Arizona State football rallied from an 18-point deficit to tie the game at Texas Tech, but another poor offensive start and numerous defensive miscues and a special teams blunder doomed it once again.
To be more specific, Texas Tech (2-0) led ASU (1-2) by 18 points at three separate times in its 52-45 win over the Sun Devils. The game looked like it could get ugly as the Sun Devils were mostly dormant on offense and their defense struggled once Texas Tech sparked its Air Raid.
Trailing 42-24 in the third quarter, ASU began its final comeback when junior quarterback Manny Wilkins rolled to his left and pitched it to freshman receiver Frank Darby, who ran it 21 yards to the end zone. After a Texas Tech field goal, sophomore receiver Kyle Williams’ second touchdown of the game cut the deficit to 45-38 with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I thought our guys, they just kept their heads down,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “(Texas Tech) scored to make it (42-24), but nothing. (We) had eyes set, jaws set, our guys were determined to win the game. At the end of the day, we just couldn’t stop them.”
Sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry, who had a career night with 13 receptions for 148 yards, caught a 21-yard pass from Wilkins to tie the game with 9:52 remaining in regular. Momentum was on the Sun Devils’ side.
After stopping Texas Tech, ASU had a chance to take the lead, but it couldn’t mount another drive to convert. From there, Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek led the Red Raiders on a 12-play, 90-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard rushing touchdown that decided the game.
ASU’s final drive was stunted by a false start penalty and a sack, forcing Wilkins to heave it deep on fourth down. It fell incomplete, dropping ASU to 1-2.
The positive: ASU showed great resolve.
The negative: It was done in by another poor start and another woefully incomplete performance.
“We got behind so far in the first half, which made it tough,” Graham said.
The Sun Devils started slowly once again and have yet to play well in all facets of the game for extended periods of time. At one point in the first half, it looked like the game could’ve gotten ugly as ASU was dormant on offense and struggled to contain Texas Tech once the Red Raiders’ Air Raid started clicking.
Luckily, ASU’s offense eventually woke up. And unlike the first two weeks of the season where it struggled to find rhythms, it imposed itself on a seemingly poor Texas Tech.
Trailing 21-3 in the second quarter, ASU began to claw back as Wilkins found sophomore Williams for his first touchdown. About six minutes later, senior running back Demario Richard ran for a 1-yard touchdown.
However, the ASU defense struggled all night. It didn’t have to stop Patrick Mahomes this year, but Shimonek didn’t make the task any easier. Shimonek completed 37 of 50 passes for 543 yards and six touchdowns on Saturday night, tying the single-game record for most passing touchdowns against an ASU defense.
His counterpart Wilkins was 27-for-41 for 326 yards and three touchdowns. The Sun Devils also established a running game as senior running back Kalen Ballage rushed for 56 yards and Richard added 53. In total, ASU rushed for 168 yards, a steep improvement from its first two games.
“Offensively, we had the game we wanted to have,” Graham said.
Unfortunately, the offense is only a single facet of the game.
On defense, ASU’s only “turnover” was a fumble Texas Tech lost on the 1-yard line. Otherwise, the Sun Devils gave up 615 yards of total offense. Surprisingly, the Sun Devils ran more plays on offense than Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders averaged 7.8 yards per play. Again, ASU gave up big chunks and those were costly.
If losing wasn’t enough, senior linebacker Koron Crump was sidelined with an apparent leg injury in the first half and never returned. He was on crutches and in street clothes in the second half, not great signs one of the team’s defensive leaders and perhaps the most talented player on that unit.
Last week against San Diego State, ASU decided to throw the ball before the half. In perhaps the worst result imaginable, punter Michael Sleep-Dalton’s ensuing boot went just 12 yards. On Saturday, Sleep-Dalton had a punt blocked in his own territory and Texas Tech turned it into a touchdown.
Graham was proud of his team, even in a loss.
“When you train them and you teach them and you don’t cut corners, that character comes out in a big way,” he said.
Moral victories don’t exist, though. ASU is below .500 and will only be judged as such.
The worst news of the night may be that it doesn’t get any easier for ASU the rest of the way. The Sun Devils begin conference play next week against Oregon at Sun Devil Stadium.
Incomplete performances won’t do it. The Sun Devils have holes to fill and issues to address, and time isn’t on their side.
“You go through tough times, hard times, it bonds you together,” Graham said. “We played three non-conference games. Conference play starts next week. I think that even though we came up short, we stepped forward tonight in terms of getting some things going.”