A balanced passing attack has fueled ASU football's offense this season

A trio of receivers has taken on an essential role in ASU’s passing offense

When it comes to name recognition on ASU’s football team, perhaps no player holds more stock than sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry. However, one of the recipes for this year’s offense has been redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins' ability to consistently involve his second- and third-string receivers in the passing game.

While Harry has been his usual dominant self, productive seasons from wide receivers Jalen Harvey (redshirt junior), Kyle Williams (sophomore) and John Humphrey (redshirt sophomore) have given Wilkins a wealth of options to distribute the ball on passes. 

“The multitude of receivers is a plus for Wilkins, and he is improving at getting the ball out quickly and throwing it away when needed,” Jeff Metcalfe, a writer covering ASU sports for AZ Central said.

Sports journalism junior Maxwell Madden noted in a House of Sparky discussion that each of ASU's receiving weapons serve special purposes on offense: Harry, the jump ball guru and Wilkins’ first read; Harvey, the slot specialist; and Williams, the multipurpose receiver used on sweeps, screens and deep passes. 

Wilkins has certainly had no trouble involving his secondary weapons in the passing game, especially when Harry faces double coverage from defenders.

Statistics certainly confirm that Wilkins has committed to spreading the ball around.

ASU’s top-three receivers average 209.2 yards per game receiving as a trio this year, the 15th best such group in the FBS this season. Harry certainly leads the unit in production, but Harvey and Williams have also been a headache for defenses.

Six different receivers have caught touchdown passes from Wilkins this season. With scoring coming from all directions, opposing defenses have had a hard time keying in on specific players in the red zone.

Amongst FBS quarterbacks, Wilkins ranks 21st with 282 pass yards per game. He has avoided fixating his throws on Harry, and the passing game has benefited dramatically from it.

Nevertheless, ASU’s offense has room for growth under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Billy Napier — even after a huge home win against No.5 Washington. ASU has, for instance, struggled to get the passing game going in the first half of games this year, especially on mid-distance throws.

“(Wilkins) has had more success throwing deep than last season, but there is room for growth in the intermediate passing game like the passes he completed in the fourth quarter versus Washington for 17 and 20 yards to N’Keal Harry,” Metcalfe said.

If senior running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard return to form in the second half of the season, expect ASU’s offense to continue evolving, and for Wilkins to continue tweaking his decision-making.

But in the first half, a key component to ASU’s success on offense has been the involvement of all the receivers in the passing game. The bottom line is that ASU still has a shot at a bowl game and contention for the Pac-12 South, with big conference matchups looming against Utah and USC

There is excitement brewing in Tempe, and balanced offense is a big reason why. 

Reach the columnist at jmsloan3@asu.edu or follow @jakeuzzi on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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