Takeaways: Red Raiders hold off Sun Devils in 52-45 win
Here are a few notes and takeaways from Kliff Kingsbury and players following the win.
Kingsbury opened up the presser by talking about the energy of the first half and being able to sustain that moving forward falling an hour weather delay.
“I thought the crowd was awesome to start the game,” Kingsbury said. “I think that really helped. After the rain you never know what’s going to happen. They came back strong, made a lot of noise, and the student section was unbelievable. So I think that helped.”
WR Dylan Cantrell made plays all over the field against the Sun Devils including the game winning score. Cantrell ended the night with a team-leading two touchdowns and racked up 160 yards on eight catches.
“He’s a talented player. It happened to be his night,” Kingsbury said. “All of them made big plays, but he had some big time catches for us.”
Cantrell’s favorite reception of the eight was a one-handed shoulder catch. The biggest play for the Whitehouse (TX) native, though, was the final score of the game where he took a jet sweep into the end zone. That was his first rushing touchdown since his freshman year of high school, Cantrell said.
“We have some of the most electric guys in the country,” Cantrell said. “They’re dangerous with the ball in their hands. You got Keke and Cam who are quick, and me and Derrick who are a little bit bigger, try to run people over a little bit. We take a lot of pride in that, just making big plays.”
Kingsbury mentioned throughout the conference that he made some bad play calls. Most notably the fourth and one attempt when RB Justin Stockton tried to run to the outside for the first.
Kingsbury said if he had to redo that play he would have handed the football off to RB Desmond Nisby to take up the middle.
“Yeah, we didn’t play very well,” Kingsbury said. “So to find a way — I don’t know if we would have won this game last year. The defense, I don’t know if they could have got that stop when they had to. And offense, 90 yards when they had to. So I think that showed some character with this team. When you have a chance to bury a team like we did, you gotta bury them.”
Kingsbury’s game changing moment was WR Ja’Deion High making the first block on a punt for Texas Tech since 2013.
“He’s a guy we can put at any wide receiver position,” Kingsbury said. “He plays special teams. He can do it all – a walk-on from Hereford. I can’t say enough good things about him and how hard he works and how much he means to our teams.”
QB Nic Shimonek, the team’s leader, went 37 of 50 on the night for 543 yards and six touchdowns.
Kingsbury said he’s watched Shimonek’s leadership and play grow throughout the offseason and till now. He wasn’t surprised by Shimonek having the game he did or by the way he led the offense on the final offensive drive the Red Raiders had.
“You’ve gotta score, each and every drive,” Shimonek said. “No matter what the defense is doing or what the situation is. The first order in a game like that, the goal is to score a touchdown every drive. I was trying to calm those guys a little bit. Ultimately, that’s what we did and we found a way to win.”
Texas Tech had some penalties that killed the momentum and led to the Sun Devils capitalizing in the end zone. The Red Raiders had a total of six penalties on the night for a total of 67 yards.
“It was, five in the first half, and second half we talked about playing a cleaner half and they did,” Kingsbury said. “The one that really hurt, we get the third down stop and they get us for taunting, didn’t look like much, but they got us for it, and it kept the drive alive and they scored. We can’t have stuff like that.”
Last season, as we remember, the Sun Devils were able to run all over the Texas Tech defense. This year, LB Jordyn Brooks said the emphasis was to stop the run game and to him – they did just that.
“I think we did excellent,” Brooks said. “I’m not sure how many rushing yards they got but compared to what they did last year I think we improved a lot in the run game.”
Brooks said having LB Dakota Allen back makes this game different from last season. Allen and Brooks combined for 22 total tackles with Brooks leading the team with 13 and Allen recording nine of his own.
“We feed off each other,” Brooks said. “I see him make a play, I feel like I gotta go make a play. I think we’re a one-two punch in that front seven and we got more to show y’all.”
Brooks said his body felt banged up following the game, but that he will be fine.
As for injuries, Kingsbury said he didn’t know exactly what happened to DB Desmon Smith, but mentioned he believes it was something with his ankle. As far as OL Travis Bruffy’s status goes, Kingsbury said they’re still trying to get weight back on him.
Bruffy has been absent since the week one opener against Eastern Washington. Over the past three weeks, OL Madison Akamnonu has been filling in at tackle while Bruffy recovers.
“They got a good defensive line. He’s got a ways to go,” Kingsbury said on Akamnonu. “He saw some speed on the edge. He fought hard.”
Kingsbury said the staff wants to make sure Bruffy has a chance to get back to competing weight. The timetable for his return is two to three weeks, Kingsbury said.
With the bye last week, the two-week preparation for the Red Raiders showed in the first half. However, the wheels fell off before Cantrell struck at the end. Arizona State tallied up 168 rushing yards by the final whistle and posted 326 passing yards.
Cantrell spoke highly about Arizona State’s effort to climb back and take advantage of the Red Raider mistakes, but he believes this game can help the Red Raiders moving forward when it’s crunch time.
“They had a lot of fight in them,” Cantrell said. “Down 20 points, or so, at halftime, coming out and making it a game. Hats off to them. But we had a lot of fight in us, too. It’s probably a game, you know, the past year or two I’m not sure if we would have pulled it out. That’s one thing that we stressed this whole offseason – finishing the games. And that’s one thing that we lacked at last year. Hopefully, this will give us some confidence, and we’ll build off it.”