Sun Devil Football Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Billy Napier has been promoted to Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, as announced by Head Coach Herm Edwards.
In addition, Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs coach John Simon, Wide Receivers Coach Rob Likens and Offensive Line Coach Rob Sale will all be retained on the Sun Devil football staff next season, Edwards also announced.
"It is my pleasure to announce the elevation of current Sun Devil Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Billy Napier to Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator on our staff,” says Edwards. "Billy’s experiences while working on some of the top coaching staffs in college football will be invaluable as we move Sun Devil Football forward. I am also pleased to announce the retention of the remainder of the full-time offensive staff in Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach John Simon, Wide Receivers Coach Rob Likens and Offensive Line Coach Rob Sale. I will continue to work on completing the staff."
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with Coach Herm Edwards as the Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator,” says Napier. "The leadership challenge ahead is one I look forward to, especially considering the character of the young men on our roster. We’re going to work diligently to elevate this program. My wife Ali and I have enjoyed raising our children in the Valley and I consider it a privilege to go to work every day at Arizona State University. Go Devils!”
In Napier’s first year at the helm of the Sun Devil offense, ASU posted the 14th highest-graded offense in the FBS this season according to Pro Football Focus - including the 10th highest-graded passing attack in the nation. This is notable as ASU was graded 54th in the nation in total offense last season and 86th in the passing game on the year. The offensive turnaround (+40 positions) was the eighth-largest in the FBS this season and ASU was one of just three programs to move from outside the Top-50 to inside of it in just one season. The 76-spot swing in the passing game rankings was the third highest in all of the FBS (second among Power Five schools).
ASU has developed one of the elite red zone scoring teams in the nation under Napier, tied for first nationally in converting on 95.83 percent of its red zone appearances this season (46-of-48). However, the Devils took a knee in the red zone in the final seconds of the team’s victories over fifth-ranked Washington and in the Territorial Cup contest against Arizona - the only two “blemishes” against the Sun Devils this season. ASU sits 11th nationally in red zone touchdown scoring with 36 touchdowns on those 48 attempts (75.00).
Ball security was another notable facet of Napier’s offense. The Sun Devils have turned the ball over just 11 times this season, a total good for 12th nationally. ASU finished 82nd in the country a year ago with 21 turnovers. ASU is 17th nationally with just five fumbles lost this season, and none of those have been by a running back. ASU’s six total interceptions this season are the 17th-fewest in the country, and three occurred on tipped balls.
Leading the offensive charge was redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins, who needs just 82 more passing yards to become only the ninth Sun Devil in history to reach 3,000 passing yards in a season. Wilkins, who earned Pac-12 All-Conference honors this season, is under 100 yards from moving into ASU’s all-time Top-10 in career passing yards. Wilkins finished the regular season with 2,918 yards and 17 touchdowns.
One of the most accurate passers in the nation and in the history of Sun Devil football, Wilkins broke the school record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception at 192 dating back to last season before his first quarter interception against Stanford, breaking Rudy Carpenter’s previous school record of 149 from the end of 2005 to 2006.
Wilkins has just five interceptions this season (three of which have come on tipped balls). This number is notable as only one other time in the Pac-12 era has a quarterback had 5 or fewer interceptions in a season where they started over 75 percent of the games (Taylor Kelly with 5 on 278 attempts in 2014, missed three games). In fact, outside of Kelly, no quarterback in Sun Devil history with at least 275 attempts in a season had fewer than seven interceptions (Wilkins is currently at 370).
Wilkins has shown what he can do in a clean pocket this season, ranked 12th nationally with a 70.8 completion percentage when there’s been no pressure this season - good for second in the Pac-12.
The passing game was elevated by coach Rob Likens and his receiving corps that was the 30th-highest graded group in the country this season according to PFF - improving 11 spots from its 41st-place ranking last season.
At 1,000 yards thus far this season, N’Keal Harry is second in the conference and 16th nationally en route to Pac-12 All-Conference honors. With 73 catches this season, Harry is seventh in receptions in Sun Devil single-season history. The single season record is 87 by Shaun McDonald in 2002.
