Fork Report: Kalen Ballage’s record night gives ASU shootout win over Texas Tech

Sep 10, 2016, 11:32 PM
Arizona State's Kalen Ballage (7) runs past Texas Tech defenders Brayden Stringer (33), Kris Willia...

Arizona State's Kalen Ballage (7) runs past Texas Tech defenders Brayden Stringer (33), Kris Williams (6), Jordyn Brooks, second from right, Keenon Ward (15), Jah'Shawn Johnson, middle on the ground, as Ballage runs for his eighth touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Texas Tech 68-55. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — To put Kalen Ballage’s performance in perspective, consider the following: He scored four touchdowns last season and entered the day with nine scores in his Arizona State career.

Ballage nearly matched that total Saturday night.

With four first-half scores and four more in the second half, Ballage set a Pac-12 record and tied an NCAA record with eight touchdowns in ASU’s 68-55 over Texas Tech in front of 44,511 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

Seven of those touchdowns came on the ground with Ballage taking the direct snap from center.

As expected, it was a high-scoring affair that featured six lead changes.

Ballage (137) and Demario Richard (109) each rushed for over 100 yards, while Manny Wilkins threw for 351 yards, completing 28-of-37 passes and two touchdowns in just his second collegiate start.

For the second straight week, Patrick Mahomes accounted for six Red Raiders touchdowns. He passed for five and rushed for one. Mahomes finished with 540 yards through the air, though he was intercepted twice, both by Gump Hayes in the fourth quarter.

ASU (2-0) and Texas Tech (1-1) combined for 1,264 yards.

THE GOOD

After punting on their first possession, the Sun Devils responded with a six play, 43-yard scoring drive taking advantage of excellent field position. Wilkins completed a pass to N’Keal Harry to cover the last 10 yards to hand ASU the early lead, 7-0, at 10:13 left the first quarter. It marked the first career passing touchdown for Wilkins and first career touchdown reception for Harry.

Four times in the second quarter, Ballage found the end zone. Three times he took the direct snap from center and rushed for a touchdown. In the midst of those scores, Ballage, who found himself wide open down the left sideline, caught a 39-yard pass from Wilkins on a reverse flea-flicker. The fourth score handed ASU its largest lead of the game at the time, 37-27, at 2:17.

Picking up where he left off in the first half, Ballage added two more scores in the third quarter. Again, both via the direct snap from center. His second touchdown, a seven-yard rush running off left tackle, capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took a full five minutes off the clock and put ASU back in front by double digits, 51-41, with 43 seconds remaining in the period.

Perhaps the early MVP of the game was senior punter Matt Haack. His first two punts averaged 56.5 yards with a long of 59. Both kicks were downed inside the five-yard line. Later, Wilkins showed off his punting prowess with a 43-yard pooch kick, which pinned Texas Tech at its own two-yard line.  It should be noted that Wilkins was an excellent punter in high school.

Behind a revamped offensive line, the Sun Devils rushed for 301 yards. But more importantly, it’s the protection given to Wilkins, who not only was not sacked but never hit according to the final stats. A.J. McCollum made his first start at center, moving Stephon McCray to right guard and Quinn Bailey to right tackle. The left side of the line remained Sam Jones and Evan Goodman.

THE BAD

Coming off a 483-yard passing performance the week before, Mahomes, the nation’s fourth-leading passer in 2015, completed all nine of his first-quarter attempts for 130 yards and a touchdown, which was a 59-yard throw to Derrick Willies — ASU was offsides on the play — that put Texas Tech ahead for the first time, 14-9, at 1:14. Also in the first quarter, Mahomes rushed for a score.

For the Sun Devils it was Ballage, for the Red Raiders it was Mahomes who dominated the second quarter. He passed for three touchdowns, including a 75-yard play to Justin Stockton, in which the Sun Devils missed at least three tackles. Poor tackling plagued ASU in the first half. Mahomes was 23-of-29 for 353 yards and five touchdowns (one rushing) through the first two quarters.

Penalized just three times in the first half, the Sun Devils committed three in the third quarter alone. JoJo Wicker (offsides) and Viliami Latu (personal foul) were each flagged during Texas Tech’s second-half opening drive that resulted in a touchdown and 41-37 Red Raiders lead at 11:45. Later, Frederick Gammage was whistled for roughing the punter that fortunately didn’t cost ASU.

After stopping Texas Tech on three straight second-half possessions, including the first career interception by Gump Hayes, the Sun Devils defense broke midway in the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders scored on back-to-back drives: first on a Demarcus Felton five-yard run and then a Cameron Batson 66-yard reception; the latter of which pulled the visitors to within 10, 65-55, at 8:16.

STAT OF THE GAME

8: The number of Ballage touchdowns scored, three more than the previous school record which was held by a trio of Sun Devils including Ben Malone (1973), Leon Burton (1955) and Wilford White (1950)

HE SAID IT

“It feels great; just to get a win, that’s the most important thing,” Ballage said. “My offensive line was amazing tonight. The cameras are all on me, but they don’t see what the guys did up front. They opened it up for me and I just ran hard all night.”

NOTED

ASU recorded a first-quarter safety, credited as a team safety for a 9-7 lead, when Mahomes dropped the shotgun snap in the end zone

Senior receiver Tim White exited the game and headed to the locker room with an apparent right leg injury; he did not return to action

Senior defensive lineman Viliami Latu returned and got the start after missing the season opener due to a violation of team standards

Senior safety Laiu Moeakiola returned after missing the season opener because of a hamstring injury he first suffered in fall camp

Junior linebacker Marcus Ball sat out the first half per NCAA rules following his ejection because of a targeting infraction in the season opener

Junior linebacker Christian Sam missed the game after suffering a foot injury in the season opener; he was considered doubtful to play

Senior linebacker Salamo Fiso missed his second straight game due to a violation of team standards, leaving ASU thin at linebacker

ASU’s gameday captains for the second straight week were Wilkins, White, kicker Zane Gonzalez, defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood

Scouts from four NFL teams—Broncos, Cardinals, Patriots and Vikings—plus the AFL’s Arizona Rattlers were in attendance in the pressbox

UP NEXT

After opening the season with back-to-back home games, the Sun Devils hit the road for the first time in 2016.

They visit University of Texas at San Antonio out of Conference USA in the first-ever matchup between the two schools on Friday, Sept. 16. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Under first-year head coach Frank Wilson, UTSA is off to a 1-1 start, beating Alabama State and losing to Colorado State.

The Roadrunners finished 3-9 last season.

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Fork Report: Kalen Ballage’s record night gives ASU shootout win over Texas Tech