TEMPE - For those who long for football all offseason, yearning during the summer months for green-hashed pasture and gridiron grit, this Arizona State (3-7, 2-5 Pac-12) matchup against No. 23 Oregon State (7-3, 4-3 Pac-12) is the game for you.
Interim head coach Shaun Aguano and players made it clear this week they have two remaining objectives: win for the seniors, and win for the state. On what should be a beautiful fall afternoon in Tempe, ASU will march its seniors out for one last battle at Sun Devil Stadium.
Here are the storylines that will dominate Saturday’s game.
How fast does the offense work early-on?
Last week against Washington State, the conferences third-ranked defense, the Sun Devils did not score a point in the first half. This week, Oregon State touts the Pac-12’s second-ranked defense (336.1 yards-allowed per-game).
“They’re the second-ranked defense in the Pac-12, very similar to Washington State,” Aguano said. “I think they do a great job not getting hit with big plays. They do bring exotic pressures, very similar to Washington State, but they play disciplined football.”
Quarterback Trenton Bourguet completed just 3-of-10 passes and threw an interception before being knocked out of the game with an injury. In short, Bourguet sustained a beating behind ASU’s injury-riddled offensive line.
Center Ben Scott has been banged up, so Ben Bray received playing-time last week. Fall camp addition Danny Valenzuela took reps at first-team center this week in practice as well. Left guard LaDarius Henderson is questionable after undergoing finger surgery a few weeks ago.
Given the circumstances, there was really no reason for Arizona State LG LaDarius Henderson (@ladarius77) to be taking questions and smiling at the podium today.— Kevin Redfern (@KevinMRedfern13) November 16, 2022
But of course, he was.
He offered updates on his injury, and his NFL Draft status ⬇️⬇️.https://t.co/WFiubE2qPl
Regardless of who is playing, the unit will have to step up this week to establish any sort of passing threat. Expect Aguano to get creative early-on as a response to last week’s stale offensive attack.
Dulling the blade on the Swiss Army Knife, Jack Colletto
Colletto is a headache for ASU. He has been for years now.
In the last two matchups, the linebacker-slash-hybrid back is a mismatch as a ball carrier, rushing for 101 yards and three touchdowns 12 rushes. Wildcat quarterbacks like Colletto are so difficult to take down because they provide pre-snap balance to the offensive formation. Basically, he could go anywhere with the ball. There are very few indicators suggesting what gap or which side of the formation the ball is going.
“He’s just a tough kid,” Aguano said. “You know, the more and more you look at football, you want those type of kids. I think we have one in (fullback Case Hatch), and I mean, just good football players that are utility-knife guys that just have fun doing whatever they’re asked to do. But he is a problem, and we got to make sure that he doesn’t get on the field.”
The Beaver quarterback situation is also complicated, and Colletto provides a dynamic presence in the run game, or at least a breath of fresh air for the tailbacks. Veteran Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan sustained a neck injury last month, and backup Ben Gulbranson is 4-1 in Nolan’s absence. Nolan could return Saturday.
Sound familiar? At least a little?
How sentimental will the coaches get with play calling and snap counts?
The fun part about this game being relatively inconsequential? Aguano can get weird with it.
Imagine the crowd reaction if senior captain and fullback Case Hatch recorded his first collegiate touchdown on his senior day. What are the odds a non-quarterback throws a pass? Who is this team’s Jackson He? Will RezDevil get selected for the Whataburger “Race for your Dinner?” (we can dream).
There are so many storylines that can come from this game.
“They’re going to play and they’re playing for something more than themselves, especially for the seniors,” Aguano said. “And so we’ll be ready to go. We’ll get through our injuries and get through our practices. And, you know, I’m going to save a little bit on them from a length standpoint because we have some guys that need to get healthy, but our guys will be motivated to play.”