Harry has proved himself as a valuable possession receiver as well and has 69 receptions on 103 targets this season - both totals good for first in the Pac-12 this season and 13th and 18th nationally on the year. The sophomore has appeared in all 24 games at Arizona State - starting 23 of those - and has a catch in all 24 games. He is the only true sophomore in the country to have a catch in the first 24 games of their career.
The Sun Devils have had 5 different receivers with 100+ yards in five games this season, a total it had never reached in an entire season prior to this year. Only six times in school history has ASU had four different players with at least 100 receiving yards in a game in a single season (2004, 2005, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017).
Among those with big seasons were Jalen Harvey, who has 45 first downs on 58 career catches (77.6 percent) and 26 of his 33 catches this season while he has averaged 16.6 yards per catch average in career. Harvey is a perfect 14-for-14 on third down receptions and conversions this season.
Kyle Williams is currently the top rated receiver in the Pac-12 in terms of a quarterbacks NFP QBR when targeting a certain receiver, grading out at 124.0 with 61 catches on 77 targets (79.2 percent, easily the highest reception percentage in the Pac-12) with six touchdowns.
John Humphrey introduced himself to the Sun Devil nation in a big way in the opener, catching seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. The debut was the second best for a first collegiate game in Sun Devil history, trailing only Calvin Demery’s 1969 school record of 201 yards in his first game
The Sun Devil’s also saw one of the largest turnarounds in the running game in the second half of the season in recent memory behind Napier and running back coach John Simon, leading to one of the top rushing attacks in the nation. According to Pro Football Focus, the Sun Devils finished the regular season with the 30th-highest graded rushing game this season after having the 41st worst-graded attack in 2016.
Additionally, Rob Sale helped elevated the play of the offensive line, leading to a run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus that was 34th nationally in 2017 after being ranked 69th last season. Sam Jones led the charge of the season at left guard, earning All-Conference honors while being the only guard in the Pac-12 to not give up a sack or a quarterback hit this season.
ASU has 26 rushing touchdowns this year as it reached 25 rushing touchdowns for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Those four times are notable as the Devils had just three previous seasons with at least 25 rushing touchdowns from 1980-2011 (1985, 1986 and 1996).
The Sun Devils had an incredible month of November running the football, finishing seventh in the country in averaging 297.00 yards per game in the month - notable as ASU was 114th in the month of October in the same category at 108.00 yards per game. ASU rushed for 1,188 yards in the final four games of the season (297 yards per game), 55.0 percentage of the team’s total yards on the year. Demario Richard led all Pac-12 running backs with 598 rushing yards in November (149.50 yards per game) - good for fourth nationally, as were his seven touchdown runs during the month.
Richard became the fifth running back in school history to surpass the 3000-yard career rushing mark, doing so against Arizona. At 3,152 career yards, he is second in the Pac-10/12 era in ASU history and needs 147 yards in the bowl game to become ASU’s leading rusher all time in the era (J.R. Redmond at 3,299).
Richard recorded his 13 career 100-yard rushing game this season, becoming the first Sun Devil in the Pac-10/12 era to reach 13 such games. He is now in sole possession of fifth place in school history with his 13 100-yard rushing games.
Richard has a touchdown rush in nine of his last 11 games and has 33 touchdowns overall in his career (rushing and receiving) - good for eighth in Sun Devil football history.
With 23 more yards, Richard would become the first Sun Devil with multiple 1,000-yard seasons since Freddie Williams in 1974-75 and thus the first Sun Devil in the Pac-12 era to do so. In fact, he’d be one of just three players ever to accomplish the feat, with only Woody Green joining he and Williams on the list.
Kalen Ballage has six rushing touchdowns this season and now has 27 in his career, creeping up on ASU’s all-time Top-5 in the category (the threshold being 28 rushing TDs). Ballage became the 26th Sun Devil to eclipse 3,000 career all-purpose yards and his 29 career touchdowns overall are 10th in Sun Devil History.The senior has accepted an invitation to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl following the season.