The past two seasons of Arizona State football have been turbulent. Currently sitting at 2-5 with an interim head coach and an impending quarterback controversy, Arizona State football is in need of a steady hand to guide it through what your pilot would describe as “a pocket of rough air.”
With five games remaining in the regular season but several pressing decisions on the horizon, House of Sparky’s Kevin Redfern, Jack Johnson, and Dylan Wilhelm share their thoughts on the most pressing questions surrounding the program.
What are the pros and cons of riding with either quarterback?
REDFERN: It is a pretty simple divide in skillsets between Emory Jones and Trenton Bourguet. With Jones, there is a higher ceiling on the athletic traits: arm strength, speed and strength.
Trenton Bourguet, however, had a few extra months to study Glenn Thomas’s playbook, albeit while rehabbing a foot injury. As a result, it is clear Bourguet has a better grip on the offense’s intricacies, such as checks and timing.
During camp, it was an easy decision. Emory Jones had Power-Five experience and the dynamics of a dual-threat quarterback (which ASU was used to). There was little doubt that Jones would have a lot of competition if he maxed-out his physical ability.
Through seven games, that is not the case.
To the naked eye, Bourguet is more comfortable in the pocket and with his progressions, even if it was in a small sample size. I believe Jones’s indecision in the pocket has altered his rhythm, timing and mechanics, leading to some of the pump-fakes or errant throws seen on Saturdays.
WILHELM: The ceiling of the offense is obviously higher with Jones, who touts the SEC experience and the athletic ability to threaten defenses in multiple ways.
What’s in question is the floor of the offense, which we saw in Saturday’s loss at Stanford.
In the win against Washington, Bourguet was consistent and confident in his decision-making, showcasing a deeper understanding of the scheme and advocating that the floor is higher with him under center.
While the physical tools are there with Jones, Aguano called his decision-making in Saturday’s game “questionable”
With such a small sample size, Bourguet would be learning on the fly. But at 2-5 and coming off of a game where they didn’t score in the games final 44 minutes, that may be a chance Aguano will take in an effort to salvage the season.
JOHNSON: Sometimes, I think we have to understand that some traits are just fixed at a certain point in someone’s career, especially at the quarterback.
Shaquille O’Neal was not going to suddenly transform into a 85 percent free-throw shooter when he was toward the end of his career, and we should not be expecting Emory Jones to suddenly turn into Will Levis or Sam Hartman, two passers known for their accuracy, in the next five to six weeks.
However, I’ll couch that statement by saying there are times where the play calling has not been on the same beat as Jones’ dual-threat abilities.
For example, the offense, which looked versatile, fresh, and aggressive in half number one at Stanford, became incredibly stale in the second half, so much so that Elijhah Badger tacitly mentioned his disagreement with the offensive attack in the postgame press conference. Jones looked very confident in his own abilities in that first half, and the more he is given opportunities to take shots and maximize his very exceptional athletic tools, the better chance he’ll have to succeed.
With that said, you still have to make the best of your current situation.
The reality is, the present day situation for Sun Devil football is not very strong. But no player made the most out of what they had this season than Trenton Bourguet. Sure, the Washington pass defense was a sieve that day, but Bourgeut was throwing with confidence all afternoon to the tune of three touchdowns and an above-70 percent completion percentage.
He may not have the elite physical skill set of Jones, but he has a better grasp of the offense, as Kevin mentioned. If it were me, I’d roll with Bourguet just to see what I had.
Can Aguano keep the job? If so, what does he have to do?
JJ: Shaun Aguano can win a press conference, he can relentlessly market a culture, he can rhapsodize over how much the program means to him. I just don’t know if he’s ready to be a head coach at this level.
A reporter asked Aguano after the game about the third-and-5 that torpedoed the last Sun Devil offensive drive where ASU had the lead. Here was his response:
“We can go back and second-guess (whether) we should have gone for it. I think it was analytics says fourth-and-2, to go for it. We didn’t get those two (yards) and got stopped behind and I had to make a decision to punt it.”
For some reason, I cannot get that quote out of my head. Sure, fourth-and-2 has a high conversion rate, especially with favorable field position, but the goal there should be to convert the third down. Nobody gets stopped on fourth down if you don’t let it get there.
