Connect with us

Arizona State Sun Devils

Prediction and key questions to answer for ASU’s season opener vs. Southern Utah

© Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tomorrow night will mark ASU’s first game under Arizona native and coach Kenny Dillingham and with its stadium named Mountain America Stadium.

Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!

“It is football,” Dillingham said of the season opener. “The dream job is all the other stuff, right. The being home, the going home, the – seeing family, all the other stuff. The coming into the office and seeing the campus, I mean it is football time. When we walk on the field, there’s 22 people that are going to take the field, it’s 120 yards, 53 and a third yards wide and it’s go time.”

After a month of practices that felt like forever with all of the news surrounding the program, Dillingham and the Sun Devils are ready to go.

Key Questions to Answer for the Sun Devils

  1. Can the team put the bowl behind them and just go out and play?
  2. Will Jaden Rashada overcome the pressure and adversity of his first collegiate game to put together a strong showing?
  3. Does Kenny Dillingham have his team fully prepared and gelled together with how many new players they have?
  4. How will ASU’s offensive line hold up after a subpar month of fall practices?
  5. Will the Sun Devils have enough depth on the interior of the defensive line?
  6. Can the Sun Devils overcome adversity and emotions after struggling at times during fall camp?
  7. How will Dillingham’s/Beau Baldwin’s and Brian Ward’s offensive and defensive systems translate onto the field?
  8. Will ASU be able to limit the turnovers and penalties with a freshman QB?
  9. Can the Sun Devils’ front seven impose their will against an FCS opponent?
  10. Will all of the team’s big-time playmakers make it easy for Rashada to settle in?
  11. Can the Sun Devils get the run game going to aid Rashada?
  12. Can ASU win convincingly?

What to know about ASU football’s season opener

(From article above)

Sun Devils to miss two impact players in first half

Elijhah Badger (listed as starting X) and Will Shaffer (listed as second-string LB) will miss the first half of Thursday’s game after picking up personal fouls in an altercation in the final half of last season’s Territorial Cup.

ASU’s Elijhah Badger and Will Shaffer to miss first half of season opener

A new coaching staff

The Sun Devils, who went 3-9 last season, have only one returning position coach in running backs coach Shaun Aguano, who was last year’s interim coach following Herm Edwards’ dismissal.

The coaches are highlighted by defensive coordinator Brian Ward and offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin.

Ward comes to ASU from Washington State, where the Cougars allowed the third-fewest points in the Pac-12 (22.3). Ward is known for mixing up a lot of pressures and bringing chaos to confuse offenses. He also is very good at getting his players to make sure tackles. Expect a much different look from ASU’s defense, even with four leaders returning as starters.

Despite Dillingham being an offensive-minded coach, Baldwin will be calling the plays for the Sun Devils. Baldwin spent the last three years as head coach at Cal Poly, where his teams were among the least penalized in the FCS, ranking in the top-20 in fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards per game this past season, according to ASU’s game notes. “His passing offense ranked fifth in the FCS in 2022, averaging 313.4 yards per game and showing the gradual improvement over an offense that averaged just 218.8 passing yards per game in 2021 and 183.7 yards per game in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season. Prior to Baldwin’s arrival, the Cal Poly passing offense ranked 117th in the FCS in 2019 with just 121.8 passing yards per game and 121st in 2018 at a paltry 90.8 passing yards per game.”

With Dillingham and Baldwin teaming up, expect a highly explosive offense from the Sun Devils. “Under Dillingham’s guidance in 2022, Oregon saw its points per game jump from 31.4 to 38.8 and offensive yards per game from 423.6 to 500.5.”

Key players to watch for ASU

#5 QB Jaden Rashada (Fr.)

  • How will the freshman QB perform in his first collegiate game? Rashada’s arm strength has wowed everybody this camp, so expect a flurry of deep balls from the 6-foot-4 gunslinger, who will become just the second true freshman quarterback in program history to start the season opener, following Jayden Daniels in 2019.

#12 TE Jalin Conyers (R-Jr.)

#4 RB Cameron Skattebo (Jr.)

  • Last season’s Big Sky offensive player of the year at Sacramento State will be more than just a bulldozer with his strength for the Sun Devils. The 5-foot-10, 225 Skattebo has shown off his speed and his versatility in being able to catch passes in practice. In 2022, Skattebo rushed for 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns. He had arguably the best spring game performance out of any player.

#1 WR Xavier Guillory (R-Jr.)

  • The Idaho State transfer could be the top wideout target for Rashada with Badger missing the first half in both of their first games with the Sun Devils. Guillory emerged as one of the top receivers in the FCS last season, registering 52 catches for 785 yards and four touchdowns for the Bengals. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver can catch almost every ball thrown his way, so expect a lot of acrobatic and highlight-reel plays all season long.

