As if ASU’s football program needed another cloud hanging over its head, a dust storm followed by thunderstorms threatened to spoil Sun Devil head coach Kenny Dillingham’s debut Thursday night against Southern Utah. After an hours-long delay, the Sun Devils pulled out a 24-21 victory over the Thunderbirds.
Starting quarterback Jaden Rashada made his presence known immediately. In his first few moments on the field, the birthday boy threw a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Melquan Stovall, displaying his stellar arm strength. Later in the first half, Rashada completed a 47-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Xavier Guillory, extending the first half lead.
Despite a few plays gone awry, the freshman managed to stay composed throughout the game.
"Football is something that I have fun with and enjoy, so really, pressure is a blessing," Rashada said in a post-game press conference.
Junior running back Cam Skattebo began his Sun Devil career with a bang as well. The former Sacramento State bell cow scored a touchdown on ASU’s opening drive and finished the first half with 32 yards and 11 yards receiving.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Troy Omeire extended the Sun Devils lead to 21-7 by hauling in a touchdown pass at the very end of the half.
Another component of ASU's strong first half was the student turnout. The student section was filled by a sea of gold, hyping up the team as soon as they ran onto the field. As the game approached halftime, a gusty haboob made its way through Tempe, followed by heavy thunderstorms that delayed the game for hours. The delay seemed to affected the team's performance in the second half, giving up two touchdowns to the Thunderbirds, including one that was the result of a blocked punt.
The Sun Devils also committed nine penalties which resulted in a total of 100 yards, many of which came in the second half.
Dillingham expects his team to better respond to such adversities going forward.
"We played really really clean in the first half, then you come out in the second half and you play the exact opposite," Dillingham said during a post-game press conference. "How do you let a circumstance affect us like that? That's something that I have to find a resolution to."
The ASU defense, which ranked 107th in the nation in team defense a season ago, proved to be an important part in maintaining a victory in the second half. The Sun Devils held the Thunderbirds to 226 yards of total offense by the end of the game. Defensive back Demetries Ford had a few plays fueled with passion, and showed promise in leading the defensive front.
The Sun Devils continue to work this week as they prepare to welcome Oklahoma State, and hopefully better weather conditions, to Tempe next Saturday.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan.