Arizona State squeaks out victory in Kenny Dillingham’s strange debut
Sep 1, 2023, 3:05 AM | Updated: 8:33 am
TEMPE — The Kenny Dillingham era for Arizona State football started about as unusually as it could have.
Despite everything, the Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0) beat Southern Utah (0-1), 24-21, in a game that started Thursday but ended Friday around 1 a.m. in Tempe.
The chaos began when a cloud of dust descended on Mountain America Stadium late in the second quarter as the Arizona State offense charged down the field.
Through the haboob, ASU true freshman quarterback Jaden Rashada lofted a corner endzone fade to wide receiver Troy Omeire. The touchdown pass was the last highlight for more two hours for either the Sun Devils or their opponent, Southern Utah.
The touchdown pass to Omeire was part of a strong first half by Rashada, one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits in ASU history.
Rashada’s night started with a bang as he completed his first three passes, including a 33-yard strike that set ASU up nicely for a Cam Skattebo six-yard touchdown run.
Later in the first half, it appeared ASU’s drive stalled out around midfield. However, on 4th-and-8 at midfield, the Sun Devils decided to go for it. Rashada threw a perfectly placed 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Xavier Guillory.
“I thought he did really well,” Dillingham said of his freshman quarterback. “Poise, collected, no turnovers. He hitched up and ran a few times. … Obviously week ones for freshman quarterbacks are even harder because you can think you know the looks you’re going to receive but they have an entire offseason to put in new looks. So, he knew our looks and our plan but when you’re seeing different looks on defense as a freshman quarterback, it’s really hard to grasp. ‘Whoa, that’s what I’m seeing. That’s what this is’ when it’s the first time out. That’s why I thought he did a phenomenal job.”
The dust storm evolved into a monsoon with lightning strikes being seen around the stadium. The teams did not start the third quarter for more than two hours — a stretch from just before 9 p.m. MST through 11 p.m. — as the storm pummeled Tempe.
Finally, the two teams resumed playing around 11:30 p.m. as the rain, but not the lightning, continued.
The second half started with the Sun Devils leading 21-7, but it would not be a similar half to the first half for ASU.
The Sun Devils struggled to find a rhythm offensively and started to look like the ASU of the Herm Edwards era as they committed numerous penalties down the stretch.
Rashada took his lumps. His first half of 12 of 16 passing for 182 yards and two scores preceded a 6 of 15 second half for 54 more.
If not for Elijhah Badger’s 81-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter to set up a Dario Longhetto field goal, the game could have lasted until breakfast.
The three points, courtesy of Longhetto, were the only three of the second half by the Sun Devils and they allowed Southern Utah to score two touchdowns. a 52-yard pass from Thunderbirds quarterback Justin Miller to Isaiah Wooden was part of a five-play drive that was followed by a blocked punt returned for a touchdown that made it 24-21, ASU, with 7:50 left in the game.
“Rain delays are very, very easy pieces of adversity when you talk about football,” Dillingham said. “That’s not a difficult adversity to overcome. And we’re going to have to do better moving forward to overcome adversity.”
ASU football remains at home for its second game of the season on Sept. 9 as the Oklahoma State Cowboys come to Mountain America Stadium. Last season, the Sun Devils lost 34-17 to the Cowboys at Oklahoma State.
The rematch can be heard at 7:30 p.m. on the Arizona Sports app, 98.7 and ArizonaSports.com.