#35 DE B.J. Green (Jr.)

  • ASU’s front seven has looked dominant all camp, and their effort has been led by B.J. Green. Now in his third year at ASU, Green made the switch from defensive tackle to defensive end this offseason. He was fourth among FBS interior linemen with 11 QB hits last season and 10th among FBS interior linemen with 37 total QB pressures. Against an FCS opponent, expect ASU’s defensive line to impose their will especially under the direction of Ward.

#0 DT Dashaun Mallory (Gr.)

  • The Michigan State transfer has been the best interior defensive lineman for the Sun Devils this fall camp. The 6-foot-1, 275 pound Mallory played in 30 career games for the Spartans and spent most of last season at defensive end. Now, he looks to lead the Sun Devils’ interior front.

#82 LB Travion Brown (Gr.)

  • The only linebacker who has been consistently good in fall camp transferred to ASU from Washington State, so he is very familiar with Ward’s defense. Brown has been a vocal leader of this defense in every practice, forced a number of takeaways and also had good pressure in the backfield. Filling in a spot last year held by long-tenured Sun Devils Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson won’t be easy but Brown appears up for the task.

#1 CB Jordan Clark (R-Sr.)

  • Arizona State’s secondary, in my opinion, is the best position group on the team. They are led by nickel Jordan Clark, who is now in his fifth season with ASU. Clark had 47 tackles and two interceptions (one that was a pick-six) last season for the Sun Devils. In four seasons played for ASU, he has totaled 89 tackles and three interceptions.

#9 CB Ro Torrence (R-Jr.)

  • The outstanding wingspan of junior CB Ro Torrence has once again stood out in fall practices. After transferring to ASU from Auburn before last season, Torrence broke out, as he led the Sun Devils with eight pass breakups and 36 tackles. The 6-foot-3 junior led the Pac-12 with only 20 receptions allowed in coverage (min. 300 snaps).

Basic things to know about Southern Utah

The only other time these two teams met was in the 2021 season opener in Tempe. ASU won the matchup 41-14.

Southern Utah is under the direction of DeLane Fitzgerald, who led the team to a 5-6 record in his first year as head coach last season.

From the Thunderbirds’ website: “With the addition of new offensive coordinator Tye Hiatt, the Thunderbirds are poised to unveil an even more dynamic and potent offensive strategy. Their strong performance during training camp has set the stage for what could be a breakout season.”

Some standout players listed by the Thunderbirds include: “Quarterback Justin Miller is expected to lead the offensive charge, while wide receivers Isaiah Wooden and Timothy Patrick, offensive line Lyle Santos, linebacker Aubrey Nellems, and linebacker Kohner Cullimore will play pivotal roles on both sides of the ball. Alongside these established contributors, the Thunderbirds will introduce some promising new faces, adding depth and excitement to their lineup.”

ASU’s history in home openers

Dating back to 1999, the Sun Devils have won 23 straight home openers, which is currently the third-longest active streak in the nation.

A victory would improve ASU to 81-28-2 on Opening Day in history and 63-15-1 on Opening Day at home.

My Prediction

I predict ASU will win this game 45-17.

Both ASU’s defense and Southern Utah’s offense, particularly its QB, are experienced, but the Sun Devils should be able to get the best of them. I would predict their front seven to have 5+ sacks, led by Green, and for them to force a few takeaways this game.

I’m expecting a big first performance from Rashada from what we’ve seen in practice lately, specifically with how composed he’s looked and the quick development of chemistry with his targets. Against an FCS team, his big play ability will be well-suited, and there could be several long touchdowns thrown throughout the game.

Conyers should lead the game in receiving yards with Badger out for the first half. He’s established himself as the most reliable target on the team with his ability to catch almost every 50/50 ball thrown his way, so Rashada will likely look his way plenty of times.

Skattebo should also have a big game. I would think ASU would rotate more running backs in this game against an FCS opponent because they run five deep and all have proven to be reliable, but Skattebo will get the bulk of carries.

Overall, I would expect this game to be over with after the third quarter and for Bourguet to come in at QB then to get reps.

This could be wrong depending if ASU comes out flat and still affected by the bowl ban, but I think the veteran leadership the Sun Devils have is perfectly suited for the pressure they will face this game and will guide them to victory.

Fans should be looking forward to getting their first look at the new era of Sun Devil football under Dillingham, and I think the players will give them a reason to be excited with their performance in this game.

ASU QB Jaden Rashada named to Freshman Player of the Year watch list

*Get the BEST Phoenix sports insider information, exclusive content, and access to our seasonal magazines! SIGN UP HERE to unlock our premium content!*

Brendan Mau is a college sports insider and general assignment reporter for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

More in Arizona State Sun Devils