Arizona State's offense managed just 12 first half points against the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners on Friday night, and that meant the group needed an efficient second half effort to score the program's largest comeback win on the road since 2002.
The Sun Devils overcame a late 28-12 deficit through a commitment to the running game, which was a direct reflection of first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's game plan.
Lindsey said he was proud of the way ASU's offense executed in the second half, and was encouraged by the resolve of his players in a difficult situation.
"It was, I was proud of our guys, I thought they did a lot of good things," Lindsey said. "In the second half, things aren't going your way, you have to give UTSA a lot of credit, those guys fought really hard, doing a great job there with a new staff. But I thought our guys reached down, and really, when things were tough, they stayed together and kept playing extremely hard and battling and sometimes things are going to go that way. It's going to go your way early, especially, but you've just got to keep battling and I really liked the resolve of our team."
ASU ran the ball 48 times against UTSA, including 22 times on 34 plays in the second half. Despite trailing for most of the second half, Lindsey never scrapped run plays for passes and his determination paid off down the stretch as the Sun Devils began to wear on the Roadrunners.
Though ASU was favored by two and a half touchdowns, the Sun Devils narrowly accomplished their goal of finishing the week 3-0 and now move into conference play with a handful of close calls behind them.
"You play in a conference like this, each week is going to be tough, it's going to be one of those weeks where there's a gut check so-to-speak," Lindsey said. "I think our guys, now we have that to rely on, now you say when we have a young offense, at least now we have a history of reaching down and knowing let's stay together, nobody panic. When things go bad, I think you look around at your players, you see how they react and I didn't see a lot of panic in their eyes. Obviously I'm in the press box, it would be hard for me to see that, but just hearing it anyway, I thought our guys really kept their composure well."
While ASU's rushing offense ranks second in the Pac-12 at 260.7 yards per game, the team's passing offense ranks sixth in the conference with an average of 265.0 yards per game. Sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins has the opportunity to become just the third quarterback in ASU history to win the first four starts of his career on Saturday against Cal, and Lindsey said Wednesday that Wilkins needs to do a better job protecting himself.
Wilkins is averaging upward of 63 yards per game on the ground so far, and against UTSA, Wilkins took an early shot from a Roadrunners' defender on a quarterback scramble when he failed to slide or get out of bounds.
"He (Wilkins) needs to see a guy that's fixing to take his head off, that's for sure," Lindsey said. "It's interesting because I was on him, I thought he should have thrown the ball to the back which we want to do and for whatever reason, he got out there and didn't see the guy and the next thing you know he was on top of him. We talk about that every week and that's getting on the ground or getting out of bounds when we can."
Junior running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard are each averaging more than 85 yards per game rushing through three contests, and with Wilkins' dual-threat capabilities, the Sun Devils are forcing opponents to stack the box to defend the run. Lindsey said with all of the talent in ASU's backfield, he knew this would be the case, and moving forward, he's hoping ASU's receivers will force teams to re-consider that strategy and prepare for both the run and the pass.
"I think that's no secret to that, I think if teams can make you one-dimensional, that's what their goal is," Lindsey said. "I think any defense tries to do that and obviously when you look at our team and what we have coming back, I think the running backs stick out and okay, they've run it decent, so let's stick some extra guys in there."
News and notes
- Junior linebacker Christian Sam walked through warmups and did not participate in individual drills a day after Todd Graham said he hoped to have Sam back for Saturday's game against Cal. Sam has yet to participate in drills open to the media since his injury against Northern Arizona.
- Junior wide receiver Cameron Smith wore a green jersey at practice Wednesday but was a full participant in individual drills.
- After having his ankle taped and working out in the bubble instead of participating in individual drills Tuesday, junior linebacker D.J. Calhoun was a full participant in drills Wednesday. Calhoun still had tape on his ankle, but was moving fluidly.
- Junior Spur linebacker Marcus Ball was a full participant in individual drills after doing speed tests with a trainer during individual drills Tuesday.
- Redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Lea was also a participant in individual drills, but Lea does not look to have all of his speed back after suffering an injury last week and missing Friday's contest against UTSA.
- After only playing in Friday's game as a punt returner, senior Tim White appears poised to return to the field with the first team offense Saturday. During an 11-on-air period, White took first team reps as a slot receiver and appeared as though he was playing at full speed.