Arizona State’s offense a form of tag team wrestling

Sep 8, 2016, 6:00 AM | Updated: 1:37 pm
Arizona State's Kalen Ballage, left, jumps into the end zone for a touchdown as he gets past Northe...

Arizona State's Kalen Ballage, left, jumps into the end zone for a touchdown as he gets past Northern Arizona's Keith Graham (40) and Maurice Davison, second from left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Northern Arizona 44-13. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Offensively, the Arizona State Sun Devils can point to veteran talent at each skilled position: There’s a pair of junior running backs whose goal is to each rush for 1,000 yards, speed at the receiver spots including a triple-jump championship contender and a reliable senior pass catcher at tight end.

It’s just that the inexperience at quarterback and offensive line have overshadowed all of the above, and rightfully so.

Now, should Manny Wilkins and a revamped line cease to be questions marks, ASU certainly has the ability to score a lot of points.

Five different players scored touchdowns in the Sun Devils season-opening 44-13 win over Northern Arizona last Saturday.

Five different players rushed the football, while five different players caught passes.

“That’s what our plan is. We get the ball in a lot of guys’ hands to give us the ability to make plays,” running back Kalen Ballage said Wednesday. “It gives us an opportunity to give the defense a different look. We have many guys that can run the same play from a different spot on the field and make a big play.”

Ballage and Demario Richard handled much of the running, combining for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Wilkins, though, topped the rushing chart with 89 yards and a touchdown, while true freshman N’Keal Harry and redshirt freshman Nick Ralston added fourth-quarter scores.

“It’s like wrestling around here; it’s like a tag team,” Richard said. “It’s like, alright, my turn. Next thing you know, tag Nick in. He goes in for a score. Tag Kalen in, he goes in for a score. Now we even got Manny in the trio. Tag Manny in for a score, so it’s like a tag team wrestling match with us. I’m excited. We showed you guys a sneak peak of our offense and how explosive we can be.”

Ballage and Richard also each caught two passes. Harry grabbed four.

Redshirt senior Tim White, who won the triple-jump competition at this year’s NCAA West Regional, was Wilkins’ favorite target with nine catches for 95 yards and redshirt junior Cameron Smith, sidelined all of 2015 with a knee injury, had three receptions.

“I love to see my teammates do well, that’s what it’s all about,” Ballage said. “I could not get one carry and not score one touchdown in a football game. I just want to win, that’s my competitive nature, that’s what I’m more concerned about.”


— Wilkins, at 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds, looked like a bigger version of White, the 5-11 receiver when he twice hurdled NAU defenders in an attempt to gain more yards. “I told him, I said, ‘You’re not Tim White, you’re not a triple-jumper,’” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “Obviously, he’s just trying to make plays so you hate to take creativity from a guy — he’s an athletic guy — like he is but at the same time, we want to try to keep him healthy. Hopefully, he’ll do something different next time.”

— His hurdling aside, Wilkins performed well in his first collegiate start, according to Lindsey, who was most impressed by Wilkins’ poise, especially in the face of adversity. “I thought he handled himself really well. I was really worried about him being too amped up and too excited, but I thought he handled everything in stride,” he said. “Even when he made the mistake (the interception), he came right off the sideline and got on the phone and said, ‘Hey, I should’ve gone here. It’s my fault. It won’t happen again.’ That’s what you want. There wasn’t any bad body language. There wasn’t any fussing and fighting. I thought we handled ourselves pretty well.”

— In this week’s opponent, ASU plays one of the worst defenses from a year ago. Nationally, Texas Tech ranked second-worst in yards per game allowed (547.7) and fourth-worst in points allowed (43.6). Asked about the Red Raiders defense, Ballage said, “All I know is in the last few years they’ve given up a lot of points on defense, that’s really all I can go off of right now. Bad tackling and stuff like that, so that’s the thing we’re going to try and key on.”

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Arizona State’s offense a form of tag team wrestling