Graham: Offense had ‘breakout game’ it needed against Texas Tech

LUBBOCK — With back-to-back losses, a 1-8 record through his last nine games and his seat seemingly now steaming, Arizona State Sun Devils (1-2) head coach Todd Graham turned to the most successful unit on his stat sheet — the offense.

Down 52-45, ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins had 1:55 left to play on his own 25-yard line before he completed a 12-yard pass to Jalen Harvey that was followed by a pair of incomplete passes, a false start, a 15-yard sack and then a heave to N’keal Harry that was far out of his reach.

Offensive linemen AJ McCollum and Cohl Cabral each caused fumbles with faulty snaps and Zach Robertson, who made his first appearance on the field this season, had two false starts.

But it was Arizona State’s offense that put Wilkins in that situation. Down 21-3, then 35-17 and 42-24, Wilkins ended up with the game in his hands, down a touchdown with nearly two minutes to go. He couldn’t execute, but the Sun Devils were given a chance purely because of a convincing offensive performance.

“We had the breakout game we wanted to have offensively, we just gotta give them credit,” Graham said. “We rushed for 168 yards, 326 (passing yards), 500 yards of total offense, that’s a pretty good outing. I thought our guys played well.”

Wilkins ended the first half buried by a defender — sacked. The Sun Devils were down 35-17 and had just 202 total yards on offense compared to Texas Tech’s 355. Arizona State then went onto outscore Texas Tech 28-17 in the second half.

Not only did Arizona State rejuvenate its run game, rushing for 168 yards after rushing for 44 and 79 yards in week one and two respectively, Wilkins didn’t throw an interception for the third game straight and passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns. At this rate, Wilkins has averaged 308 passing yards per game and over two touchdowns per game this season.

“I was really proud offensively how Manny is taking care of the ball. I mean he took care of the football. He didn’t throw an interception,” Graham said.

Wilkins knew what he was up against. With a career-high 351-passing yard performance against the Red Raiders last season, he made mega strides forward against a familiar foe.

Harry was targeted 17 times, as he made 13 catches with a career-most 148 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Kyle Williams, who had just five catches in 2016, totaled 111 yards on two catches and two touchdowns for a career-night of his own.

“N’keal Harry did great things. We looked like a read-zone offense, man. We were coming out there and were tripled and throwing a touchdown by the sideline,” Graham said.

While Texas Tech outmatched the Sun Devils offensively with 615 total yards and 543 of them in the air, the Sun Devils held the ball for 32 and a half minutes (five minutes more than the Red Raiders), completed 85 plays compared to TTU’s 79 and went 4-for-4 in the red zone.

“At the end of the day, we play three non conference games. Conference starts next week,” Graham said. “I think even though we came up short, we stepped forward tonight as far as getting some positive things going in a positive direction.”

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