Kalen Ballage Runs Wild

College football means wild scoring drives and hot prospects. Ryan Dukarm shows us both in breaking down Arizona State Sun Devils‘ Kalen Ballage’s 8 TD day.

Eight touchdowns. In one game. Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage tied a Football Bowl Subdivision record against Texas Tech with eight all purpose touchdowns, seven on the ground and one through the air. A whopping six of those touchdowns came from the Sun Devils’ power wildcat formation in the red zone, from which they ran both a lead and counter play. Below, I highlight how the Sun Devils offense, led by Ballage was able to impose their will on the hapless Red Raiders defense from the power wildcat formation.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Play Design- Wildcat Lead Play

Five of Ballage’s six touchdowns in the red zone came on a basic lead play, where Arizona State used this power wildcat formation to great success. Arizona State has 13 personnel, with Ballage (#7) lined up at quarterback, defensive lineman Christian Hill (#94) in as a fullback, and RB Demario Richard (#4) to the right of Ballage at tailback. Tight end Kody Kohl (#83) is aligned to the right of the offensive line, wide receiver Ellis Jefferson (#19) motions into a left wingback position, and quarterback Manny Wilkins (#5) is split out to the left.

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The play design was simple for the Sun Devils, overload the strong side of the formation and use the numbers advantage the wildcat gives the offense to score from within the red zone. Arizona State ran this power lead play by pulling left guard Sam Jones (#76) around the formation, while having both Hill and Richard join Jones in lead blocking for Ballage.


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The play works as designed, as Hill is able to turn the contain defender, safety Jah’shawn Johnson (#7), away from the play and create a lane up the middle. Both Kohl and right tackle Quinn Bailey (#59) down block their assignments and wash them out of the play. Jones and Richard come downhill and execute an outstanding combo block on crashing linebacker Luke Stice (#37). This opens room for Ballage to dive into the end zone for his first touchdown of the day.

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For Ballage’s second red zone touchdown and third overall score, the Arizona State back runs in on an eerily similar looking run, as the Sun Devils are able to score on the same play design. This time, Jones and Richard are able to combo block the safety Johnson as he unsuccessfully tries to fill the running lane created by the down blocks by Kohl and Bailey.

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For his next touchdown out of this formation, Ballage is forced to adjust the play on the fly, as the Red Raiders begin to adapt their defense and better hold their ground along the interior. Once the interior is jammed up the first time, Ballage is forced to use his vision and burst to beat LB Stice to the corner. Stice is slow to change direction and cannot recover fast enough to stop Ballage from running in for another touchdown.

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For his fourth wildcat lead touchdown, Ballage is once again forced to the edge, this time because of a swarming Red Raiders presence at the point of attack.

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Ballage recognizes this and bounces to the sideline. He shows great yards-after-contact ability with a stiff arm on Thierry Nguema #17, and is then able to stretch past both Nguema and Johnson to extend the ball past the goal line and inside the pylon for the touchdown.

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At this point in the game, Ballage has already scored five times, and four of them came from the Sun Devils running a basic lead play out of the their power wildcat formation.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Adjust and Adapt

The Sun Devils return to the red zone, and again come out in the wildcat. This time however, they leave WR Jefferson split out in a stack formation with QB Wilkins.

Texas Tech overloads the strong side of the formation, with seven defenders lined up even with or to the offensive right of the center at the start of the play. They clearly recognize the formation and are looking to stop the power lead run from Ballage at all costs.


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The defense overloading the right of the formation leaves an opening for the lead blockers to seal off a lane for Ballage on the left. Therefore the Sun Devils run a counter out of the wildcat to the weak side of the formation, pulling right guard Stephon McCray (#77), Hill and Richard to the left to lead block for Ballage

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The counter design catches the Texas Tech defenders off guard, and allows Ballage to once again put six points on the board for the Sun Devils.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix it

With Ballage already accounting for six Arizona State touchdowns, the Sun Devils return to their most successful red zone play, the wildcat lead play.

Running out of the power wildcat formation once again, Ballage is forced to take the ball to the outside, and wins with his physicality, running through linebacker Jordyn Brooks (#20) on the way to his seventh touchdown of the night.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Other Ways to Win

While six of Ballage’s touchdowns came from the red zone when the Sun Devils ran him from the wildcat formation, he set an FBS record with eight all-purpose touchdowns. The remaining two touchdowns are below, and have great examples of Ballage’s burst and open field speed.

In the first non-wildcat touchdown, Ballage is aligned in the shotgun to the right of Wilkins. At the snap, Wilkins hands the ball off to Richard, who began the play from the pistol. Richard takes the ball and pitches to wide receiver Tim White (#12) on the end around reverse. White then pitches back to Wilkins for the flea-flicker play. All the while, Ballage has been releasing down the field and is left wide open down the right sideline, and Wilkins hits him enroute to a 39-yard touchdown.

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Ballage’s final touchdown of the evening was his first traditional carry for a score. He is aligned in the pistol behind Wilkins, and takes the handoff on a outside zone run to the left. He is able to burst through the line and run through multiple tackle attempts and takes it 74 yards to the house to secure the victory for Arizona State and an FBS record for himself.

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Ballage may have accomplished this against a subpar defense like Texas Tech, but his eight touchdown game was an incredible performance regardless of the opponent.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work, including covering the UCLA Bruins’ use of Spot Concept, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ end around rush, and Buffalo’s double track block scheme and deep passing game.

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All film courtesy of the Pac12 Network.

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