OSU Pregame Q&A: Arizona Republic’s Michelle Gardner on ASU’s similarities with Cowboys

OSU Pregame Q&A: Arizona Republic’s Michelle Gardner on ASU’s similarities with Cowboys

TEMPE, Arizona — This game in the desert on Saturday night is an example of how quickly college football programs can change. Michelle Gardner, Arizona State beat reporter for the Arizona Republic, was in Stillwater for Oklahoma State’s 34-17 win over the Sun Devils last September. A year later, a rematch is set and both [...]

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

| Sep 9, 2023, 2:35pm CDT

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

Sep 9, 2023, 2:35pm CDT

TEMPE, Arizona — This game in the desert on Saturday night is an example of how quickly college football programs can change.

Michelle Gardner, Arizona State beat reporter for the Arizona Republic, was in Stillwater for Oklahoma State’s 34-17 win over the Sun Devils last September. A year later, a rematch is set and both football programs have gone through a complete overhaul.

ASU hired coach Kenny Dillingham last November after firing Herm Edwards. Dillingham, previously offensive coordinator at Oregon, is the youngest head coach among Power Five college football teams. OSU revamped the defensive side of the coaching staff last January, bringing in defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo to replace Derek Mason.

Early last month, ASU announced it was leaving the Pac-12 along with Arizona, Utah and Colorado to join the Cowboys in the Big 12. Later in the month, ASU self-imposed a one-season football bowl ban following possible recruiting infractions under Edwards.

Both teams have new quarterbacks. ASU freshman Jaden Rashada, a four-star recruit, replaced veteran Emory Jones, who is now at Cincinnati. A trio of Cowboys, Alan Bowman, Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy are competing to replace four-year starter Spencer Sanders, who transferred to Ole Miss. 

Here’s my Q&A with her about Saturday’s game and the Sun Devils’ place in the new Big 12.

Ben: How much has the culture or the feel around the Arizona State football program changed since Dillingham took over?

Michelle: (Dillingham) has an enthusiasm and a passion that’s contagious. So yeah, I think he was the perfect hire at the time. Everybody said, “Oh, he’s never been a head coach.” So we still have learning curves for head coaches, too. But I think he was a good hire and he got people to care again. Last year, there was so much apathy around the program.

Ben: Is Tempe a college football town?

Michelle: It’s one thing that makes this a very difficult place to coach, win, whatever. This is not a college town. It’s not Corvallis. It’s not Eugene. It’s not Tucson. It’s not Pullman. You’ve got every team imaginable here (in metropolitan Phoenix), and if you don’t win, you’re not relevant.

Ben: What was it like to get caught up in the dust storm that delayed ASU’s season-opening 24-21 win against Southern Utah?

Michelle: It’s called a haboob. It’s basically the combination of a dust storm and a tornado. Like you looked up at the lights and you saw everything swirling, but it wasn’t rain, it was like dust and you literally couldn’t see across the field. It was bizarre.

I think the delay was officially two hours and 45 minutes. So when the Sun Devils came out in the second half, they were a completely different team. Like, they were terrible. They had one penalty in the first half and they had eight in the second. They literally couldn’t do anything right.

Ben: What is ASU going to have to do to win on Saturday?

Michelle: I think improve in both trenches, offensive line and the defensive line. I think offensive line because they’re concerned about how physical and how big Oklahoma State is. And if you can’t handle Southern Utah, can you handle Oklahoma State? I would think the trenches are going to be huge.

Ben: Is 107 degrees Fahrenheit, the expected temperature at kickoff, hot for Arizonans? 

Michelle: For this time of year, that’s pretty common. Maybe that might be a couple degrees hotter than normal. But it’s not something people here aren’t used to.

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Ben Hutchens and his twin brother Sam cover Oklahoma State for the Sellout Crowd. After a decade of living in the state, Ben finally feels justified in calling himself an Oklahoman. You can reach him at [email protected] and continue the dialogue @Ben_ Hutchens_ on social media.

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