2017 Rewatch: Arizona State Game Was Closer Than Necessary

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Dylan Cantrell #14 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders makes the catch for a touchdown against Joey Bryant #37 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the first half on September 16, 2017 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Dylan Cantrell #14 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders makes the catch for a touchdown against Joey Bryant #37 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the first half on September 16, 2017 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Our rewatch of the 2017 season takes us to a week-two 52-45 win over Arizona State in a game that Texas Tech should have won easily.

After an easy season-opening win against Eastern Washington, Texas Tech had an off week before looking for retribution against an Arizona State team that embarrassed the Red Raiders a year earlier.  David Gibbs’ defense was looking to make a statement after surrendering 652 total yards (301 rushing) and 68 points in 2016’s 68-55 loss.

And in many ways, the Texas Tech defense did save face in 2017, especially when it came to ASU running back Kalen Ballage who rushed for 137 yards and tied an FCS record with eight total touchdowns (seven on the ground) in 2016.  Last year, Tech keyed on Ballage holding him to 56 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown.

Thanks to fantastic work from defensive tackles Broderick Washington and Mych Thomas and middle linebacker Dakota Allen, the ASU “Sparky” formation was virtually shut down in Lubbock.  Tech harassed Ballage all night and it was clear that Tech had taken 2016’s game personally.

Allen finished the game with nine tackles and a sack while Thomas had four tackles and a sack and Washington recorded three tackles.  And while the Tech defense made amends for its abominable sowing in 2016, the offense snapped out of a second-half slumber just in time.

Tech drove 90 yards on 12 plays for the winning score (a Dylan Cantrell 3-yard run) with just 1:55 to play capping what was a game chalked full of momentum swings.   Tech moved to 2-0 on the season and took a huge step forward defensively (though the Red Raiders still allowed 45 points and 494 yards).

This was a swing game that Texas Tech needed to win to both improve its bowl chances and show the country that the defense was finally taking a step forward under David Gibbs.  Though the game was far from perfect, Tech garnered quite a bit of good will with a restless and cynical fan base by avenging one of the most embarrassing losses of the Kingsbury era.

This Game Should Have Been A Blowout

After rewatching this game, it was painfully obvious that Texas Tech should have blown Arizona State out of the stadium.  Twice, Tech had 18-point leads only to see self-inflicted wounds give the Devils new life.

Leading 21-3 at the start of the second quarter, Tech sacked ASU QB Manny Wilkins at his own five-yard-line to set up a third-and-thirty.  But on the play, Tony Jones was called for holding giving ASU an automatic first-down.

Tech would proceed to commit three more penalties on the drive (two being personal fouls) that ended with a Wilkins TD pass to keep ASU in the game.  Still, Tech would drive back down the field on the next drive threatening to score from the ASU two-yard-line.

But Desmond Nisby fumbled as he reached the ball towards the goal line and it was recovered by ASU in the end zone.  ASU would score on the subsequent drive to pull to 21-17.

However, Tech ended the first half with two Nic Shimonek TD passes to lead 35-17 restoring the lost 18-point lead.  To open the second half, Tech drove the ball to the ASU 26 but came up short on a fourth-and-one draw play to Justin Stockton (who was in the short-yardage situation because of Nisby was in the dog house due to his fumble).

ASU scored on the next drive and the game took on a much different feeling as the Sun Devils would outscore Tech 28-10 over the next nine combined drives in the game.

There was no reason for Texas Tech to have to win this game on a late TD.  The Red Raiders looked like a team that was not accustomed to playing with a lead and closing out a team when it had an opportunity.  Fortunately, they found a way to pull this one out instead of coughing up another close loss to a quality opponent.

Dylan Cantrell’s Career Game

Texas Tech señor wide receiver Dylan Cantrell had his defining game as a Red Raider and Tech needed every last ounce of his production.  Setting career highs in touchdowns with three (one rushing) and yards receiving with 160, Catrell abused the ASU secondary thanks to some brilliant catches.

The above catch put Tech up 35-17 at half time while the catch he made in the clip below was No. 4 on the Sports Center Top-10 and arguably the best of his career.  (Also, enjoy the Cam Batson video game move for a TD to begin the clip.)


Of course, Cantrell capped the night by scoring the winning TD on a sweep play from the three-yard line.  Cantrell was one of the most consistent and physically gifted Texas Tech receivers of the Kingsbury era and never did he have more of an impact on a game that on this night.

A Tale of Two Defenses

While Texas Tech fans felt much better about the Red Raider run defense following this game, all was not right with Gibbs’ side of the ball. Tech was clueless against the ASU passing attack as three ASU receivers averaged at least 11.4 yards per catch.

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Two ASU receivers had 100-yard games as they toyed with the Red Raider secondary.  N’Keal Harry had 148 yards and a TD while Kyle Williams had 159 yards and two touchdowns as the duo combined for 20 receptions.  Both Harry and Willams had monster second-half performances as QB Manny Wilkins and the ASU offense ran wild during the third and fourth quarters.

Tech improved its rushing defense by 133 yards from the 2016 game but ASU still exposed plenty of flaws.  On the season, Tech would rank 122nd in the country in pass defense allowing 282.2 yards per game.  The Tech run defense was solid but the pass defense showed the first signs of a vulnerability against the pass that would plague it all season long.

Offense’s Struggles In Second Half Began

Another season-long flaw that appeared for the first time in this game was the offense’s propensity for disappearing in the second half.  Tech was outscored 28-17 after halftime as ASU changed defensive tactics going to a blitz-heavy attack.

This was a theme all season for the Red Raider offense.  Tech scored 54 more points in the first half of games in 2017 than in the second half.  In four games last year, Tech failed to score more than seven points in the second half.  This dip in production almost cost Kliff Kingsbury’s team a critical win.

Next: Rewatching 2017: Eastern Washington

Up next, Tech traveled to Houston for a meeting with former SWC rival Houston in what was the coming out party for Dakota Allen.  Check back in with “Wreck ‘Em Red” as we continue our rewatch of the 2017 season.