It was an odd time to throw in analytics and just felt like the response of a coach who was a little uncertain of how to make the critical decisions with conviction. With the play calling in his hands now, though, he has an opportunity to redeem himself going forward.
With the season essentially lost before the first kickoff because of coaching departures, impending NCAA involvement with sanctions, and the mass transfer exodus in the spring, the wins and losses don’t matter a ton in my book for evaluating Aguano. Decisions that likely played a major role in tipping the scales of momentum to your opponent carry a little more value.
DW: Aguano was put in a brutal position when he was named interim head-coach. Coming off of the Eastern Michigan loss and with three ranked opponents to follow, a 1-5 start seemed likely.
Instead, the Sun Devils have played well over their past three games, considering the circumstances. At one point in the fourth quarter in Los Angeles, they were only down 10, then they upset the then 18th-ranked Huskies at home.
The loss against Stanford severely hurt his case, but if a QB battle lights a spark and the team rallies around him, it will help build his case back up. Wins need to come as a result, however, even with tough tests waiting in UCLA, Washington State and Oregon State.
Aguano certainly has the backing of his coaching peers, as the Arizona Football Coaches association wrote a letter to the university to voice their support for Aguano.
Of course, it will be up to Ray Anderson and Co, and they will take their time in evaluating every option. If Aguano can at least make those conversations tough, he’ll have a chance.
KR: My tune hasn’t changed on this. Upon the announcement to make Aguano interim, I had said he needed to make a bowl game, and make a noticeable change in the program’s 100th-ranked 2023 recruiting class. Both of these were monumental tasks at the time given ASU was 1-2 and teams had already begun fielding recruiting classes for 2024 and beyond.
And that’s okay. Interim head coaches are placeholders, and there is little use taking a shortcut by making an internal hire based on a few impassioned press conferences and public appearances. Look what happened to the last guy who did that.
Ray Anderson and company need to do their due diligence.
Who are the biggest threats to the transfer portal?
DW: If one of the quarterbacks loses the job full-time, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say the other would hit the portal and go somewhere where he would get more time under center.
Of course, that would be a decent problem for the Devils to have, as it means one stepped up enough to win the full-time job, even with losing the probable backup.
Elsewhere offensively, Daniyel Ngata could move on to become a feature back, but he also could take over in place of Xazavian Valladay.
Defensively, younger players who have shown flashes such as Joe Moore and Ed Woods have plenty of eligibility to play with if they feel they can better contribute and become a staple in a defense elsewhere.
Some players will likely make their decisions based on how the head coach search turns out, so it’s hard to speculate.
KR: Last offseason, 17 players hit the portal. After Herm Edwards’s departure, brothers Keon and Kejaun Markham joined the exodus. Will this coming offseason see as many players leave? To that extent, it is unlikely, but with the head coaching position in question, there will inevitably be some player turnover.
Wide receiver Elijhah Badger is on the cusp of college superstardom, and he will be a prime candidate for schools with heavy NIL collectives. Badger and fellow 2020 four-star recruit Daniyel Ngata are two of the most physically-gifted offensive players whose numbers, over the span of three seasons, do not match up with their talent.
Ngata averages 5.3 yards per-carry over the span of his collegiate career. This year, he has taken just 16.5% of all ASU rushing attempts, while accounting for 19.3% of the team’s total rushing offense. He could likely earn a spot as the number-one back at a mid-level Power-Five program.
Defensively, sophomores B.J. Green II and Jordan Clark continue their week-to-week improvement from last season, and have some eligibility to work with.
This is all speculation, but given their age and success, it has to cross their minds at some point.
JJ: Elijhah Badger has experienced a great deal while in Tempe, and remained more loyal than most. But as his star continues to rise, especially after his first 100+ yard receiving game against Stanford, there will be plenty of teams with an appetite to bolster their perimeter weapons taking a long look at him. If a bidding war breaks out in NIL collectives, it’s hard to see Arizona State winning that.
Daniyel Ngata was a vaunted recruit who has yet to materialize as a featured back. As everyone knows, the transfer portal is like a game of musical chairs, and one transfer can set off a domino effect leaving unexpected openings around the country.