TEMPE, Ariz. - Saturday was the first opportunity for Arizona State football fans to catch a glimpse of coach Kenny Dillingham’s team in his first year at the helm.
The team was split into two factions — Maroon and Gold — and they competed in a shortened game with seven-minute quarters. Team Maroon, led by offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, won 23-15 in a game that featured trick plays, dominant individual performances and a few laughable moments.
“You know, It’s funny,” Dillingham said. “You go throughout all spring, and certain guys make plays, and then you come in this stadium, and some (other) guys make plays. It’s funny and it’s interesting that when you come into this setting, some guys make plays. And those guys made plays again today.”
Points of note at QB
The quarterback situation is only slightly clearer than it was when Drew Pyne (Notre Dame) and Jacob Conover (BYU) transferred to Tempe, and when Jaden Rashada arrived for practice as a freshman spring addition. It is clear that returning starter Trenton Bourguet and Pyne are the top-two candidates for the starting role, but they matched each other stride-for-stride in Saturday’s game.
Both Pyne and Bourguet each threw for a touchdown, and the manner of those scores represented the strengths of each quarterback.
Bourguet’s touchdown-connection with Elijhah Badger came on a short fade at the end of a drive that saw Bourguet operate in the flats with quick, point-and-shoot throws to running back Cam Skattebo.
Pyne hit tight end Jalin Conyers in-stride for a 60-yard score on a ball up the seam where two defenders were in the area. This was one of three completions from Pyne that went for over 20 yards. All of them came on throws over the middle of the field.
Some Sweet Chin Music from Jalin Conyers pic.twitter.com/In360EVIz0— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) April 15, 2023
The Pyne-Bourguet battle will leak into the summer and the start of fall. As more of the offense is installed, and more reps are designated to these two quarterbacks, one of them will likely distance himself from the other.
Rashada, a four-star recruit that headlines this years’ freshmen class, received the third-most snaps of any quarterback Saturday afternoon, His pocket presence was impressive. He frequently stepped-up or rolled-out of the pocket when it collapsed. But he did have a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, taking multiple sacks on the day.
One play from Rashada was a head-scratcher. With the ball at midfield, Rashada rolled right with his protection failing. Given there were 20-plus yards of greenery in front of him, he could have easily picked up a first-down with his legs. Instead, he threw an unbalanced heave to Conyers in the endzone that was intercepted by safety Xavion Alford.
It was the type of play you expect from a true-freshman quarterback.
“I wish I could have put on a better showing,” Rashada said. “But that doesn’t take away from how much I developed this spring. Things happen, you know, I’m still learning. (There are) growing pains.”
He hit his check-downs and worked his progressions well. The foundation is there, and ASU fans should be excited.
Buy your stock
Some of the strongest showings Saturday afternoon came from players who had strong 2022 seasons and solid springs on the practice field. Jalin Conyers collected over 100 yards receiving with a touchdown. EDGE B.J. Green had multiple sacks and a pass deflection. Cornerback Ro Torrence was rarely tested.
In addition to the returners, there were select transfers that made a mark Saturday:
- Junior RB Cam Skattebo (#4): The unofficial 2023 Spring Game MVP goes to Skattebo, who was also the 2022 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year at Sacramento State. With tailbacks Tevin White, DeCarlos Brooks and George Hart III sidelined with injuries, Skattebo was the feature-back for Team Maroon. He corralled over 100 all-purpose yards and a 10-yard rushing touchdown in a dynamic performance in the screen-game and on the ground.
- Junior EDGE Prince Dorbah (#32): Dorbah, a Texas transfer, is one of four-to-five edge-rushers that will receive rotational snaps in the fall. This spring, he has produced, but he has been largely overshadowed by Green and Oklahoma transfer Clayton Smith. On Saturday, Dorbah recorded a sack, but we found him most impressive against the run, squeezing the line-of-scrimmage to make plays in the backfield.
- Senior Safety Shamari Simmons (#7): The last week of spring practice saw Simmons’ stock rise with multiple big plays during team scrimmages, both in coverage and tackling in the open field. In Saturday’s game, he picked-off Drew Pyne in the red-zone. He will be one of the top-candidates to fill the strong safety role in defensive coordinator Brian Ward’s defense.
While Baldwin and Ward called plays for most of the game, honorary coaches and NFL free agents Taylor Lewan and Will Compton called plays in the fourth quarter. Compton and Lewan are co-hosts of the popular Bussin’ with the Boys podcast, and Lewan attended Chaparral High School with Dillingham. It was a cool experience for the players, who seemed to enjoy their part-time coaches.
Lewan represents the type of recruit that ASU has missed-out on in the past, as he was a four-star recruit who left the state to play at Michigan. It is a good thing for Dillingham to have those guys in his network.
While Lewan and Compton provided a spark and some laughs, Dillingham was disappointed in the fan turnout after making pleas on social media since his opening press conference in November.
“I was expecting more, to be honest,” Dillingham said. “We say we want to be a football town, right? It was a good crowd, but it was not what a football town should be.”
With spring ball over, ASU will enter summer workouts with limited football activity. Fall camp will start at the end of July, and Dillingham confirmed Saturday that the team will make a three-day trip to Camp Tontozona in early-August.