ASU football battling moral victories vs. growth before 1st road test at Cal

Sep 25, 2023, 2:23 PM | Updated: 3:57 pm

Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports...

Arizona State Jalin Conyers (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — Arizona State Sun Devils head football coach Kenny Dillingham made it very clear that Saturday’s 42-28 loss to USC was not a moral victory.

The Sun Devils held the then-No. 5 team in the country to a one-score game for much of the contest, something football fans around the country (including many ASU faithful) were not expecting.

Although the loss shows up in the record books all the same, it’s not to say the performance from Dillingham’s squad wasn’t littered with positives following the 29-0 loss to Fresno State the week prior.

“Better is nowhere to be confused with good. We have a long way to go to get where I feel the standard of an offense is,” Dillingham said Monday.

“… I think there are two sides to it. The victory side is one part and the growth side is a completely different conversation. How I compartmentalize it is, the victory side is how you feel Saturday night. You should never feel satisfied Saturday if you don’t win the football game. But you can still understand the growth when you wake up in the morning and understand you got better and closer to where you want to be. I think there is a fine line between those two things.”

After four games at Mountain America Stadium, ASU gets its first road test in the Bay Area at California this Saturday. Both teams are searching for their first win in Pac-12 play.

Cal is led by Valley native Ben Finley at quarterback, the second time in three games the Sun Devils will be squaring off against a quarterback who played high school ball in Arizona.

The Golden Bears have not had the easiest road to this point, dropping games to both Auburn and the high-powered No. 7 Washington Huskies.

“They are explosive on offense and are about the big play,” Dillingham said.

“(Cal’s coaches are) going to be aggressive offensively and not just call inside zone 12 times for 3.5 yards. … That is a testament to coach (Justin) Wilcox who made a change in his philosophy this year. He went from a conservative mindset from playing good defense and special teams to wanting to attack. It is why coach Wilcox has been there so long and done such a good job is he is willing to adapt.”

Additionally, Dillingham had high praise for the Cal defense despite allowing 59 points to the Huskies on Saturday.

He mentioned their willingness to adapt and throw counter punches and that if you had a successful drive with one set of plays, the defense will be ready to adjust to what was working previously.

Dillingham said that the Washington game does not damage his image of the Cal defense because of Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. and his ability to thrash almost any defense in college.

Cal’s defense allowed 52 points in its first three games, including only 14 points to Auburn.

“I think the aggressiveness offensively, combined with a defense that does not give up big plays will be a really tough challenge,” Dillingham said.

ASU quarterback update

The Sun Devils have been beaten down with injuries across the board but especially at offensive line and quarterback.

The team has trotted out four different quarterbacks and are down two starting offensive linemen.

With both Jaden Rashada and Trenton Bourguet being unavailable in Week 4, quarterback Drew Pyne played all 60 minutes against USC after battling through two different muscle injuries this season.

Dillingham said Bourguet would be “available” this week but did not specify on where he stands with his health, a potential major development for the ASU offense.

Activating the Valley

Before getting asked a question to open up his Monday press conference, Dillingham wanted to thank the Sun Devils fans for the electric atmosphere on Saturday, saying the players took notice.

“That is what college football is about. Thank you to everybody who showed up, was loud and supportive of our football team,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham’s biggest critic

Many people think the life of a football coach may be stressful with the amount of fans who pour their heart into programs.

For Dillingham, the job does not stop when he leaves the stadium each night as when he gets home he has to answer to his biggest critic, his wife.

“My wife is my hardest critic. I say I am my hardest critic, but I go home, she is as competitive … and a Sun Devil,” Dillingham said.

“She’s always asking, ‘What happened on this, what happened on this, why did you go for it, what is this, why this?’ That is what makes us work is her passion for the game. … I go home and it is right back to work from that perspective.”

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ASU football battling moral victories vs. growth before 1st road test at Cal