TEMPE, Ariz. — Chip Lindsey will tell you there is nothing flashy about the offense he runs at Arizona State. There is no hidden bag of tricks, no razzle-dazzle, no sleight of hand.
“That sounds exciting,” he said at the start of the season, “but it’s not really the case.”
Lindsey’s offense is still predicated on the punishing ground game of Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard and a quick tempo passing game, but four games into the season, Lindsey has also displayed a great sense of timing when the Devils are at their greatest need — like in Saturday’s 51-41 win over Cal at Sun Devil Stadium.
It’s almost as though he’s playing dead as a possum before he strikes.
With his offense struggling Saturday against some defensive looks it had not seen on film from Cal, Lindsey went to work with coach Todd Graham and assistants Chris Thomsen, Jay Norvell, John Simon and Del Alexander at halftime, trying to find a way out of a 24-10 halftime hole.
“Everybody’s got some input and then I’ve got to make the final decisions so I write it all down, get it up there and sort through it and try to adjust,” Lindsey said.
The best of those adjustments came with ASU trailing 34-27 after a 74-yard touchdown pass from Cal QB Davis Webb to running back Tre Watson with 9:06 left in the game. After it crossed midfield, ASU went back to its Sparky package with running back Kalen Ballage taking the direct snap on two successive plays that gained 15 yards to the Cal 30-yard line.
Cal took a timeout to adjust to the formation, and that’s when Lindsey hit them with another wrinkle: a naked bootleg.
“In my mind it was good to show them a different look,” Lindsey said.
Quarterback Manny Wilkins executed it perfectly, faking a handoff to Richard and then rolling out and hitting wide-open tight end Jay Jay Wilson for a 30-yard score.
“That’s something we’ve had for a while,” Lindsey said. “We’ve been kind of been waiting for the right time. They were getting the safety down pretty low and it worked out pretty good. It was really good execution on their part.”
Staff turnover at ASU was one of the major storylines this offseason, even if it got overshadowed by all the new players. Coach Todd Graham felt that with increased funds from the administration, he had upgraded his staff. Looking at Lindsey’s early returns, it’s hard to argue.
In five games as ASU’s offensive coordinator, including last season’s Cactus Bowl, Lindsey’s offense has racked up 237 points for an average of 47.4 per game. In the three games where he has faced Power Five teams and actually rolled out more of his offense, he has racked up 161 points for an average of 53.67.
As odd as it sounds, Lindsey sees a lot of room for improvement.
“We’re a little inconsistent,” he said. “That’s somewhat expected. You can’t simulate every situation that we get in during a game, in practice, and I think this team is going to continue to grow; I think our offense will continue to grow.”
If wins over Texas Tech and Cal are any indication, it will be entertaining to watch that growth.