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Sun Devils welcome Coach Prime and the Buffaloes to Tempe

Amid team challenges, the Sun Devils square up to face Pac-12 rival Colorado

ASU freshman running back Kyson Brown (14) runs down the middle of the field at Mountain America Stadium on September 23, 2023 in Tempe. ASU lost 42-28.

A 1-4 start and a loaded injury report is not the way Kenny Dillingham drew up his first five games as the man in charge of the Sun Devils.

Dillingham has had to deal with a tsunami of injuries, mainly to the offensive line as well as the quarterback position. Redshirt junior Trenton Bourguet is currently starting under center for ASU, with freshman Jaden Rashada and redshirt sophomore Drew Pyne sidelined due to injury.

In their 24-21 loss at California last week, the Sun Devils out-gained the Golden Bears by 104 yards, putting up 430 yards of total offense. The difference in the game was the turnover battle, which the Sun Devils lost 2-0.

Special teams were an issue in the game against Cal, with graduate punter Josh Carlson only averaging 36.2 yards per punt. Carlson disclosed earlier this week that he has been fighting fractures on his foot that have hindered his performance. 

Redshirt junior Race Mahlum or sophomore Ian Hershey is expected to take over as punter for Saturday’s game. 

Looking ahead to this week, the Sun Devils have won the past two matchups against Colorado. However, this year's matchup sees two entirely different teams on the field Saturday, with the Sun Devils welcoming 78 new players and the Buffaloes adding 87 new players, including transfer junior Shedeur Sanders.  Both teams also have new head coaches on their respective sidelines.

After setting records for season passing touchdowns and completions at Jackson State, Sanders has transferred his skillset to Colorado. He has passed for 1,781 yards, 15 touchdown passes and 160 completions, and just two interceptions in the five games this season. Sanders will be a formidable threat that ASU has not seen in previous games against the Buffaloes. 

READ MORE: The Sun Devils have hosed down Colorado's and 'Coach Prime's' media fire 

“They really have an identity on offense, and they’re gonna go faster than anybody in the country,” ASU defensive coordinator Brian Ward said. “They’re gonna challenge us to be able to communicate and execute our defensive calls, especially situationally.” 

As for the Sun Devil offense, after Dillingham took over play calling duties prior to USC, it’s been a complicated few weeks. 

Bourguet remains at quarterback for the Sun Devils heading into Colorado, granting the Sun Devils some stability with his second consecutive start. The junior threw for 344 yards against Cal, but also threw an interception. 

Bourguet has shown quality leadership in his opportunities so far, especially given the circumstances he’s been thrown into. 

“It’s tough to always come back from a loss, but as soon as the game is over just making sure to keep people's heads up,” Bourguet said. “You see people with their heads down, it’s tough to be in a close game like that. Obviously (you) want to come out with the victory, but at the end of the day it’s on to the next, you can’t keep your head down for too long. We got a solid team coming in this weekend and we got to be ready for it.”

Creativity remained a staple of the Sun Devil offense against Cal, with junior running back Cam Skattebo at the center of it all. As the Sun Devils swiss army knife, Skattebo was the team's leading rusher and receiver against Cal, running for 59 yards and a touchdown, hauling in 98 yards through the air. He even made an 18-yard pass to his own quarterback, who made a spectacular catch to convert a first down on a fourth down.

The Sun Devils should expect to put points on the board this week, considering Colorado has only kept one opponent under 35 points this season.

This weekend will also witness the start of true freshman offensive lineman Sean Na’a at guard. 

Defense continues to play a crucial role for the Sun Devils and will be a priority in limiting Sanders’s electric playmaking. In the past four games, the Sun Devils have limited their opponent to below or right at their season scoring average, with Cal scoring only 24 points, seven point below their average. 

The Sun Devil defense plans to keep doing what they have been doing. 

“We’ve been communicating a lot better, came through the line faster, and communicating what we see on the field, so I’d say communication is a big part of what the defense has been working on,” redshirt junior defensive back Ro Torrence said.  

Graduate linebacker Tre Brown will be out due to injury, with redshirt junior Caleb McCullough expected to fill his role. 

ASU will see a second-straight packed house at Mountain America Stadium, selling out Saturday's game by Thursday. The Sun Devils fed off of the energy of its last home crowd, who sold out the USC game two weeks ago. Dillingham is pumped up to see the increased support for his team.

“It’s awesome, it’s a competitive advantage,” Dillingham said. “Getting the noise and causing chaos on third down is a huge advantage. Our players feed off of it and it’s fun for the valley to rally around a team so I think it’s good for everybody.” 

There is a good chance ASU sees large crowds the rest of the way, with a strong chance their next two opponents after Colorado, Washington State and Oregon are both ranked inside the top 15 when they travel to Tempe. 

It will be ASU’s first day game at home in 2023, with kickoff at Mountain America Stadium slated for this Saturday at 3:30 P.M. PST.

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle, and Shane Brennan

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