TEMPE, Ariz. — If Saturday’s spring game is any indication, the Arizona State University Sun Devils should not have to worry about the quarterback issues that plagued the team last season.
Incumbent starter Manny Wilkins enters his redshirt junior season again fighting for the top spot and showed why he shouldn’t be counted out despite the arrival of Alabama transfer Blake Barnett.
Wilkins threw three touchdowns for the maroon team, including a well-placed 36-yard pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver John Humphrey.
He also showed his dual-threat ability with a couple impressive scrambles through the middle of the defense.
Wilkins’ main competition at quarterback, redshirt sophomore Barnett, also had a solid day, as he and Wilkins combined to lead the first-string maroon team to a 60-3 victory over the second-string white team.
The 6-foot-5 signal caller showed that he too can run new offensive coordinator Billy Napier’s shotgun and bootleg-heavy system, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another.
“I think I did a good job,” Barnett said regarding his spring. “I did all that I could. Obviously a decision’s not gonna be made right now or anytime fairly soon. So I think just continue the momentum, continue to grow as a leader, as a quarterback and as a player going into fall camp.”
Two other transfers had nice games in their first game action as Sun Devils in former Oklahoma Sooner Humphrey, who showed off his speed by reeling in three touchdowns, and redshirt sophomore Ryan Newsome from Texas, who caught the other two scores.
“I was very impressed with John [Humphrey],” head coach Todd Graham said. “I think John probably was the guy that really stood out. Blake and Manny both had some incredible throws, but John’s impressive. Him and Ryan Newsome have had great springs.”
Junior Jalen Harvey, whom Graham referred to as “as good a standout this spring” as any, also made multiple big plays down the field, and the trio turned into the focal point of the offense with star sophomore N’Keal Harry sitting out with an undisclosed injury.
At least one of ASU’s quarterbacks appreciates the litany of weapons at his disposal.
“It’s helped me grow so much more,” Wilkins said. “I’m very fortunate to have a lot of playmakers around myself and I know these other quarterbacks will say the same thing.”
Not to be outdone, the maroon’s talented group of running backs played predictably well, as seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard led the way by running through the white team’s arm tackles. Ballage started the scoring by rushing for an eight-yard score.
The maroon team also didn’t lose a step when going to redshirt sophomore Nick Ralston, and redshirt freshman Gil’Scott Jackson had one of the few big plays for the white team with a long run through the maroon defense to get the team into the redzone.
However, the problem with ASU last season wasn’t their offense.
While the white team definitely did not hold their own against Arizona State’s first-team offense, the maroon defense played a very good game.
The defensive front was constantly rattling sophomore quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, and junior defensive end JoJo Wicker capped the day off by pressuring Sterling-Cole into an errant pass, which senior defensive back Maurice Chandler intercepted and took back 65 yards to the house.
It wasn’t just the front-seven that was impressive, however, as Graham pointed out.
“I think the most improved unit’s been our back-end,” he said. “Obviously today, we had our one’s going against our two’s there, so that was tough for them. But we’ve improved every single day on defense.”
New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has also liked the way his defense has progressed, but still thinks there is room for improvement.
“I think we can get better,” Bennett said. “I think we will get better. We have gotten better.”