No. 23 Sun Devils brace for Aztecs
Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins and San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman made history last week.
Only Wilkins will be around to build on it Saturday.
Chapman, a senior, set a school record with his 24th victory as a starter in the Aztecs’ 28-14 win over Sacramento State, but suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee when he was tackled after throwing an incomplete pass late in the second quarter and did not return.
Chapman is expected to miss three to six weeks, and junior Ryan Agnew is poised to make his first career start when the Aztecs (1-1) host Arizona State on Saturday night.
“I’m here to do what it takes to win,” said Agnew, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 159 yards and two interceptions after replacing Chapman. “At the end of the day, the stats don’t mean anything.”
Wilkins, also a senior, passed for a career-high 380 yards and a touchdown and engineered a 13-play, 69-yard drive for the winning field goal as time expired in a 16-13 victory over No. 25 Michigan State, a victory that vaulted the Arizona State into the Top 25 at No. 23.
The Sun Devils (2-0) are ranked for the first time since 2014, a season where they reached No. 6 in the AP poll when a 55-31 victory over Notre Dame on Nov. 8 pushed them to 8-1. They finished that season at No. 15.
“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that stuff, I just coach the football team,” said Sun Devils first-year coach Herm Edwards, a San Diego State alum.
“Rankings don’t help you win. Preparation and performance is how you win football games. So our motto is real simple — stay humble and hungry. That last game we played, it could have gone a different way. I think the players realize that.
“We haven’t played a complete game yet. But we have done … they play hard now. Oh, they play hard. I’ve always said leave it on the grass and you can live with what happened.”
The Sun Devils overcame a 13-3 deficit to beat the Spartans, the second straight game in which Wilkins has played a major role. He threw a career-best four touchdown passes in a 49-7 victory over Texas-San Antonio in the season opener.
Arizona State’s fast start has been fueled by a long-standing offensive consistency and a reworked defense. Sun Devil running backs have gone 21 consecutive games — 578 carries — without losing a fumble, and the offense has scored on 62 consecutive possessions inside the red zone, not counting two end-of-game situations when they took a knee in a victory.
On the other side, the Sun Devils have given up 65 rushing yards in two games this season. They lead the FBS by holding opponents to 32.5 rushing yards per game and an average of 1.07 yards per attempt. Lost yardage on sacks — and they have 11 — are included in rushing totals in the college game.
Arizona State’s defense has a definite San Diego State/Rocky Long flavor. Edwards hired defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales and defensive passing game coordinator Tony White away from Long’s staff last winter.
“He called up to see who could run our defense somewhere else — our defense,” Long said with more than a touch of pride.
“He had the resources to take those guys there. Danny Gonzales is as good a coach as I’ve ever been around. He understands our defense better than I do. They were not good on defense last year, and they are very good on defense this year. Herm was very, very smart.”
Arizona State has given up 298.5 yards per game after allowing an average of 449.5 yards in 2017, when a 7-6 season cost coach Todd Graham his job. Rashaad Penny had 216 yards and a touchdown when the Aztecs rushed for 279 yards in a 30-20 victory at Sun Devil Stadium last year.
Junior halfback Juwan Washington is the primary threat this season. He ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns against Sacramento State after rushing for 158 yards in a 31-10 loss to No. 9 Stanford in the season opener.
Washington is following the path of former Aztecs running backs Donnel Pumphrey and Penny, who had 2,000-yard seasons in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
“They have a DNA similar to Michigan State,” Edwards said. “They are going to run it. They are going to continue to run it. That’s their personality. They want to possess clock.
“They want their defense to be fresh so they can run around. They play with their hair on fire.”