Sun Devils save season with upset of No. 24 Oregon

Sep 24, 2017, 12:03 AM | Updated: 9:30 am
Arizona State coach Todd Graham raises his arms after Arizona State defeated Oregon 37-35 during an...
Arizona State coach Todd Graham raises his arms after Arizona State defeated Oregon 37-35 during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Manny Wilkins was composed, confident and a little combative when he spoke to the local media this week. He knew what everyone was saying, writing and tweeting about the Arizona State football team.

The depth wasn’t there, the talent wasn’t there and the Sun Devils were teetering on the edge of an unavoidable death plunge that would take coach Todd Graham and everything the Devils had become over the last six years down with it.

Wilkins had other thoughts.

“When adversity strikes, when your back is against the wall, true champions come out in my eyes,” he said.

It was a slightly new spin on an old cliché, and it was buoyed by ASU’s ill-fated rally last week at Texas Tech, but it fell flat in a media room that had already made up its collective minds about this season’s Sun Devils.

Wilkins helped change some of those minds on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium, and he had a lot of unexpected help.

Against all odds, including the pre-game ones set in Las Vegas, the Sun Devils beat No. 24 Oregon, 37-35, to save their season for at least another week. They did so in a fashion that typified coach Todd Graham’s first three seasons here. They committed just six penalties, they pressured the quarterback, they ran a balanced offense for 489 yards and they ran 92 offensive plays to Oregon’s 65.

“I just see a team that’s hungry,” Wilkins said. “When we’re clicking, it looks beautiful. It’s a work of art.”

There is no hiding the fact that ASU’s schedule gets tougher and tougher over the next six weeks, with road games at Stanford, No. 23 Utah and UCLA sandwiched around home games against No. 7 Washington, No. 5 USC and Colorado.

One win doesn’t ensure a brighter future for the Devils or Graham, but this team showed a resolve few thought it had. Just as importantly, it showed offensive and defensive abilities few thought it had.

Oregon had scored 42 first-half points in each of its first three games. The Ducks entered the game third in the nation at 56 points per game, yet Oregon trailed ASU 17-14 at the half to a defense playing without Koron Crump, and seven of those points came courtesy of a muffed punt by Ryan Newsome that never should have been fielded in the final minute of the first half.

Wilkins and Graham both insisted the offense had found its mojo in a Week 3 rally at Tech. Saturday’s showing backed that belief. Wilkins was brilliant early, completing eight of nine passes for 71 yards and a TD, while rushing for another as ASU built a 17-7 lead.

He finished 24-of-39 for 347 yards, a TD and two more rushing TDs. Through four games, he still has not thrown an interception.

“He’s been really good,” Graham said. “Manny is a leader now. He’s an emotional leader, he’s got a genuineness to him that I really like and he’s really learning and working hard to be better and manage the game.”

Following Newsome’s gaffe, Wilkins responded by hitting receiver Jalen Harvey for 63 yards and then snuck in from two yards out for a 24-14 lead on ASU’s first drive of the second half.

When Oregon pulled ahead, 35-34, at 6:41 of the fourth quarter, Wilkins led an 11-play, 57-yard drive to set up Brandon Ruiz’s 41-yard field goal, and the defense made it stand with two late stops.

For at least one week, ASU has quieted the noise swirling around this program.

“I ignore all the noise. This team ignores all the noise,'” Wilkins said. “As long as we put wins on the board, nothing anybody says matters.”

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