TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Pac-12 After Dark unleashed torrents of dust, lightning and sideways rain. The resulting delay left Arizona State stuck in the mud.
The Sun Devils found a way to win, slogging their way through an ugly second half in coach Kenny Dillingham's debut.
Jaden Rashada threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and Arizona State withstood a more than two-hour weather delay to beat Southern Utah 24-21 early Friday.
“We got a lot of crap to fix, but we got it done,” Dillingham said.
The Sun Devils (1-0) were in control in the first half, taking a 21-7 lead on Rashada's 3-yard touchdown pass to Troy Omeire through a dust storm.
Thunderstorms followed the dust and the game was delayed, steady rain still falling when play resumed.
With a few hundred fans remaining in the stands, the Sun Devils wilted in the rain against an FCS opponent.
“A rain delay is one of the easiest circumstances you’re gonna have in a football game,” Dillingham said. "We've got to respond. Those are the games you panic because you’ve lost control, lost your focus, completely opposite of first half.”
It nearly cost the Sun Devils.
Southern Utah had a 68-yard reception negated by a targeting penalty early in the third quarter, but Justin Miller later hit Isaiah Wooden on a 52-yard reception. Miller then found a wide-open Zach Mitchell for a 17-yard TD that pulled the Thunderbirds within 21-14.
Arizona State's offense stagnating, Elijah Badger's 81-yard kickoff return gave the Sun Devils a first-and-goal from the 6 late in the third quarter. Three holding calls later — one that negated a touchdown — Dario Longhetto kicked a 38-yard field goal.
The Sun Devils stalled again and Southern Utah's George Ramirez returned Jordan Washington's blocked punt 47 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Thunderbirds within 24-21.
Arizona State then ground out the clock by getting the ball to Cam Skattebo. The Sacramento State transfer had 71 yards and a touchdown rushing, with four catches for 41 yards.
The Sun Devils closed it at nearly 1 a.m. local time to win their 24th straight home opener, the third-longest active streak in the FBS, behind Florida (33) and Oklahoma State (27).
“We've got be out and ready to play more football no matter what time it is," Skattebo said.
Rashada and the Sun Devils were solid in the first half.
After committing then de-committing to Miami and Florida, Rashada earned Arizona State's starting job from a three-way race with returner Trenton Bouguet and Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne. Rashada joined Jayden Daniels in 2019 as the only Arizona State freshman quarterback to start a season opener.
On Arizona State’s opening drive, Rashada had perfect touch on 33-yard pass to Melquan Stovall just before taking a late hit. Skattebo bounced off a tackle in the hole for a 6-yard touchdown on the next play.
Rashada misfired on a few throws the next two drives before hitting Xavier Gullory on a 47-yard touchdown on fourth-and-8. He closed the half with the dusty TD pass to Omeire with 2 seconds left.
Rashada repeatedly misfired in the second half before hitting a couple of passes later, finishing 18-for-31 passing.
“I thought he did a phenomenal job," Dillingham said. :He just couldn’t get in a rhythm. We've got do a better job on offense to get him back in a rhythm.”
The first game of the season is typically riddled with mistake and this one was no different.
Arizona State had nine penalties for 100 yards, including the holding that negated Skattebo's 6-yard touchdown run.
Southern Utah was barely better, flagged eight times for 71 yards.
Southern Utah: The Thunderbirds can take a lot away from playing a Pac-12 opponent down to the wire.
Arizona State: The weather delay did the Sun Devils no favors. Sloppy in the second half, they have plenty of work to do.
Southern Utah: Plays at BYU on Sept. 9.
Arizona State: Hosts Oklahoma State on Sept. 9.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll