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Loss to Utah proves fixing what's wrong with the Sun Devils won't be easy or quick

Kent Somers
Arizona Republic

In a show of solidarity, Sun Devil football players locked arms with interim coach Shaun Aguano as they took the field Saturday night to play Utah.

It was a nice gesture. A better one would have been to play good football, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that might be too much to ask of the Sun Devils this season.

They aren’t good. Utah is. The result of that matchup was 34-13 Utes.

It was wishful thinking that firing Herm Edwards last week and promoting Aguano from running backs coach was going to make an immediate impact. A coach can change the music at practice, increase the tempo of drills and ask the dwindling number of fans who care for their support, which Aguano did, but those things aren't going to close an immense talent gap.

Aguano said Saturday was the end of a "whirlwind week," and no one thought a miracle cure would come in just a week's time. Improving," he said, "is a process. We'll get there. I promise we'll get there. These kids have been through a lot. I'm going to make sure I'm a rock for them."

Utah, ranked 13th and 14th in the polls, showed the Sun Devils just how far they have to go to compete with the best in the Pac-12.

Should Aguano be the next man to try at ASU?

It’s unfair to judge him by one week and one Saturday evening at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils played harder than they did a week ago against Eastern Michigan. They were so bad in that game that Edwards’ bosses made him an ex-coach and said Aguano could win the job, depending on the remaining nine games.

Aguano said all the right things last week, with both conviction and sincerity. Eventually, the coaching change might pay dividends this season, but those might come after Aguano’s first three games.

Utah, USC and Washington are all ranked. Aguano said the only thing he could last week: those game were opportunities to impress, not reasons to be concerned.

But as currently constructed, the Sun Devils have no chance against a team as good as Utah. That was clear early against the Utes, who led 14-0 after a quarter and 24-6 at halftime. They had 252 yards at halftime and ASU only 59.

ASU’s rudimentary offensive scheme failed early and often Saturday, mostly because their players aren’t as good as Utah's.

To win, or to even compete with Utah, they needed a star performance from quarterback Emory Jones. But he completed 7 of 15 passes for 69 yards in the first half and 21-of-36 for the game. He had two passes intercepted and threw for a touchdown late. He often didn't have time, but when he did, often missed open receivers.

Early in the second quarter, running back Xazavian Valladay broke a 13-yard run, which was cause for some celebration by ASU fans, who watched their team finish the first quarter with -5 yards.

But on the next play, Jones threw to receiver Charles Hall, who could barely be seen because cornerback Clark Phillips had him covered. Phillips intercepted.

ASU limited the damage, holding the Utes to a field goal, and then Daniyel Ngata returned the kickoff 58 yards to the Utah 42.

But Jones missed open receivers on two plays, one towards the sideline and one in the middle of the field. ASU kicked a field goal.

When aided by the defense or special teams, the Sun Devils offense failed to come through. It was a theme the entire evening.

In the third quarter, the Sun Devils failed to score after Timarcus Davis’s interception at midfield. Aguano gambled on that possession, deciding to go for it on fourth-and-8 at the Utah 29.

It was a wise decision, because another field goal wasn’t going to do the Sun Devils much good. But the Utes pressured Jones, forcing him to run and he gained only three yards.

ASU’s lack of offensive firepower isn’t all Jones’ fault. The Sun Devils don’t have enough playmakers on either side of the ball. The transfer portal gives and it takes, but sometimes not in equal proportion. It’s clear ASU lost far more good players via the portal than it gained. Valladay is one of the few transfers making an impact.

The resulting lack of talent will make it difficult for Aguano’s bosses to evaluate him fairly and decide if they want to lock arms with him beyond the Arizona game on Nov. 25.

Reach Kent Somers at Follow him on twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Monday and Friday at 7:30 a.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.

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