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Fork Report: Behind powerful running game, ASU earns 600th win

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) wide receiver N'Keal Harry (1) after a touchdown against Colorado during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Two months and eight games into a season with not a lot of expectations, until there were some and then there were none again, the Arizona State Sun Devils remained very much a mystery.

There was no mystery on Saturday night, however.

In the annual Salute to Service Game, ASU ran for a season-best 381 yards in a 41-30 win over Colorado in front of an announced crowd of 44,553 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Demario Richard and Manny Wilkins combined for 284 rushing yards and two scores with Eno Benjamin adding a third rushing touchdown to move ASU (5-4, 4-2) to within one win of bowl eligibility.

The trio’s three touchdowns all came in the fourth quarter, when the Sun Devils outscored Colorado, 24-3 to rally from a 10-point deficit.

ASU rushed for 191 yards in the fourth quarter.

Richard finished with 189 rushing yards on 25 carries, while Wilkins rushed for a career-best 95 yards.

Wilkins also passed for two touchdowns, one each to N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams, completing 18-of-24 attempts for 202 yards.

Three different times the Sun Devils trailed by 10 points, and they didn’t take their first lead until the 5:33 mark of the fourth quarter.

ASU has won three of four, while Colorado (5-5, 2-4) has now lost two of three.

THE GOOD

After a sluggish first quarter, the Sun Devils offense exploded for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter. No one looked better than Wilkins, who accounted for 158 of those yards. He passed for 105 yards, completing 6-of-13 attempts, including 20- and 25-yard touchdown throws to Harry and Williams, respectively. He also rushed for 53 yards, giving him 71 yards total at halftime.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Sun Devils were just that in the first half. Twice, Colorado wide receivers dropped touchdown passes. First, it was Shay Fields, who found himself all alone in the ASU secondary as the Sun Devils bit on the flea-flicker. He could’ve walked into the end zone. Then, it was Devin Ross, who just had the ball bounce off his fingertips in the end zone.

Set up by a blocked punt by Khaylan Thomas that gave the Sun Devils the ball at the Colorado 40-yard line, Richard rushed from five yards out for a touchdown to tie the game at 27 at the 8:38 mark of the third quarter. Richard had runs of 3, 9 and 2 yards before the score. ASU entered the game ninth in the conference and 107th nationally in rushing offense at 121.4 yards per game.

As great as the offense, especially the ground game, performed, how about the defense? First, they held Lindsay to nearly 50 yards below his season average. Second, they sacked Steven Montez five times, led by A.J. Latu’s sack-and-a-half in his return after a two-game absence. In addition, two players — Christian Sam and Chase Lucas — finished with 12 tackles.

THE BAD

After Brandon Ruiz missed a 45-yard field goal attempt near the end of the first quarter, Colorado went on a 73-yard scoring drive, 42 of which were Lindsay runs, including a 6-yard run for a touchdown that extended the visitors’ lead to 10-0 at the 11:46 mark of the second quarter. At this point of the game, Lindsay had 52 rushing yards compared to ASU’s 42.

More Lindsay as he bookended the second quarter with touchdown runs. His second, and 12th this season, was from one-yard out as he helped Colorado complete an eight-play, 51-yard drive in 1:13 to make the score 17-7 visitors at the 1:07 mark. Lindsay had 65 yards in the first half; well off the pace of the 219 yards he finished with against ASU last season.

After dropping a sure touchdown in the first half, Fields hauled in a 54-yard score in the third quarter to put Colorado up 27-17 at the 4:55 mark. He beat Kobe Williams on the play. Up until that point, the Sun Devils defense had done a decent job in limiting the big play. In fact, the longest play previously was a 23-yard catch by Fields in the second quarter.

STAT OF THE GAME, part 1

189: Richard finished with 189 rushing yards, pushing his career total to 2,743 and moving into ASU’s all-time top-10.

STAT OF THE GAME, part 2

600: The win was the 600th in Sun Devil Football history, improving the program’s record to 600-391-24

HE SAID IT, part 1

“Man, it’s not all up to me. Coach (Billy) Napier made some hell of a calls tonight. O-line came out ready to play. Coach (Todd) Graham had a great gameplan for us. We just know we got to keep fighting. I know this team is going to keep fighting,” Richard said, before adding, “Champions are made in November.”

HE SAID IT, part 2

“I think Billy did a great job of being patient with it,” Graham said, referring to the ground game. “We just physically took over the game. Demario Richard is a warrior. Wow! He’s impressive. Eno Benjamin ain’t bad either for a young man, is he?”

NOTED

• Wilkins completed a pass to himself (for -3 yards) in the first quarter; the ball had been tipped at the line of scrimmage.

• Dasmond Tautalatasi and Renell Wren each exited the game in the first half; the good news was they both did return.

• George Lea appeared to hurt his left arm/shoulder on the first play of the third quarter; he went right to the locker room.

• The Sun Devils were shutout in the first quarter for the first time in 10 games; previously, Nov. 19, 2016 at Washington.

• The Sun Devils one penalty proved costly: a block in the back negated a 60-plus yard third-quarter punt return by Harry.

• With the victory, the Sun Devils improved to 29-10 in games played at Sun Devil Stadium since Graham’s 2012 arrival.

• With the victory, the Sun Devils improved to 29-22 in conference games since 2012, the second-best record in Pac-12.

• Jalen Bates proudly carried the American flag on to the field; his father, Michael, served for seven years in the Marines.

• As part of ASU’s Salute to Service initiative, the Sun Devils wore ‘Brotherhood’ uniforms, including camouflage helmets.

• Scouts from five different NFL teams — Bears, Cardinals, Lions, Panthers and Patriots — each had seats in the press box.

UP NEXT

After two straight home games, the Sun Devils will head out on the road.

ASU plays at UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 11. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

The Sun Devils have won in their last two trips to Pasadena.

Last season, ASU beat UCLA, 23-20, knocking quarterback Josh Rosen out of the game with a shoulder injury. It was the Sun Devils’ second straight win in the series. They have not beaten the Bruins three straight times since 1995-99.

Overall, ASU trails 13-19-1, including 7-9-1 on the road, in the series, which dates back to 1976.

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