An Uncle Rico Production
(ASU pregame ritual paying homage to legend Pat Tillman)
Fresh off their self-imposed bowl ban announcement, ASU looks to turn the page on a shaky program under fired head coach Herm Edwards. Tonight, the Sun Devils will open their 2023 campaign, playing host to Southern Utah at Sun Devil Stadium. Many questions are yet to be answered, and we will not know much about this team until they return from Stillwater, OK after their matchup with future Big12 Conference rival Oklahoma State, but tonight should give us an idea of the strengths & weaknesses of the 2023 Sun Devils.
A New Era Begins Tonight with HC Kenny Dillingham
As they enter the Kenny Dillingham era, Arizona State University prepares to take the field against Southern Utah. The team will be largely unrecognizable, with more than 50 scholarship newcomers, including 30 Division I transfers. It’s said to be a record-breaking overhaul of the roster. The lineup against the Thunderbirds will feature as many as 18 new starters, special teams included.
ASU Strengths and Weaknesses
ASU’s team this year is set to show off a talented group of receivers and a more effective pass rush than last year’s squad. The secondary is considered a strong point, but there are questions about the team’s offensive line and run defense. The Sun Devils have had their share of recent struggles, culminating in a disappointing 3-9 season last year.
A Look Back
The 2021 season was a roller coaster for ASU. With Jayden Daniels at the helm, they went from championship contenders to losing the Las Vegas Bowl. The season was hampered by losses like the one against BYU and a collapse against Utah. Eventually, Daniels transferred, and other key players left amid ongoing NCAA investigations into recruiting irregularities.
Building a New Team
Dillingham feels optimistic despite the adversity, including a self-imposed ban on postseason play. He sees these challenges as necessary for long-term success. The team, with a largely fresh roster and coaching staff, will face inevitable bumps, but the sense is that adversity could ultimately strengthen them.
Joey Ramos, the starting senior right guard, thinks overcoming adversity will be crucial. And he suggests that the Sun Devils could play spoiler to other teams, even if they themselves are banned from the postseason.
Previous Matchup and Challenges Ahead
In their last outing against Southern Utah, the Sun Devils displayed signs of a lack of discipline, which they’ll aim to correct. Dillingham emphasizes controlled aggression to avoid costly penalties.
Top recruit from Dillingham’s first class Jaden Rashada will get the start tonight at quarterback. The young gun will be only the second true freshman to ever start a season opener for the Sun Devils. Rashada has shown potential during camp, but needs to be cautious of extending plays too long & risking turnovers or sacks if he wants to make a good impression on his coaches & desperate fans. Even at his young age, Rashada’s comfort level with the scheme seems to improve every practice; a positive sign for the offense.
ASU’s defensive line, particularly sophomore Clayton Smith, has been a highlight in practices. Dillingham brought in a gaggle of legit transfer prospects from big name universities in major conferences (Texas, Purdue, Oklahoma) and the defense looks to be the greatest beneficiary of the new toys. Even with few to none snaps together during live-fire, their performance in actual gameplay is highly anticipated. The defense is characterized by high energy, which needs to be channeled effectively to avoid errors, according to Dillingham.
Offensive Line Concerns
The offensive line may or may not be a point of concern; it’s unclear if their struggles in practice are because of an outstanding defensive line. Look for this to be an area of emphasis for the season & recruiting going forward.
Depth Chart and Player Roles
The team released a fluid depth chart ahead of the game against Southern Utah, indicating ongoing position battles. The development of players like Bram Walden and Kyson Brown has been particularly noticeable. Other leaders like WR Elijah Badger & S/DB Ryan Clark should bring veteran leadership on & off campus.
Statistical Ambitions and Skill Sets
Receivers like the aforementioned Elijhah Badger and TE Jalin Conyers have high aspirations for the season, although an untested quarterback and potential pass protection issues could be limiting factors. Look for Conyers to introduce himself to NFL draft scouts throughout the year.
The absence of key players like Anthonie Cooper and Will Shaffer could impact the team’s run defense in the upcoming game. Despite the limitations, defensive line coach Vince Amey remains optimistic about the younger players stepping up.
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The real question will be the Herm Edwards leftovers fit in under new leadership. Only time will tell.