Last night’s game between Arizona State and the Cal Bears was a meeting of two of the most potent offenses in the Pac-12 Conference, with each team averaging almost 50 points a game and ranked in the top 10 nationally in that category.
Fans of both teams were looking forward to the fireworks.
But for the first half of the Pac-12 opener, that was only half true. ASU wasn’t holding up its end of the deal.
Cal scored 24 points in the first half, but for the first 28 minutes all ASU could come with was a Zane Gonzales field goal. It took a 75-yard drive to finally get the ball across the goal line, with just 1:24 left on the second-quarter clock to notch a TD and at least take 10 points into the locker room. Cal led 24-10 at the half.
Fortunately for the Sun Devil fans that made up almost the entire crowd of 49,295 at Sun Devil Stadium, the team that came back out onto the field for the third quarter bore little resemblance to the one that struggled to score in the first 30 minutes.
The Sun Devil offense added another 10 points in the third quarter when sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins engineered a 75-yard drive and capped it off by punching across a score from the 1-yard line, and Gonzalez added a field goal to cut Cal’s lead to a single score.
But it was the fourth quarter that saw the return of the high-octane ASU offense that came into the game ranked 16th nationally in rushing and averaging 48 points a game.
The same offense that piled up 652 yards of total offense and put 65 points on the board two weeks ago against Texas Tech. That offense popped up again last night in the final 9:44 of regulation, when the Devils scored 31 points in that span to catch up to the Bears and then simply overwhelmed them down the stretch.
In the Texas Tech victory, junior running back Kalen Ballage ran for eight touchdowns to tie an NCAA record and break the Pac-12 mark. Last night, he left the game late in the first half with a leg injury, but was able to return for the second half.
Ballage wasn’t much of a factor last night, rushing for 22 yards on six carries. It was Wilkins that took his turn as the work horse, carrying 23 times to lead the team with 72 yards. He added another 290 yards passing, despite being sacked four times.
But ASU used every weapon at its disposal during the 31-point outburst in the final quarter, scoring on a 3-yard run by Wilkins, a 30-yard TD reception by sophomore tight end Jay Jay Wilson, an interception by redshirt senior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola that he ran back 28 yards for a score, and a 42-yard kickoff return by junior linebacker DJ Calhoun when Cal tried an onside kick in the final minute of the game.
While the offense was exploding, ASU’s sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr was working just as hard at taking away one of the Bears’ key weapons.
Chad Hansen, Cal’s talented wide receiver who came into the game leading the nation in receiving, ran up 104 yards on eight catches in the first half and scored one of the team’s three TDs. But after halftime Orr put the clamps on the redshirt junior who, at 6’2″, had a three-inch height advantage over his defender. Hansen caught just two passes in the final 30 minutes for a total of six yards.
Cal QB Davis Webb, who directs the nation’s No. 2 aerial attack, completed 32 of his 56 pass attempts and finished with 478 passing yards.
This win gives the Sun Devils a 4-0 start to the season – the first time that’s happened since 2007.
Not bad for a team that was picked in the preseason media poll to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)