Believe it or not, there is still football to be played.
The Herm Edwards era is over, but the hangover of a September firing (or parting of ways) lingers deep into a week that has the Sun Devils facing preseason Pac-12 favorite, No. 13 Utah.
It is unlikely ASU makes any drastic philosophical changes in terms of scheme under interim head coach Shaun Aguano, but expect some minor differences on all phases.
“There will be subtle changes, not drastic changes but they’re subtle changes that are needed for us to be successful,” Aguano said Monday.
There have been hints at what those subtle changes might be: a couple depth chart switches, an increase in tempo in practice and in games and some other minor elements surrounding program traditions. Here is what we will be watching Saturday against Utah.
How Aguano and OC Glenn Thomas will manage pace on offense
In the first three games, the Sun Devil offense was sluggish, good for No. 88 in the FBS in total offense. That includes the week one beatdown of NAU 40-3. Thomas will continue to call plays, but there is no doubt Aguano’s influence will show itself at some point.
“Will I have some game-time suggestions? Yes, I will, especially in that moment,” Aguano said. “I let them coach. If I see something that I don’t like, I’ll make sure that I let them know.”
The feel at the lone open practice of the week on Tuesday was more energetic than usual, with players running between drills instead of walking, and music blaring throughout. There was trash talk, and a fair amount of it.
"I feel I have a little bit of an expertise," Aguano on his game management skills.— Kevin Redfern (@KevinMRedfern13) September 19, 2022
Could subtle differences like these indicate a change in play style, perhaps with the passing game? Maybe, but it definitely jolted a roster of players that needed a boost.
“Personally, (it) was what we needed,” fullback Case Hatch. “Running on and off the field, switching up personnels. It was a change that we kind of needed.”
The first offensive drive will tell us a lot. Aguano and Thomas undoubtedly started from scratch molding their game script for this week. We will see what that looks like.
Can one week’s worth of work from a new head coach alleviate some penalty issues?
The Sun Devils’s 24 penalties for 224 yards (74.67 yards per-game) is the 112th-best in the FBS. Last year, they were 128th. A lot of that was attributed to coaching, specifically Edwards’s lax approach to correcting mistakes in practice.
The thing is, it looked like the coaching staff addressed this in games, at least to start the year. Defensive end Anthonie Cooper and cornerback Ro Torrence both were subbed out against NAU after committing silly penalties.
But how do you handle discipline in situations like receiver Elijah Badger’s? Badger committed a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in last week’s loss to Eastern Michigan. He is a top-three skill player on the offense, and leads the team in receiving with 17 receptions for 227 yards. Do you handcuff yourself for the sake of discipline when you can’t fight the root of the problem off the field?
It’s a hypothetical, but it is always important to remember how talent and ability impacts discipline and tolerance.
ASU left guard LaDarius Henderson said Aguano was very involved in his first practice as interim head coach.— DevilsDigest.com (@DevilsDigest) September 20, 2022
"He was everywhere."
How will the defense bounce back from an abysmal performance?
EMU running back Samson Evans (258) and backup quarterback Austin Smith (55) thrashed the ASU defense for 313 yards rushing against an ASU defense with a handful of returning starters, not to mention the FBS-ready transfers, from last year, when the Sun Devils finished second in the conference in rushing defense.
The front-seven was widely praised coming into the season and after better-than-average performances against NAU and Oklahoma State to start the season. But last week, the Sun Devil front was dominated by a MAC team. The depth is getting continuously thin, but there are still no excuses for that performance.
The secondary has quietly impressed after receiving some preseason doubt, likely due to a lack of name-familiarity. In three games, they allowed 172.67 yards per-game through the air, which is pretty impressive on the surface level. But the reality is teams are dominating ASU at the line of scrimmage, and imposing their will on the ground.
Utah’s attack last year was balanced with over 200 yards in the air and in the running game. Expect that same balance this week.