Arizona State put Texas-San Antonio in the rear-view mirror Saturday night quicker than a card cheat trying to get out of Dodge with his ill-gained winnings.
The Sun Devils left no doubt about Herm Edwards emerging a winner in his collegiate head coaching debut, scoring on offense and defense on the first two possessions and rolling to a 49-7 victory at almost fully renovated Sun Devil Stadium.
Yes, there was a scoring lull after the fast start that extended into the late second quarter. But ASU added two more touchdowns over the final five minutes of the half and two more in the third quarter, bidding an early adieu to the Roadrunners on N’Keal Harry’s tackle-breaking, field-bending, 31-yard touchdown.
The first word out of Edwards’ mouth afterward was “sloppy” because of ASU’s 11 penalties for 95 yards.
But for the players and for the 50,188 who showed up for the start of a new coaching era, the romp was a validation that 64-year-old Edwards still can coach after being out of the game for a decade and that ASU could be better than some predictions that put them at the bottom of the Pac-12 South.
“I’m glad they got a win,” Edwards said of his players. “At a meeting last night, there was a focus I felt with these guys. They didn’t disappoint me. I’m happy for them.”
An 18-point favorite, ASU led by 14 after the first two minutes, scoring on a 58-yard pass from Manny Wilkins to Harry and a 25-yard interception return by defensive end Shannon Forman.
A defense employing a new 3-3-5 system with six players who had never started stoned UTSA repeatedly, pitching a shutout until more than halfway through the fourth quarter. They held the Roadrunners at bay until ASU fired up its offense late in the first half and on into the third quarter.
“We could have started faster,” said Wilkins, a senior third-year starter. “I put that on me. That third drive, if I just set my feet the right way on a post curl I threw to N’Keal that went in the dirt, move the chains, we’ll get going a little bit earlier.
“But man, I’m really, really proud of how our team played. We made a lot of mistakes, but those can be cleaned up. We had zero sacks. I can’t recall the last time that happened. Those guys up front busted their butts all camp to be ready and prepared for this.”
ASU led 9-0 in sacks (most for the Sun Devils since 2013), keeping Wilkins and backup Sterling Dillon-Cole, who played the fourth quarter, upright. That gave Wilkins time to throw for 237 yards and four touchdowns, including an 11-yarder to Terrell Chatman with 32 seconds left in the first half for a 28-0 lead, ASU’s largest since 2014.
“What helped us early in this game was turnovers,” Edwards said. “Then we kind of bogged down and in the third quarter we came back to life. We wanted to get them so we went for it on fourth down. The fan base at that other end (student section), they were marvelous. We needed to give them something to holler about.”
The fourth-and-3 call at the UTSA 27-yard line came in the second quarter with Wilkins lofting a pass to Frank Darby for 23 yards. Eno Benjamin then scored on a three-yard run for 21-0, capping a 64-yard drive that began after defensive end Darius Slade forced and recovered a fumble.
ASU led 3-0 in takeaways, just part of a defensive effort that belied that unit’s experience and at least outside expectations. UTSA rushed for all of two yards, tied for the seventh-lowest output vs. ASU since 1996. New defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales used 26 players with tackles spread out so that no one ended up with more than six.
“It was ridiculous, we knew what they were doing before they ever did it,” cornerback Chase Lucas said. “When we got to the field, everything was sparking. We was calling out the coverages, every time they motioned trying to get us off whack, we knew exactly what they were doing.
“It just shows it doesn’t matter your experience. You’re going to go out there and ball especially with Herm. We wanted to prove Herman is a good coach and that we were ready to run through a wall for him, and I think that’s exactly what we did.”
The offensive highlights included Benjamin, a sophomore now taking on the lead back role, averaging 8.2 yards over 16 carries for 131 yards. Junior college transfer Isaiah Floyd added 79 yards rushing, giving the Sun Devils a 266-2 advantage on the ground.
Harry caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, but look for ASU’s full array of receivers to be more involved next Saturday against No. 12 Michigan State.
The Spartans (1-0) are coming off a 38-31 home win over Utah State and a 10-win season in 2017 but will be catching an opponent that now suddenly isn’t thinking of itself as an underdog. Two years ago, ASU had to rally from 16 down for a 32-28 win at UTSA so, by comparison, Saturday was a resounding success.
“The team coming in here next week, put your big-boy pads on,” Edwards said. “They’re going to try to run the football. We got a little confidence, now the key will be how do we handle success. We’ve got a lot of young guys play for us tonight, which is good.
“There’s a lot for for improvement, but I liked our grit. We tackled well. When you take the ball away, you’ve got a chance to win a lot of football games.”