An Uncle Rico Production
After a hopeful performance against #5 USC at home the previous week, ASU embarked on their first away game of the season. Despite battling numerous injuries, the Sun Devils appeared ready to secure an essential win & maintain their positive trajectory. However, mistakes & self-imposed setbacks had them returning to Tempe with another defeat, more injuries, & many areas for improvement.
ASU vs The Hype-Train
This weekend, the 1-4 Sun Devils welcome the hype-train & Deion Sanders’ Colorado Buffaloes (3-2) who are also defeated so far in PAC-12 play. ASU’s coach Kenny Dillingham believes his team is on the brink of a significant achievement & may be able to use the overrated media darlings as impactful bulletin board material.
No doubt, we will never see a more distraction laden week heading into Saturday’s game between a 1-4 & a 3-2 football (via excessive media coverage & famous people fandom). Rarely do we see national media coverage for two winless teams (in-conference), but that’s what happens when the Kevin Hart of college football comes with his Buffaloes to a city near you.
It’s also not often that a 14-point loss at home is seen as progress, but for the evolving Sun Devils, the prior week’s game against USC indicated that their tactical changes, especially on the offensive side, were paying off. With the return of quarterback Trenton Bourguet from injury, there was high anticipation for a strong performance against Cal. Unfortunately for Sun Devils fans, our team came out flat from the first minute.
The start was rocky. ASU’s initial drives lacked progress, plagued with dropped passes & poor special teams play. It was a microcosm of the challenges they would face throughout the match. Cal capitalized on ASU’s weak punt midway through the first quarter, with strong plays from RB Jadyn Ott & WR Jeremiah Hunter, leading to an eventual touchdown run by RB Isaiah Ifanse.
In response, the Sun Devils’ offense, led by Sacramento State transfer RB Cam Skattebo, advanced assertively. A long pass from Bourguet to WR Melquan Stovall, and another to WR Gio Sanders, culminated in Skattebo equalizing the score. Both teams continued to test each other’s defenses, leading to a narrow lead for Cal by halftime.
The second half began with a bold decision by the Sun Devils teenaged HC Kenny Dillingham (a former Scottsdale bro & ASU alumni). He opted to go for a 4th & 2 call that unfortunately failed, putting them in a compromised position & allowing Cal to eventually score another touchdown.
ASU displayed some resilience, but a lack of football talent & mental mistakes crushed ASU’s chances to blow the game open. The Sun Devils failed to punch the ball into the end zone three times on a “Goal-to-Go” situation. Brollingham stayed aggressive & went for it again on fourth down, calling a halfback pass from Skatebo to star WR Elijah Badger.
Problem was, they had 12 men on the field (only 11 are allowed) & the touchdown pass was called back after CAL HC Justin Wilcox threw the challenge flag & won. ASU then had to settle for three points instead of seven. While ASU managed another field goal later, a pivotal interception shifted the momentum back in Cal’s favor, resulting in another touchdown for them.
Back & forth, the teams traded body blows, neither landing the knockout punch. After ASU QB Trenton Bourget called his own number, taking the game to 24-21 (in favor of Cal), it was up to CAL to run the clock out. ASU was steadfast, forcing Wilcox into a questionable 4th & 7 call from the ASU 25-yard line, but drew a pass interference call.
The defense never submitted, taking the CAL offense to the brink. CAL marched all the way down to a 4th & 1 from the 1-yard line, but ASU came away with a massive goal-line stand, forcing the Golden Bear defense back onto the field.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. The CAL defense eventually tightened the clamps on the ASU offense, forcing two incomplete passes to end the game
Achieving an away win in the Pac-12 is challenging; even more so when a roster is obliterated by injuries, like ASU has. Committing avoidable mistakes that negate touchdowns make these tasks even more daunting. Throw in a pinch of unnecessary mistakes (a disallowed touchdown due to an illegal substitution in Q4) and a dash of heart-wrenching plays, and you have the perfect recipe for a “Failure Souffle.” Simple arithmetic makes it clear that missing out on four points in a game lost by three was pivotal.
For two consecutive weeks, Coach Kenny Dillingham took charge of play-calling. There were moments of brilliance overshadowed by missteps. ASU achieved a commendable 430 yards this season, with standouts including Badger, Skattebo, & Bourguet. However, the squad struggled to convert drives into touchdowns. Bourguet delivered an impressive 344-yard pass, along with a touchdown, even managing to recover quickly from a strong hit that led to his sole interception.
Skattebo remained a focal point in ASU’s offensive strategy, although his performance slightly dipped compared to the previous week. Elijhah Badger, Jalin Conyers, and Melquan Stovall continued their upward trend, with Gio Sanders also making a significant contribution.
Yet, challenges with the offensive line persisted, especially with key players sidelined due to injuries. This hindered their running capacity and further strained their already limited resources. Their two successful attempts out of five on the fourth down are a testament to these struggles. In summary, for the Sun Devils, it was a game of highs and lows.
Improvements in their line play and reducing unforced errors could make them contenders in upcoming games. However, if these issues persist, the remaining matches might be challenging.
On the defensive side of the ball, ASU showcased commendable resilience, restricting Cal to 326 yards of offense. Nevertheless, mounting injuries & challenges in crucial situations exacerbated their problems. A notable absence for the Sun Devils was veteran S Jordan Clark, yet the injuries kept piling up. Star LB Tre Brown was another who fell victim to the injury bug. Despite a decimated roster, others like Caleb McCullough, stepped in with impressive defensive contributions (7 tkls/2 TFLs/1 sack). However, their efforts weren’t enough to contain CAL’s offense.
Looking ahead to Saturday, ASU is set to play an over-hyped game against Colorado which is ripe for the picking. All eyes will be on Colorado HC Kevin Har..I mean..Deion Sanders for a nauseating 5th week in a row. Colorado has deficiencies equal to ASU, and if there was ever a game for a new head coach to get a signature win with a sub-par team, it would be this one.
The forthcoming match is especially notable as it marks the last face-off in the Pac-12 for each team, as each move to brighter pastures in the Big 12 (Colorado, returning). After their surprising start to the season, marked by an impressive road win against last year’s National Championship Game contender TCU, the competition for Colorado has only gotten stronger, evidenced by their games against Oregon & USC.
While Colorado should easily handle ASU, who is merely a pile of hot garbage at this point, nothing can make kids play above themselves like the hatred players feel for having to see their opponent on every single channel, being told how much the other team’s shit doesn’t stink.
Both stink, but whose will be stinkier? ASU is sitting at +6, so clearly Vegas thinks it’s them, but we’ll know by 10pm Saturday night.