ASU’s Shaun Aguano trying to help QB Emory Jones’ rhythm, ground game
TEMPE — It’s only four games into the season, but quarterback Emory Jones had his worst game in a Sun Devil uniform in the Pac-12 opener Saturday.
Despite throwing for 261 yards, the transfer QB went 21-for-36 (58%) with one touchdown and two interceptions — his first two picks of the year.
And while the one passing TD came in garbage time to make it 34-13, the contest also marked the second time Jones has finished a game completing less than 60% of his passes. The other was a 50% clip in the Week 2 loss at Oklahoma State, ASU’s other ranked opponent so far.
Jones’ inaccuracy issues led to not only missed touchdowns but turnovers, one of which occurred on an errant throw behind tight end Messiah Swinson near the goalline.
So did interim head coach Shaun Aguano think about making a change at QB?
“There wasn’t a thought. To me, we’ll take responsibility, maybe simplify what we need to do,” Aguano said Monday. “So we’ll take that on as a coaching staff — making sure that he’s comfortable with what we’re asking him to do, especially against a formidable opponent like Utah. Maybe we were asking too much in regard to the schematics of the game.
“I never had any thought of changing the quarterback. He’s my guy, I’m going to roll with him. Every time he came off the field, I could see his head was down because he wants it so bad. Sometimes we have to take a step back and see what matters to him, what he sees on the field. And those conversations are ones we’ll have on the sidelines. I’m going to run with Emory and he knows I have his back as well.”
Not all of ASU’s offensive woes fall on Jones’ shoulders.
ASU set a school record for the fewest rushing yards in a single game against Utah with only six.
Jones accounted for -26 yards on a team-high 11 attempts, with his longest rush of the night going for six yards. He was sacked five times for -45 yards to tank his rushing totals.
The offensive line has also had issues with pass protection. And even when added blockers are brought in — whether that’s running backs, fullbacks or tight ends — Jones is still taking brutal hits or getting swarming pressure in his face.
Did taking two sacks on the opening three plays of the game affect his ability to stay calm and go through his progressions? Maybe.
Jones said postgame that he “didn’t play his best ball” and “got antsy in the pocket at times and started looking at the rush a little bit.”
“We need attention to detail on a lot of things,” Aguano said. “We had a couple moments that I thought, from a schematic standpoint, our guys didn’t understand from a protection standpoint where things were coming from that we need to make sure we change up. But there’s a lot of stuff from an in-game perspective that we are paying attention to detail.
“I’m giving our guys more meeting time for teaching and correction. … So I’m holding coaches accountable to make sure that they’re concise with their meetings and making sure that there’s corrections made so kids understand what’s going on and not letting those things go on and on.”
Aguano made the analogy that the passing game is like playing basketball and the team is struggling to hit outside shots. If that’s the case, then the coach has to design plays to get easier looks closer to the basket, like a layup.
In football terms, that translates to getting Jones involved with his legs. Aguano wants to find the quarterback easier, short-yardage completions early to get him in a rhythm before dialing up more aggressive, chunk-yardage passing plays that take more time to develop.
“We’re learning as well,” Aguano said. “(Offensive coordinator) Glenn Thomas is learning what I want as well and for Emory to be involved in the passing game. … If we can’t get the passing game started, then I’m going to get you involved somewhere else that you can be effective from a confidence level and for productivity for our team.
“We’re learning, he’s learning from me as well. But I’m going to use him any way that I can to win football games and be productive and stay ahead of the chains, especially on first down. I’d like to see more protected designed runs from him because we need to protect him as well.”