The Arizona State Sun Devils opened the 2016 season slowly, then pulling away late beating Northern Arizona 44-13 on a steamy night at newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. It was far from pretty but it was a win.
Here are five things we learned Saturday night.
You Never Forget Your First…We saw a little bit of everything from redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins. In many ways he looked like a quarterback making his starting debut in the first game of the season. He looked tentative at times throwing an interception near midfield killing a first-quarter drive. “I gotta have better ball security,” he said. “Just proud of the guys…really working [hard].” He also showed the mobility and athleticism ASU coaches love ripping off a 28-yard quarterback draw hurdling an NAU defender. He did it again in the fourth. His 89 rushing yards (one touchdown) led ASU. He was 20-27 for 180 through the air. “For a first game, I like how we finished,” head coach Todd Graham said of Wilkins. “I’d like for him to be a little more careful with that hurdling stuff.”
Dirty Harry…The Sun Devil coaching staff knew what they were getting in four-star stud N’Keal Harry. Under the bright lights of SDS he didn’t disappoint taking a pass just behind the line of scrimmage in the flat and sprinting 34 yards to the end zone for a rushing touchdown. He was the Devils’ second-leading receiver grabbing four passes for 31 yards.
The Butler Did It…Emmanuel Butler grew up just down the street from Sun Devil Stadium. Saturday the NAU junior wide receiver and former Mountain Pointe High star picked up where he left off last season exposing ASU’s secondary using his six-foot-four, 220-pound frame to outmuscle the Devils’ smaller corners. He nearly scored on a ‘Hail Mary’ pass from Case Cookus (369 passing yards) getting pushed out at the ASU one-yard line as time expired before the half. Butler finished with seven catches for 118 yards. Former Desert Edge star Elijah Marks gave ASU even more problems reeling in eight balls for a game-high 174 yards and an 87-yard touchdown.
InZane Night…As ASU’s offense stalled through close to three quarters thankfully junior kicker Zane Gonzalez put his best foot forward hitting a 33-yard field goal in the second and a career-best 53-yarder in the third, tying Thomas Webber (2010) for third-longest in ASU history. He later connected from 45. “Zane was outstanding with his [three field goals],” Graham said. His only hiccup was a missed point-after-attempt off a bad snap in the fourth quarter.
Tech Test…ASU played all or most the night short-handed defensively. Linebacker Christian Sam was seen on the sideline in a walking boot. Fellow linebacker Salamo Fiso did not play for violation of team rules, as did defensive lineman Viliami Latu. Graham said Latu is expected to be back next week, Fiso to-be-determined. With pass-happy Texas Tech and stud junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes behind center a slow start next week will turn into a lopsided loss, not win like we saw Saturday.