the heart and character to make it happen. I love this team, I love our guys and I love coaching them.”
Ballage's explosiveness was a clear bright spot for the Sun Devils, even as its defense struggled against the Red Raiders.
With 612 total yards of offense including 540 through the air, ASU's passing defense was torched by the arm of Texas Tech junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In the first half alone, Mahomes was 23-for-29 for 353 passing yards and four touchdowns. In the game, Mahomes finished 38-for-53 for 540 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Both interceptions came in the second half and both were secured by the hands of ASU senior cornerback De'Chavon Hayes. Mahomes' second interception to Hayes came with 2:53 to go in the game and ASU ahead 68-55, which all but iced the game for the Sun Devils.
“They (ASU) did a lot of good things the whole game," Mahomes said. "Defensively they did blitz a little bit more in the second half and it worked out well for them so it was good adjustments they made at halftime. We still need to execute better as an offense.”
Minus the interceptions, Texas Tech's offense fired on all cylinders Saturday night, with 11 different receivers catching the ball for Texas Tech and junior wide receiver Cameron Batson leading the way with 9 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown.
Mahomes put together a great string of drives in the first half, but could only lead the Red Raiders' offense to one touchdown drive in the opening minutes of the third quarter before ASU hit its stride on offense.
“They (ASU defense) make good adjustments," Mahomes said. "They came out, they put more pressure on me. They tried to disguise their blitzing more, but at the same time as an offense we weren’t doing things we’ve always done. We could tell we were pressing, I especially was pressing trying to make plays happen instead of just taking what they gave me. Credit to them for putting me in that situation, but at the same time we have to execute at a high level as an offense.”
By the time Mahomes and Texas Tech had a chance to respond with another touchdown of its own, ASU had already jumped out to a 58-41 lead behind two third quarter touchdowns and an early fourth quarter touchdown by Ballage. The Red Raiders scored their second touchdown of the second half with 9:23 remaining in the fourth quarter off a touchdown scamper by sophomore running back Demarcus Felton that pulled them within 10 points of the Sun Devils -- 58-48.
“We stepped up and made plays," ASU sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr said. "It was going really fast, we weren’t getting lined up at times, other than that we went out and made plays to make those plays and get stops.”
ASU and Texas Tech then traded off touchdown scores and ASU scored a field goal with 3:04 remaining in the fourth quarter to reach the final score of 68-55. Ballage's eighth touchdown of the night was a 75-yard touchdown rush and the Red Raiders responded with a 66-yard touchdown catch by Batson with 8:16 remaining in the game to again pull Texas Tech within 10, 65-55.
All but one of Ballage's seven rushing touchdowns came on rushes of six yards or less and his seventh touchdown of the night was one of the most crucial in the game. After Hayes picked off Mahomes on a third and 12 play with the Red Raiders on their own 5-yard line, Ballage did the rest of the work and punched it in from the one-yard line to give ASU a 58-48 advantage with 10:57 left in the fourth quarter.
Even before halftime, ASU's offense achieved its desired rhythm with 228 offensive passing yards and 126 on the ground, led by solid showings from Ballage and ASU freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry. Harry finished with six catches for 72 yards and one touchdown.
ASU took the first shot at Texas Tech on the night to make the score 7-0 off a 10-yard touchdown pass from Wilkins to Harry with 10:13 left to play in the first quarter. That was Wilkins' first career touchdown pass and Harry’s first career touchdown reception after scoring his first rushing touchdown in ASU’s win over Northern Arizona last week.
After a touchdown by Texas Tech to even out the score, ASU managed to jump out to a 9-7 lead after a safety with 5:33 left in the first quarter. Mahomes dropped the snap after the center snapped the ball off Mahomes leg. It was the first safety by ASU since Oct. 17, 2015 against Utah.
At the end of the first quarter, Texas Tech was ahead 14-9 behind the strong play of Mahomes, who was 9-for-9 for 130 yards and one touchdown. Mahomes threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Derrick Willies with 1:14 left in the first quarter to give the Red Raiders the lead.
"We told our guys that we were going to somehow, someway win this game and we did," Graham said."I think we surprised some people but we definitely did not surprise ourselves."