January 30, 2023

ASU football ended the 2022 season with a disappointing 3-9 record, the first time the program has won just three games since 1994 and the Sun Devils’ worst record this century.

Two days after the end of the season, however, preparations for the next season began. ASU hired former Oregon offensive coordinator and ASU graduate Kenny Dillingham as the program’s next head coach.

The Sun Devils appear to have put this tumultuous campaign behind them, but what went wrong?

A deep start

Even before the start of the season there were many doubts. Following ASU’s 2021 season, many of the team’s core players either transferred out of the program or committed to the NFL draft. Former players included star quarterback Jayden Daniels, who brought his talent to LSU, and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White.

ASU failed to attract talent with the looming, ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting violations through the program, which took place in 2020 during the recruiting deadlock of COVID-19. That precedent forced former head coach Herm Edwards to reshuffle his staff, who, according to 247sports, could not field the 103rd draft class until 2022.

Because of this, the Sun Devils overhauled their roster, employing a new offensive and defensive coordinator. Despite the numerous reports from Edwards praising his mostly new squad, it didn’t pan out.

After a 2-1 start with losses to Oklahoma State and Eastern Michigan, Edwards left the program. EMU became the first MAC team to defeat a Pac-12 opponent. The Eagles ran for 305 rushing yards as a 20.5-point underdog.

After that humiliating surprise, the Sun Devils turned to running backs coach Shaun Aguano to become interim head coach and oversee what some have called an already sinking ship.

CONTINUE READING: Herm Edwards resigns as head football coach

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Coach Aguano made an immediate impact on the team when he left the presidency at his opening press conference. Through his family attitude towards his players and his ability to increase the work done in training.

Aguano changed the culture of the entire program in a matter of days. The players on the team seemed to be responding well to Aguano, and nobody seemed ready to give up.

“If they were going to pick a man for the job, I think coach Aguano was the right man,” said veteran full-back Case Hatch earlier this season.

The only thing that unfortunately didn’t change were the results on Saturdays.

Aguano won 7-2 in his place and faced five top-25 teams in the nine games he coached. His two wins came against Washington at home and in Colorado. After the game against the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils lost their last four games, including the Territorial Cup against the University of Arizona for the first time since 2016.

However, his records do not tell the whole story. Aguano has produced a core of attacking players who can make an immediate impact on Dillingham’s new regime.

Players like redshirt junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet and second wide receiver Elijhah Badger jumped onto the national soccer scene under Aguano.

Redshirt junior tight end Jalin Conyers enjoyed a career boost thanks in part to Aguano taking on playcalling duties against Colorado. Conyers became the first tight end in program history to hit three touchdowns in a single game while rushing for 108 yards against the Buffaloes.

“His performance was fantastic,” said Aguano after the game. “I thought that our tight ends were underutilized on some occasions this season. I always thought they were athletic and strong enough and there were some discrepancies that we took advantage of.”

Aguano hasn’t done his best in his role as head coach, but Dillingham made sure the first thing he did as the new ASU football coach was to keep Aguano on his coaching staff. Such a gesture shows how valuable Agauno is to the program.

“It was a difficult situation for Coach Aguano,” said linebacker Kyle Soelle. “He did it as well as he could. We gave everything for him and he kept us together as a family.”

The season from a statistical point of view

Statistically, the Sun Devils were not in the top five in any offensive or defensive category of the Pac-12 conference. Six of their losses that year were in double digits, and they ranked third-worst in the Pac-12, ahead of only Stanford and Colorado.

At the start of the season, junior quarterback Emory Jones, who arrived from Florida last year, was supposed to be the ASU’s starting quarterback. Jones failed to put the Sun Devils in the victory column in the Pac-12 game, and his only win as a starter came against NAU in the first week of the season. Jones never threw for more than 300 yards in a game and never threw more than two passing touchdowns in a game as a starter.

On the other hand, Bourguet threw for over 300 passing yards three times in his six appearances as a signal caller. He also had three passing touchdowns in three of those games.

Running back student Xazavian Valladay ended his illustrious collegiate career with a bang, notching up an outstanding 1,192 rushing yards supplemented by 16 rushing touchdowns, the most in Pac-12.

“Honestly, I don’t track my stats,” Valladay said. “I just go out and play the game. I’ve shown I’m consistent and I’ve been able to help offense with my playstyle and versatility, so yeah I’m very torn when it comes to making games and being the best player that can be.”

Badger showed more than his worth as a Sun Devil this year, piling up 866 yards and seven touchdowns, both the most on the team.

On defense, there was one glaring problem among everyone else. The Sun Devils were never able to stop the run. They rushed for 188.1 yards per game and 31 total rushing touchdowns, both in the bottom five in the conference.

UA junior running back Michael Wiley had just 557 rushing yards in the season before facing ASU. He went on to crush the Sun Devils’ run defense and totaled 214 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

What now?

Dillingham’s quick hiring already has ASU looking ahead to next year and the new era of Sun Devil football. It will be exciting to see how the ASU alum navigates the modern college football landscape with the new NIL and skyrocketing traffic on the transfer portal.

“I’m a big believer in the transfer portal,” Dillingham said. “I’m the main advocate for that because what happens in recruitment is a whole bunch of people tell the kids what they want to hear for two or three years. In the past, these kids have been told what they want to hear and become stuck and trapped.”

CONTINUE READING: Kenny Dillingham, an Arizona native and ASU graduate, will be the next head football coach

Dillingham also called on the entire Valley to come together if the Sun Devils want to win at the highest level, saying he needs everyone to do it because he believes ASU football can be special and he needs everyone to believe in it and can get involved.

Nap Lawrence, a well-known ASU booster, announced during Sunday’s press conference that he would be donating $1 million to the Sun Angel collective, the school’s NIL partnership.

Dillingham has already hired former Idaho State head coach Charlie Ragle as an assistant head coach/special teams coordinator. Ragle was the head coach at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, the school that Dillingham graduated from.

ASU is already looking better than it did at the start of this season, but overall this will be a season Sun Devil fans will want to forget.

Edited by Walker Smith, David Rodish and Grace Copperthite.


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Vinny Deangelissports reporter

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


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