Arizona State returned home starting Pac-12 play with dramatic 51-41 comeback win over Cal Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium. With the victory the Sun Devils improve to 4-0, 1-0 in conference play. ASU roared back from a 14-point halftime deficit outscoring Cal 31-14 in a wild quarter.
Here are five things we learned.
1. Hello Four and Oh…The first month of the season has been far from perfect at times but there’s something to be said for the resiliency of this group. Cal isn’t a great team but they’re a good one. With still a week left in September ASU has positioned themselves for a nice season with just two less wins than they did all of last year (six). The next two weeks will bring challenges with a road game at USC followed by UCLA here in Tempe but let’s enjoy the early-season, somewhat under-the-radar success.
2. Not Trapped By the Web(b)…Todd Graham’s defensive sequel against quarterback Davis Webb had a much happier ending. You probably didn’t forget Webb’s aerial assault against the Devils in the 2013 Holiday Bowl as his former school Texas Tech upset the 14th-ranked Devils 37-23 behind Webb’s 403 passing yards and four touchdowns. By halftime the graduate transfer had 234 yards and three touchdowns but, as was the case against Tech’s Patrick Mahomes two weeks ago, Graham’s halftime adjustments were key. The Devils sacked Webb four times and intercepted him twice. “I think we played great as a team,” Graham said. “Got three takeaways on defense. That was big.”
3. A Devil of a Scare…ASU star junior running back Kalen Ballage left the field in the second quarter and didn’t return after taking an underneath throw from Manny Wilkins. He laid on the field with a lower left leg injury before being helped to the ASU bench where he was attended to by medical personnel with a towel over his head. Sun Devil Nation breathed a sigh of relief when he returned in the third quarter after taking a helmet to the knee according to Graham. For as unbelievable as Ballage has been in the first quarter of the season the ASU staff needs to be careful with their star. A healthy two-headed attack of Ballage and DeMario Richard is a must in keeping defensive coordinators guessing, especially in-conference. The same can be said for Manny Wilkins who was pin-balled all over the field by the Golden Bear defense.
4. A Devil of a Debut…Wilkins settled in nicely after a rather pedestrian first half. He was efficient on the ground (72 yards, three touchdowns) and timely through the air (228 of his 290 passing yards in the second half). Maybe most importantly, he took accountability for the Devils early struggles. His ability to keep plays alive with his feet when things break down was never more evident than against Cal.
5. Old Reliable …Special teams are something which has haunted Graham and his staff at times here in Tempe. Kicker Zane Gonzalez has been a key ingredient in helping flip the script more recently. The senior kicker etched his place in Sun Devil history connecting on his 82nd-career field goal in the first quarter passing Luis Zendejas for for first on the school’s all-time list. He later his number 83 moving him into a tie for fourth all-time in NCAA history. Remember…kickers are people, too and excellent one’s like Gonzalez can prove invaluable. “I think we got the best kicker in the country,” Graham said after the win.