The Kenny Dillingham era officially began as Arizona State Football faced off against Southern Utah University at Mountain America Stadium. The game, originally slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff, didn’t conclude until past 1 a.m., thanks to unpredictable Arizona weather. This rollercoaster week, marked by ASU’s self-imposed bowl ban announcement, ended with a gritty 24-21 victory. The evening, marred by a nearly three-hour weather delay due to a haboob and lightning storm, perfectly encapsulated Arizona State Football’s “ASU versus the world” mindset heading into the season.

Before Arizona State Football could even play its first game of the season, the team received disheartening news that they would not participate in postseason bowl play. This decision, handed down by ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson and President Michael Crow, could have dampened spirits, but it only fueled the determination of the ASU faithful.

Despite the scorching 103-degree kickoff, the student section turned out in impressive numbers, in stark contrast to the empty bleachers elsewhere in the stadium. Officially, 47,773 fans were in attendance, but neither the weather nor the fans’ enthusiasm wavered.

The game’s opening possession saw Southern Utah punting to the Arizona State 32-yard line, setting the stage for freshman Quarterback Jaden Rashada to connect with junior Cam Skattebo for a modest three-yard gain. However, Rashada soon showcased his potential by launching a 33-yard deep ball to Melquan Stoval, which was followed by a roughing the passer penalty that brought the ball to the Southern Utah 6-yard line. Transfer running back Cam Skattebo then punched it in for a touchdown, much to the delight of Arizona State Football fans.

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Skattebo, the former Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, led the Sun Devils’ ground game in the season opener while also displaying his versatility with two receptions for 11 yards on three targets in the first half.

The second quarter witnessed Southern Utah mounting an offensive drive, culminating in a 16-yard flea-flicker play that tied the game at 7-7. On the Arizona State Football side, a sack resulted in a 2nd and 16 situation. Rashada completed a short pass to Skattebo for eight yards, setting up a pivotal fourth down.

Rashada concluded the first half of his collegiate debut with an impressive 18-31 record, amassing 236 yards and 2 TDs.

“It (the win) was definitely a big blessing,” Rashada remarked. “But we definitely have a lot of things we have to go back and fix this week. It’s never as good as you think, and it’s also never as bad.”

Coach Dillingham, displaying confidence in his young quarterback, decided to leave the offense on the field. Rashada rolled right on fourth-and-eight and launched a 47-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Xavier Guillory. Leading 14-7, it was a pivotal moment in the game and the first touchdown of Rashada’s young career in maroon and gold.

“You have to be aggressive to win in college football, I firmly believe that,” Dillingham asserted. “We’re going to be aggressive, we’re not going to play the game scared.”

With 2:56 remaining before halftime, rain and dust gusts enveloped Tempe, significantly affecting visibility. However, the Arizona State Football offense managed to execute a third scoring drive, with a 43-yard burst by junior tight end Jaylin Conyers kickstarting the momentum. Skattebo’s 12-yard run and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Junior Wide Receiver Troy Omeire extended the lead to 21-7 on the last play of the half.

Then, the storm arrived.

Lightning, sideways rain, and gusty winds led to a two-hour and 45-minute weather delay, with the majority of fans leaving. However, the dedicated few witnessed the game’s resumption at 11:15 p.m.

The last time the Sun Devils experienced a weather delay was in 2004, resulting in a 44-7 victory. However, this time, they faced a different challenge.

The third quarter saw both teams struggling offensively, with five consecutive punts creating a slow start to the second half. It was evident that the adverse weather conditions had disrupted the game’s flow.

Southern Utah gained ground in the third quarter with a 52-yard catch, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass that brought them within striking distance at 24-14.

The start of the fourth quarter saw ASU driving into Thunderbird territory but settling for a field goal to extend their lead to 24-10. However, Southern Utah’s special teams made a significant impact by blocking an ASU punt and returning it for a touchdown, narrowing the gap to 24-21.

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Penalties plagued Arizona State Football in the second half, accumulating 85 yards off eight penalties. Despite this, they managed to run down the clock, utilizing the new clock rule in college football. The game concluded with the Sun Devils in victory formation, securing a hard-fought 24-21 win.

In a turbulent week for Arizona State Football, they managed to overcome not only the weather but also the odds to secure a season-opening victory in 2023.