TEMPE, Ariz. — Rashaad Penny got his first season as San Diego State’s featured back off to great start, running for 197 yards against UC Davis.
Playing well against an FCS program was great, but Penny had his eyes on the second game of the season: At Arizona State.
He made the most of it.
Penny accounted for 353 all-purpose yards and showed off his versatility by scoring three different ways, leading the Aztecs to a convincing 30-20 victory over Arizona State on Saturday night.
“UC Davis is a good team, I never look past anyone, but I felt like the Arizona State game probably could have been the game where a lot of people take notice,” said Penny, who had more than 1,000 yards in a back-up role last season.
Arizona State sure did.
The run-heavy Aztecs (2-0) rolled over the Sun Devils from the start, with Penny bursting through for a 95-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Penny added a 99-yard kickoff return for a score and a 33-yard TD reception to help San Diego State snap a 23-game road losing streak to Power 5 teams. He finished with 216 yards rushing on 18 carries.
“You’re just seeing what we knew all along, that he’s one of the best running backs in the country,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said.
Arizona State (1-1) had one of its ugliest losses in six seasons under coach Todd Graham, plagued by defensive lapses, missed assignments on offense and a dropped touchdown pass by John Humphrey.
Manny Wilkins threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns for the Sun Devils, who face an uphill climb with the schedule about to get a lot tougher.
“We just have to do better. We beat ourselves,” Graham said. “I thought the whole time we would come back and win. Our guys showed heart, but it didn’t count on the score board. We have to do better than that.”
Arizona State’s revamped defense gave up nearly 550 yards against New Mexico State last week and faced a bigger challenge against one of the nation’s top rushing teams.
San Diego State was seventh nationally in 2016 and opened this season by running for 276 yards in a win over UC Davis, including 197 and a pair of touchdowns by Penny.
Penny got started quickly against an Arizona State, racing off to a 95-yard touchdown after weaving through a hole on the left side.
Arizona State tied it on Kalen Ballage’s 1-yard run , but Penny took off again, on his school-record sixth kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Sun Devils gave up another big play in the third quarter to fall behind 27-14. Faced with a third-and-21, the Aztecs caught Arizona State in bad coverage and Penny had to make just one move on a pass out of the backfield to score on a 33-yard touchdown.
Arizona State managed 27 yards of offense in the third quarter, but converted a third-and-37 into a 53-yard touchdown catch by Frank Darby early in the fourth. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving the Sun Devils down 30-20.
San Diego State controlled the ball for nearly six minutes to close out the victory.
“It’s just about going out there and executing the game plan, and that’s not what we did tonight,” Wilkins said.
San Diego State ended a 28-game road losing streak to Pac-12/10 teams and has won consecutive games against the conference — with a win over Cal last season — for the first time 1994-95. The Aztecs also ended Arizona State’s 17-game non-conference home winning streak and beat the Sun Devils for the first time in 12 tries (1-10-1).
NO RUN GAME
Arizona State had to play without running back Demario Richard (right leg), then watched Ballage get hurt in the third quarter. The injuries helped limit the Sun Devils to 44 yards on 31 carries.
San Diego State has won the past two Mountain West Conference titles and looked like the favorite to win a third after beating a Pac-12 team on the road.
Arizona State lost to a team from a smaller conference at home and the schedule only gets tougher from here. Graham’s hot seat might be warming up.
San Diego State will make it back-to-back games against Pac-12 opponents when it hosts Stanford next Saturday.
Arizona State plays its first road game of 2017 next Saturday against Texas Tech before opening Pac-12 play against Oregon the following week.