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Saturday's matchup with No. 13 Utah is a trial by fire for coach Shaun Aguano's debut

The Sun Devils face a big test against the 13th-ranked team in the country to open Pac-12 conference play

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ASU football team warms up before its game against Eastern Michigan at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Tempe.


The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions for the ASU football team. 

Former head coach Herm Edwards agreed to a mutual relinquishment of duties the day after a stunning 30-21 defeat to Eastern Michigan. An interim coach was immediately named, with former running backs coach Shaun Aguano taking on the job.

Unfortunately Aguano's first test with the Sun Devils is a trial by fire, with the defending Pac-12 champions coming to Tempe Saturday. 

Utah is No. 13 in the nation in the latest Associated Press poll. Besides barely losing to the University of Florida 29-26 on the road in the first week, Utah has looked great. 

READ MORE: Pac-12 football: Previewing each team as they enter conference competition

"I like the challenge of competing with the three top 20 teams right off the bat," Aguano said. "Our mindset, for now, is going to win those next three games. And we'll attack it. Full goal."

Following the Utah game, ASU travels to play No. 7 USC before heading back home to face No. 18 Washington. But for now, the focus is on the matchup with the Utes.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham had some interesting comments about the ASU coaching fiasco at Utah's Monday press conference. 

"It's like facing a wounded animal," Whittingham said. "It's dangerous. Often time you see an interim head coach come in, and they circle the wagons and give a supreme effort." 

READ MORE: Herm Edwards and ASU agree to a mutual relinquishment of duties as football head coach

The Utes had two blowout wins against Southern Utah and San Diego State since their season-opening loss and have averaged 216.7 yards a game running the ball — first in the Pac-12. 

The Utes' star running back junior Tavion Thomas, led the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns last year with 21 and has four already this year. This could be alarming for ASU's defense, as they gave up 305 rushing yards to the Eagles last weekend. 

The Sun Devils might also be without one of their critical run-stoppers on the defensive line this week — redshirt sophomore Omarr Norman-Lott is listed as a game time decision. 

"Once you put that defensive performance on tape, everyone will see it," said defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. "Now it's up to us to figure out how we're going to play the double teams a little bit better. Then we need the linebackers to get over the top, and safeties come up with force. You know, it's a team sport now." 

At quarterback, junior Cameron Rising returned for another year with the Utes and is having a quality season of his own. Rising, a 2021 All-Pac-12 first-team selection, has thrown eight touchdowns so far with only one interception. He has completed 67.1% of his passes so far.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Utes are stout. They're first in the Pac-12 in yards allowed, only giving up 236.3 yards per game. 

"I really don't like Utah," said senior offensive lineman LaDarius Henderson. "They're physical and a disciplined team. I feel that is what makes them great."

Going into this Saturday, Utah is a consensus 15.5-point favorite, which is expected, as they go for their third consecutive victory over the Sun Devils. Aguano has a lot to prove to the college football world, but not to the Sun Devil players. The team has already bought into Aguano's style of more energy on the field.

"I know he's only been the coach for 24 hours, but he has done a great job," Henderson said. "He did things at practice today to make sure to implement that there's more energy charged to do things."

Generally speaking, win or loss this weekend, the Sun Devils have taken on the new Aguano regime with open arms. 

Henderson urged fans to be keep their faith going forward this season.

"Just keep supporting us and be patient with us," Henderson said. "We can't achieve every aspiration the fans have for us and we have for ourselves in one week or one day. Just come out because this is for Arizona State." 

The Sun Devils kickoff their matchup against the Utes at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MST. 

Edited by Walker Smith, Logan Stanley and Piper Hansen.


Reach the reporter at vdeange1@asu.edu and follow @vdeangelis2024 on Twitter.

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Vinny DeangelisSports Reporter

Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com. 


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