Despite Arizona State suffering its fourth-straight loss on the season after starting 5-1 on the year, ASU freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry flashed encouraging youthful potential for the Sun Devils on one of the team's darkest days.
ASU head coach Todd Graham said after the 49-26 loss Harry is "going to be a great one" and his performance Thursday night only furthered Harry's impact in 2016.
Against Utah, Harry led the team with eight catches for 114 yards in addition to 31 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. Harry has been ASU's receiving yards leader now three times this season and Harry was the ninth freshman to start in his first game at ASU.
“That guy is a warrior," Graham said. "Unbelievable for a freshman. He’s a guy that his speed, physicality and finish, that’s what that guy does every play and I walked up to him afterwards and I’m just so impressed with how he’s played and he’s a competitor and he has what you want in a player. Very, very impressed with him.”
On the season, Harry has 43 catches 494 yards and four touchdowns, the most receiving touchdowns of any player on the team. On Thursday night, Harry not only got it done in the receiving game, but he also threw the ball and rushed for a touchdown.
In the first quarter, Harry successfully completed a reverse trick play and threw it to senior wide receiver Frederick Gammage in stride for a 46-yard gain. It was easily one of the best passes of the ASU season and Harry was the ninth Sun Devil to thrown the ball this year, behind ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins, redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White, freshman quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, freshman wide receiver Jack Smith, junior running back Kalen Ballage, sophomore wide receiver Jalen Harvey, junior running back Demario Richard and Gammage.
With 3:36 left in the second quarter, Harry then had a 31-yard touchdown rush to give ASU a 20-14 lead after dropping the football on a lateral, and then breaking through the entire Utah defense to get into the end zone.
"The play that he ran for that touchdown, that's obviously a pass but whatever, that was special," Wilkins said. "You don't see that from many guys. Some guys might have thrown that ball away, some guys might have got tackled, but he made something happen and that's what he came here to do. He's really stepped up and matured and let people know that just because he is a freshman doesn't mean he can't go out there and be the best player on that field and I think that's something that he's proven. He's hungry and he's confident and he's humble. He doesn't boast and you don't find that often with guys with that special talent. You don't find that often so I'm very proud of him and the man that he is becoming and he's going to be a special player here for years to come so I'm just happy to have him out there."
Offensive front struggles
ASU lost the battle on the offensive front Thursday night, allowing Utah's defense to generate 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. ASU's 11 sacks given up is the most sacks allowed by an FBS team this year. Coming into the game ASU was giving up an average of 2.44 sacks per game.
"I mean we just got stalled up front," Graham said. "They whipped us up front is what my impression was just watching the game and we had to do some innovative things and we were in the game."
ASU has now given up 33 sacks for 217 yards and has given up 75 tackles for loss for 311 yards on the season.
“We lost the battle up front on offense and we still manufactured a lot of passing yards and were able to score and I think it was a two-point game in the third quarter and even when it was an eight-point game I thought we still had an opportunity, but disappointing," Graham said.
Since the beginning of the Graham era, ASU has been known for being the team to generate sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers, but on Thursday night especially, the script was flipped. ASU's offensive front was unable to stop Utah, even when the Utes weren't bringing any extra pressure.
ASU's offensive line was clearly not at full health, after ASU senior offensive lineman Stephon McCray and sophomore offensive lineman Sam Jones did not play due to injuries. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach Robertson was playing right tackle for the second game in a row due to the injury of Jones, sophomore offensive lineman Quinn Bailey consequently moved to right guard and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Steve Miller was at left guard after the injury McCray suffered on the first play of ASU's game against Oregon.
“I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage defensively with our defensive line and they controlled their defensive line and you know going into this game you have to play good defense," Graham said.
ASU gave up five sacks total to Utah last year in the Sun Devils' 34-18 loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah senior defensive lineman Hunter Dimick broke the Utah program record for sacks with five solo sacks Thursday night. Dimick now has 27 career sacks which is also a program record.
“It was the defensive backs, and consequently, when that happens, we are able to get there and make plays," Dimick said on Utah's success up front. "A huge thanks to the defensive backs, they played a great game this week.”
- The loss to Utah marks the second time in the Graham era ASU has lost back-to-back games at home. The first time it happened was in 2012, when ASU lost to Oregon and then UCLA in October.
- The last time ASU lost four straight games was in 2012, in Graham's first year with the program. ASU started off the year 5-1 in 2012 only to lose four straight and then win its final three games.
- Zane Gonzalez has scored a point in all 49 games of his career, which is a school record, and has made his past 16 field goals with two Thursday night.
- ASU is now 24-4 under Graham after holding opponents scoreless in the first quarter.