Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins improved vastly from his first year as a starter to his second in 2017. 2018 was supposed to be a season where he sprang forward, taking ASU with him, but his progression has seemingly lulled this season.
The Sun Devils started this season 2-2, the same as last year. The difference this year is that they have only scored 26.5 points per matchup, buoyed by a 49-point performance in week one against lowly UTSA (1-3). Last season, Arizona State put up nearly 35 points per game through four outings.
A new offensive coordinator could be the reason for the sputtering offense, but Rob Likens is actually Wilkins’ third coordinator in as many years. In fact, during last year’s breakout season, Likens was the quarterbacks coach, so he should bring at least a little familiarity.
So what has the problem been?
Wilkins has not been as accurate down the field. He has missed several open targets behind the defense over the past few games and as a result, the play calling has become more conservative. He is averaging a career-low 7.3 yards per attempt, good for eighth in the Pac-12, ahead of a couple of true freshmen. Against Washington last week, Wilkins averaged under four yards per attempt while going 17/27 — even his completions went for just 6.1 yards per play.
To make matters worse, Wilkins has not been good late in games. Instead of finishing on a high note and rescuing these performances, he hasn’t done a whole lot. His fourth quarter passer rating is the lowest of his college career, as is his completion percentage at just 50 percent. He played well against Michigan State, but has lost two one-possession games in as many weeks.
On the plus side, Wilkins has been almost perfect at taking care of the football with just one interception in four games. Also, his touchdown rate is similar to last season’s, as he has seven now, plus a couple of rushing touchdowns. Wilkins has shown flashes of impressive playmaking, like the end of the San Diego State game where he almost led a wild comeback. The signs are still there for him to make another jump, he just has to be more accurate on the intermediate and deep routes.
From Wilkins’ sophomore season through his junior year, he improved across the board. He threw more often with a slightly better completion percentage, averaging more yards per throw and improving his touchdown to interception ratio dramatically. His quarterback efficiency rating was nearly 10 points higher in his second year at 142.6, which is good, but not great. Now at 140.9, Wilkins has stalled as expectations have started to build.
All of the above being said, Wilkins could still have a big conference schedule and build impressively on last year. A big positive is that the Sun Devils no longer have to worry about the Washington or Michigan State defenses, two of the toughest on their schedule. Oregon State at home this weekend will be a great barometer to see if he is stalling or if he is ready to make some noise in the Pac-12.
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