TEMPE – Following a disastrous game against Fresno State, the Arizona State football team faces the challenge of fixing an offense that turned the ball over eight times against the Bulldogs.
Worse, they’ll have to do it with one of the most injury-plagued rosters in college football and before fifth-ranked USC comes to town. Of course, the ever-upbeat ASU coach Kenny Dillingham is undaunted.
“I used the term ‘bamboo’ with the team today,” Dillingham said Monday. “It takes five, four years to grow bamboo, and you water it like a crazy person until it starts to grow, then it grows 60 feet in six weeks. So, not everybody understands at times the growth you’re making because the results don’t reflect it.”
The growing pains were severe against Fresno State Saturday when the Bulldogs shut out the Sun Devils 29-0 at Mountain America Stadium. It was ASU’s first non-conference shutout at home since 1977 against Missouri and its first overall since 1988 – against USC.
As bad as a loss as it is on paper, Dillingham believes that the road to success isn’t completed overnight.
It’s an even more difficult journey when the road is littered with injured bodies. After coming into the week with five of the team’s top eight offensive linemen out, the Sun Devil’s top three quarterbacks on the depth chart are injured or questionable following Saturday’s game.
Other injured players include tight end Jalin Conyers and running back DeCarlos Brooks, who both did not play. Defensive end Clayton Smith, running back Tevon White, receiver Melquan Stovall and right tackle Max Iheanachor all left with injuries during the contest.
According to Dillingham, freshman quarterback Jaden Rashada will be out for four to six weeks after aggravating an injury that dates back to high school. During the game, redshirt junior Trenton Bourguet exited in the first quarter with a lower leg injury, and redshirt sophomore Drew Pyne was pulled in the third quarter after suffering a muscular injury. Borguet and Pyne’s statuses are unknown for next week.
“This is football,” redshirt senior defensive back Jordan Clark said after the loss. “(Injuries are) a risk whenever you put your helmet on and strap your pads up. The mood around the team is next man up. We got to play football.”
With the injuries piling up, it’s a struggle for Dillingham to have enough players to even run the scout team.
“That is the unfortunate part, but you know what? Nobody cares,” Dillingham said. “The thing about the injury bug that is unfortunate is, you don’t have enough people to practice how you want to practice. We got to be able to adapt around it. Maybe be a little bit different and be creative.”
The struggles with injuries have been especially apparent on the offensive side. The Sun Devils have not scored in more than 70 minutes of game time dating back to the Sept. 9 game against Oklahoma State, when ASU scored with 10:07 left in the second quarter.
The eight turnovers against the Bulldogs were just two less than the all-time ASU record of 10 that the Sun Devils committed against Utah in 1973. ASU gained only 230 total yards in the game, averaging 3.6 yards per play and 1.6 yards per rush. Fresno State dominated in time of possession with 37:06 minutes to ASU’s 22:54.
“It’s fairly frustrating because there’s a lot of mistakes that are made that are so minor that if just that changed, the outlook of the game would look drastically different,” Dillingham said. “I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of major issues. There are a lot of minor issues, and those minor issues 25 times a game turn into major issues.”
Defensively, the Sun Devils were respectable, given the circumstances. The unit gave up only 63 rushing yards, tallied six sacks and eight tackles for loss and allowed only two touchdowns in Fresno State’s seven red zone trips.
Dillingham described his defense’s performance as “remarkable” after giving up 29 points when the offense turned the ball over eight times. So while the offense has struggled mightily, the defense has stepped up to become the team’s strength.
With Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and USC coming to town on Saturday, the season will only get more challenging as Pac-12 play begins. Offensive struggles and unfortunate injuries may be the story so far for Dillingham’s first year at ASU, but he knows rebuilding the Sun Devils will take time and effort.
“If you thought this was going to be easy, you’re wrong,” Dillingham said. “This is a state that likes winners, and in order to win in college football, you need everybody behind you, and we need people to stay behind us, our players and behind the process it takes to be successful.
“We’re going to get it done. It’s just a matter of when it grows.”