ASU’s Kenny Dillingham talks Colorado, Deion Sanders and the long road ahead

Oct 2, 2023, 4:15 PM | Updated: 5:54 pm

Kenny Dillingham...

Head coach Kenny Dillingham of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the second half of the NCAAF game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Mountain America Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE — ‘A Mountain,’ or Tempe Butte for the uninitiated, sits on Arizona State’s campus. It has a 60-foot gold-painted A near the top.

It’s nothing compared to the climb the Sun Devils football team has to make for the remainder of the season to compile a formidable record.

First, there’s Colorado, who hung tough with No. 9 USC on Saturday. Then, there’s a trip to Seattle to face No. 7 Washington, followed by hosting No. 13 Washington State, then a trip to Salt Lake City to visit the No. 18 Utah Utes, followed by a trip to UCLA, before hosting No. 8 Oregon and, finally, the Territorial Cup, against Arizona on Nov. 25.

“We’re focused on us,” Arizona State head football coach Kenny Dillingham said Monday. “The most important thing is effort, the detail and making sure you’re putting your players in the best position to be successful and not the whiteboard to be successful.

“It’s not scheme-driven, it’s about the opponent. What they do well, what they don’t do well, the style of play. Other than that, we’re focused on us.”

However, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This week, it’s “Coach Prime” Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes at Mountain America Stadium on Saturday.

‘Prime Time’ vs. Colorado

Colorado is headed to Tempe with revenge on it’s mind. Losers of its last two games — two very tough games in Eugene against Oregon and at Boulder against USC.

Dillingham is not taking the Buffaloes lightly.

“They’re more talented [versus last year] for sure,” Dillingham said. “Their defensive line is good, their skills positions are fast, they play really hard, they’re fundamentally sound. The biggest difference, aside from the talent, is the effort in which they play. This team plays extremely hard. This team runs to the football on defense. This team sprints up to the football on offense. These wideouts sprint to block

“Schemes are a dime a dozen. The culture that’s being created [there] is one that’s we’re going to play competitive, we’re going to finish every play, we’re going to play with passion, and you can see it on the tape.”

Dillingham also spoke very highly of Shedeur Sanders, Colorado’s standout quarterback and Coach Prime’s son.

“I actually recruited him out of high school when I was at Auburn,” he said. “I was super impressed. Seeing him put it together in college, doesn’t shock me. He’s an older version of what that 17-year-old was. Cerebral, smart, has great poise about himself. … Similar to [USC quarterback] Caleb (Williams). Very hard to get uncomfortable, even if you hit him, he gets up, the next play is the next play.”

Sanders has inserted himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation as a junior, throwing for 1,781 yards, 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Explosive plays

Big plays have been sorely lacking from the Sun Devils this season on both sides of the ball.

“I believe our longest rush is 17 yards on the season,” Dillingham guessed. “When you can’t run the ball and hit explosive runs like that when you’re more consistent, you’ve got to find more explosives.”

Coach was wrong, but not by much: Cam Skattebo had the longest carry of the season — an 18-yard rush against USC when he ran for 111 total yards in the game.

It’s not just on offense, however, where the team has struggled to find big plays: In five games, the defense has yet to produce an interception and has only recovered one opponent fumble.

That ranks them 127th in the nation — last — tied with Florida and UTSA.

“They’re attacking and being aggressive, still got to create more takeaways,” Dillingham said. “We’re not explosive on offense, and we’re not explosive on defense … defense we’re getting sacks, but the most explosive play on defense is a turnover and we’re not getting turnovers.”

The team has found explosive plays through the air, though.

In the same USC game, Skattebo caught a 52-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Against Oklahoma State, Jayden Rashada connected with Elijhah Badger for a 65-yard catch. Xavier Guillory and Jalin Conyers had catches of 47 and 43 yards, respectively, against Southern Utah. However, those were both from Rashada, who is out.

“We and myself have to be more creative,” Dillingham said. “When you look at the win rate for teams with explosive plays and teams that don’t have explosive plays it’s one of the number one correlations to winning in the game nowadays and we’re not having enough explosives.”

Time to punt on fourth-down plays?

The Sun Devils went for it on fourth down five times on Saturday against Cal at Berkley, converting twice.

While momentum and location on the field always plays a factor into Dillingham’s decision making, special teams has been playing into his decision making as well.

“A 35-yard net punt on average, right now, is not conducive to converting a fourth-and-1 or -2,” Dillingham said. “Our special teams have been playing really well, other than the net punt battle.

“Right now, a punt battle is minus 10-to-20 (net), so you might as well go for the fourth-and-1-and-a-half.”

So for the “State of the Sun Devils” crew, there may be a little less “Dice Roll Dilly” in the future.

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