Disaster averted: 3 big takeaways from the Arizona State Sun Devils' comeback win over UTSA

Posted at 10:27 PM, Sep 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-17 01:33:18-04

Look at it this way: Any road win is a good win.

That's what Arizona State Sun Devil fans ought to keep in mind after their team had to rally from a 16-point second-half deficit to earn a 32-28 win at the UTSA Roadrunners, who entered the game as a 19-point underdog.

It was the Devils' largest comeback on the road since they rallied from a 21-point deficit vs. Oregon in 2002.

Leave it to former ASU wide receiver and current Houston Texan Jaelen Strong to sum things up:

Here are three big takeaways from the come-from-behind win that moved ASU to 3-0 entering Pac-12 play.

1. "Sparky" gets it done again

Well, Kalen Ballage came seven touchdowns short of last weekend's record-setting performance, but ASU's junior tailback did what needed to be done late in the game.

Lined up in what is traditionally known as the Wildcat formation -- which ASU renamed as the Sparky formation, for obvious reasons -- Ballage took a direct snap and scored on a 2-yard run with 3:15 to play to give the Devils the lead for good in San Antonio.

For the game, Ballage notched 103 total yards on 19 touches. He was complemented in the backfield by fellow junior Demario Richard, who was his usual effective self: 95 yards on 22 carries. The Ballage-Richard duo is one of the best in college football, and they came up big once again Friday.

2. Wilkins shaky in first road test

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins looked stellar under center for his first two collegiate games against NAU and Texas Tech in Tempe, but he had a difficult time finding a rhythm in his first NCAA road contest.

On Friday, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder often overthrew receivers and was fortunate not to have more than one pass intercepted. Nonetheless, Wilkins made some fantastic throws, including a 45-yard TD pass to Frederick Gammage to pull the Devils within three points in the fourth quarter.

Wilkins still has room for improvement and growth -- but at least the Devils are finding a way to win in the meantime.

3. Defense comes through when it matters

The Sun Devils' defense is very much a work in progress, partly due to lingering injuries. But after giving up 28 points in the first three quarters to a UTSA team that scored just 26 points two weeks earlier against Alabama State, the Sun Devils blanked the Roadrunners in the final quarter.

ASU forced four straight three-and-outs late in the game, and on UTSA's final drive, after the Devils had an interception wiped out via replay, the defense did a tremendous job of getting after quarterback Dalton Sturm to force a turnover on downs.

Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson's unit will need to be much better in Pac-12 play in order to contend for a South championship -- but again, as the defense continues to learn and grow, the Sun Devils continue to win. You can't ask for more.