ASU Football: Manny Wilkins perseveres in emotional win over USC

TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 28: Manny Wilkins #5 of Arizona State looks to throw the ball while avoiding a sack by Uchenna Nwosu #42 of Southern California during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 28: Manny Wilkins #5 of Arizona State looks to throw the ball while avoiding a sack by Uchenna Nwosu #42 of Southern California during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Through all the adversity ASU football quarterback Manny Wilkins has faced, he found a way to stand tall in his team’s 38-35 victory over USC.

For all but six minutes and five seconds of the first half, Arizona State was in control.

The Sun Devils, who lost their last two games and four of their last five, played with veteran poise. ASU established the run, found their best receiver on a 44-yard bomb and snatched a defensive turnover that eluded their grasp for weeks.

Even when third-string quarterback Jack Sears led the Trojans on a 75-yard touchdown drive to close the second quarter, the mood was calm. There was no sense a near-perfect 30 minutes could be eclipsed.

But when Manny Wilkins ran on third-and-10, collided with cornerback Iman Marshall and lost the football, his helmet and possibly a healthy brain in the third quarter, it felt like any positive spirit was sent into oblivion.

Little did we know he was irritated at being taken out.

“I was trying to tell them, ‘Hurry up and let me go play,'” he said.

The fifth-year quarterback’s senior season has been anything but mellow. Wilkins was one of the Pac-12’s most efficient quarterbacks in 2017, yet his final year has been anything but.

In ASU’s four losses, there have been plays Wilkins wanted back. Against San Diego State, it was the consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter. At Colorado, it was the fourth-and-goal call in the fourth quarter that didn’t punch in six points.

Most recently, it was a check down throw to Eno Benjamin that expired the Sun Devils’ chances to come back against Stanford. Now, after his team gave up 21 unanswered points in a road game they needed to win, he wasn’t on the field to help.

He thought about the clock ticking faster.

“This game means too much for me to be missing plays,” Wilkins said. “I care too much about my teammates. We put too much work in for me to let a little hit knock me down.”

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One series later, Wilkins was back in the game. His first two passes were incomplete but got enough help to move in range for a 50-yard field goal from Brandon Ruiz. The kicker missed.

Undeterred, Wilkins knew his defense would be off the field soon. He saw something that reassured him.

“I could just see the look in everybody’s eyes, how locked in we all were as a group,” Wilkins said. “And when you have that, you don’t got to say much because you know your guys are going to give their all.”

After ASU forced a three-and-out, that confidence became reality. N’Keal Harry made the first of two jaw-dropping plays, a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown to regain the Sun Devils the lead.

Even as the next two drives faltered, the momentum did not. The look Wilkins saw gave birth to two more miraculous plays – a 9-yard rush by Benjamin that carried five defenders for multiple yards, and a 28-yard catch from Harry that may have been the best in the game’s history.

Wilkins then got a crucial fourth-and-3 stop from his defense, giving ASU a chance to milk the clock with 3:53 remaining.

The Sun Devils looked to do just that. They ran Benjamin four straight times, picking up one first down before being stopped one yard short of kneels to end the game.

It came down to a key play Wilkins sought to convert for the last two months. This time, it didn’t slip by.

It was a 45-yard run of will, determination and frustration. Through all the moments of defeat, Wilkins tasted the open field of joy and victory in a touchdown run that ended the current second-longest home winning streak in the FBS.

Except he would’ve done it differently.

“They had no alley defender and nobody’s eyes were on me and I saw grass,” Wilkins said. “I was upset with myself because I should have slid and we wouldn’t have been in predicament in the end.”

Coach Herm Edwards didn’t mind.

“Manny makes the first down, I’m hollering, to be quite honest,” he said. “One of our guys tackle him. Just somebody tackle him, because the game’s over.

“He comes back and he looks at me and he says, ‘Coach,’ and I say, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s going to be ok.'”

Sure enough, it was. USC made things interesting with a 48-yard score to cut the lead to three, but Harry’s sure hands recovered an onside kick and subsided any feeling of anxiety.

The win was meaningful for ASU. It snapped a 19-0 home record for Trojan coach Clay Helton and it pushed the Sun Devils back into contention for a bowl game.

But maybe more importantly, it was a game their quarterback could cherish. In a year where things haven’t always gone his way, this was a win to remember.

Next. ASU Football: Rapid Reaction of Devils’ 38-35 win at USC. dark

“This team-I think we took a step forward today,” Wilkins said. “We deserved that win.”

So did he.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.