Nine games into the 2023-24 season, 2-7 was not the record the ASU football team envisioned at the start of the season.
Throughout the season, the team has struggled through injuries and a loaded conference schedule. However, we should not discount the team based on their number of wins; rather, we should focus on how the team has progressed and how it's setting up for the future.
The Pac-12 has arguably been the toughest conference in college football, with five schools in the top 25. The Sun Devils lost to teams like Colorado, USC and Washington by a combined 25 points. These are notoriously difficult teams to play against, so these losses shouldn't be severely counted against ASU.
"We've just got a lot of fight," redshirt senior and defensive back Shamari Simmons said. "It just shows that his team is not going to give up. We're still willing to come to work every day."
Another reason for ASU's record this season is recognizing that injuries affecting key players have also been a massive problem.
Starting quarterback freshman Jaden Rashada and most of the offensive line have missed most of the games this year. Their absences meant that ASU wasn't able to play to its full potential. Overall team health is an important factor in a team's success.
When healthy, the Sun Devils have shown flashes of progress. In their win against Washington State two weeks ago, the running back tandem of junior Cam Skattebo and redshirt junior Decarlos Brooks dominated on the ground with a combined 188 yards and four touchdowns.
“A lot of teams in the back half of the schedule, they would not be thrilled to see those two guys,” ASU alum and host of podcast Pitch Fork Lunch Michael Carotenuto said.
However, this potential was immediately inhibited following Brooks injuring his hamstring last week. As a result, the Sun Devils could only muster up a measly 43 rushing yards on 29 carries against No. 13 Utah, unable to continue their momentum from the game against Washington State.
Still, there are a lot of positives to look at for ASU. Outside of a 55-point beatdown against the Utes this past weekend, ASU has held up well against elite offenses.
ASU's performance against the Washington is a prime example of how much ASU's defense has improved. Washington scores an average of nearly 42 points per game, but couldn't score a single touchdown against the Sun Devils. Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who is in the conversation to win the Heisman Trophy, had one of the worst performances of his career, with 275 passing yards and two interceptions.
Shedeur Sanders was held to only 239 passing yards and the Buffaloes had to drive down the field in the final minutes to eke out the victory, serving as a testament to ASU's defense ability, according to Carotenuto.
“Of course, there's not any moral victories, but to get that win last week against Washington State for homecoming, it's just huge piggybacking off how the defense played all year,” he said.
The Sun Devils’ defensive performance against Washington has given them more recognition across the country. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stated that ASU has been playing some “pretty good defense” and noted that they were in the upper half of most defensive categories.
Brian Ward, the team's defensive coordinator, listed all the football players who were underrated this season.
“B.J. Green already has more (sacks) than he has had in his career through the first eight games,” Ward said. “Prince Dorbah, who played two years at Texas, was seldom used and didn't have a sack in two years and is now tied for the team lead in sacks.”
Dorbah and defensive lineman Clayton Smith, who transferred from Oklahoma this past year and has two sacks in the last two games, shine as examples of players who were underutilized at their previous school but have made a significant impact when given an opportunity as Sun Devils.
This shows promising talent at other schools that ASU is a place that will give them the chance to shine, boding well for ASU's recruitment process next year.
This shows that despite many setbacks, ASU still puts up a good fight against strong opponents. All it needs is time to ripen its play. The fact that head coach Kenny Dillingham was already able to recruit a solid class in his first year on the job -- including eight transfers who were 4-star prospects -- is a good sign for what's to come.
From the bowl ban at the beginning of the season, to the injuries, to a difficult schedule, ASU has fought an uphill battle all season long. The Sun Devils have had no stability this season, yet they have continued to look better as the season has progressed, pointing to Dillingham’s impact.
We shouldn't base our perception of the football team solely on the final outcomes, but rather what's going on on the field and behind the scenes to set up the team for success. After all, it is always darkest before dawn, and every day the light grows brighter for the Sun Devils.
Edited by Mia Osmonbekov, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan
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Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.