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How the little things became huge in Sun Devil football victory

As the team looks ahead to Utah matchup, the little things proved to be important in scoring a victory

The ASU football team huddles around the victory bell after defeating Southern Utah at Mountain America Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, in Tempe.

In the past few weeks, head coach Kenny Dillingham has been vocal about the team’s efforts in preparing for game days and how it translates to their performance on the field. Leading up to the Washington State game last weekend, Dillingham noticed a positive shift in the team prep.

“Pregame meal, everybody was there nine minutes early, whereas, in weeks past, we had a streak where we didn’t have all of our guys at a pregame meal on time,” Dillingham said during the post-game conference. “So it’s all part of the process that goes into being successful.” 

Coaches and players have speculated that the team’s effort and focus haven’t been as sharp as it should be. This stretches to all sides of the ball, including the offense and defense. 

“We were still immature as a team,” junior running back Cam Skattebo said. “A lot of joking around, talking. I mean, you got guys out here now, working extra. That wasn’t really a thing in the past. We’re just more dialed in now, for sure.” 

Skattebo pinpoints the turning point when the team lost to the No. 5-ranked team twice this season, losing to both USC and Washington when those teams claimed the ranking. Skattebo says those were games the Sun Devils should have won, and their outcomes fueled the team to work even harder to change future outcomes. 

“Coming out of (the USC) game, I think a lot of people bought into being able to win games, and then playing Washington, we realized our defense can hold anybody to zero touchdowns,” Skattebo said. “Everyone is just realizing if we can stay focused on offense and score more points, we can beat almost anybody.” 

Skattebo says the coaches have been more demanding on the team to push them to their full potential. Fixing the little things off the field will be essential preparation for the team moving forward, including Saturday’s matchup against the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

Dillingham recently called out junior defensive lineman Elijah O’Neal for “doing the little things right” and credits him as someone who has drastically changed their game preparation. It showed for Dillingham after O’Neal recorded a solo tackle and one tackle-for-loss after his number was called to play in the Washington game. 

“What you do off the field will show you basically how you’re gonna play on the field,” O’Neal said. “So, I’ve really been doing all the correct things: getting more sleep, making sure my house is cleaned up before I come to practice so that it’s a good environment to come back to.” 

Getting enough sleep, implementing healthy eating habits, and showing up to practice early — these are critical components to a player’s game that transfer onto the field. Shifting the focus onto these habits and intensifying the effort in practice has shaped the victory over Washington. 

“You got guys that are focused, bought in, give a lot of effort,” Skattebo said. “You watch a couple of plays in the game, and just the effort alone gained us more yards on each and every play, so it was a huge difference.” 

O'Neal also believes the changes contributed to the team’s win, and the little things will be magnified when facing future opponents. 

“Coach Dillingham says he’s made a bigger emphasis on being early and being on time,” O’Neal said. “I just feel like everybody’s taking a more serious approach, and it obviously translated into a great win against Washington State.” 

While ASU is coming off a win, Utah is reeling from a 35-6 loss against Oregon. Utah is an 11-point favorite in the game this Saturday under head coach Kyle Whittingham. The Sun Devils' new efforts in preparation will be necessary for a solid game performance. 

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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