Arizona State opens Kenny Dillingham era with white-knuckle, rain-soaked 24-21 win
Arizona State got the Kenny Dillingham era off to a roaring start Thursday night before dust and lightning came in and delayed things for more than two hours. When ASU came back out for the second half, it wasn’t as clinical.
But the Sun Devils, behind a strong debut from freshman quarterback Jaden Rashada, held on for a 24-21 victory over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds to open the new year with a win.
“We got a lot of crap to fix, but you got it done,” Dillingham said after the game. “Let’s move along and let’s get better.”
ASU opened things up with a 21-7 lead in the first half. It outgained the Thunderbirds 224-115 through the game’s first 30 minutes. Rashada was surgical through the air, completing 12 of his first 16 throws for 182 yards before the intermission.
ASU averaged 8 yards a play. Southern Utah averaged 3.8. No turnovers. Only one penalty.
Things were rolling along nicely until dust rolled in and visibility became an issue. During the halftime break, the stadium was cleared as storms moved into the area.
When play resumed, Mountain America Stadium was soaked with persistent rain and ASU saw its offensive rhythm washed away.
A holding penalty right out of the gates led to a three-and-out to open the half. The Sun Devils averaged 4 yards a play over the final 30. They were flagged eight times for 85 yards. The pass game disappeared. Rashada closed out just 6-for-15 for 54 yards after the brilliant start.
After sputtering on its first two possessions of the half, Southern Utah’s Justin Miller found Isaiah Wooden on a third-and-4 for 52 yards. Three plays later, Miller hit a wide-open Zach Mitchell in the endzone for a 17-yard score.
ASU began the next drive with back-to-back holding penalties but still managed to bang through a 38-yard field goal.
On its next possession, Southern Utah tightened things.
🙌🙌🙌 blocked punt and @gramirez_9 takes it to the 🏠
🔱: 24 pic.twitter.com/TDtsTMCP6h
— Southern Utah Football (@SUUFB_) September 1, 2023
Arizona State’s offense stalled out once again on the ensuing possession, but the Sun Devil defense stiffened and punched the Thunderbirds off the field after three quick plays.
The offense began at its own 13 needing to finally put together one last drive to close the game out. A 26-yard completion to Cameron Skattebo and a 16-yarder to Elijhah Badger helped ASU burn off the remaining 5:19 of game clock and end in the victory formation.
“Those are the games that you panic,” Dillingham said. “Holy cow, It’s 24-21, you’re on your own 15, you’ve had 97 penalties in the second half because you’ve lost control and you’ve lost your focus. Completely opposite of the first half. You go down, and you operate a four-minute drill to win the football game. There was a positive, that at the end of the game, they got it done.
“That’s what football is about. It doesn’t matter who you play, it matters that you get it done. At the end of the day, the guy’s got it done. That sets up the locker room. You got it done, you’re 1-0.”
Rashada became just the second true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for the Sun Devils — on his birthday! — and threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 18-for-31 passing. The yardage total goes down as the third most in Sun Devil history for an ASU quarterback in their first career start.
“I thought he did really well. Poise, collected, no turnovers. He hitched up and ran a few times. There were some pictures where the guys matched off, some different looks,” Dillingham said.
“He came out in the second half, and he just couldn’t get in a rhythm. His eyes were right. He was throwing the ball where it was supposed to be, I have no question about Jaden and his ability. He was getting the ball where it was supposed to be, but he just wasn’t in a rhythm. I got to do a better job, and we have to do a better job on offense getting him back in a rhythm. That’s our No. 1 job, getting the quarterback in a rhythm.”
The Sun Devils get a week to fine-tune before Oklahoma State comes to town for a clash of future Big 12 foes. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. PT on FS1.