Bourguet-to-Conyers connection powers ASU’s 42-34 win over Colorado

A local QB sparked the Sun Devil offense to victory
Arizona State tight end Jalin Conyers reacts after catching a pass for a touchdown against...
Arizona State tight end Jalin Conyers reacts after catching a pass for a touchdown against Colorado in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)(David Zalubowski | AP)
Published: Oct. 29, 2022 at 11:24 PM MST
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BOULDER, CO (3TV/CBS 5) -- Early in Saturday’s game, new Arizona State quarterback Trenton Bourguet went over to tight end Jalin Conyers.

“Hey, I’m just going to give you a chance.”

“Alright, just let me know,” Conyers replied.

After the pair would go on to connect for three touchdowns, Conyers—in the understatement of the week—said that the plan “worked out really well.”

The connection between the pair was the catalyst for a resurgent ASU offense in a 42-34 road win. Along with benching starter Emory Jones in favor of Bourguet, interim head coach Shaun Aguano took over the playcalling duties in an effort to revitalize the offense.

The results were immediate. Bourguet threw for 435 yards, the most by an ASU quarterback in eight years. In addition to the team’s aerial production, X Valladay added three rushing touchdowns in a reinvigorated up-tempo attack.

“I trusted in the things that I put in, I trusted that the kids were going to execute,” Aguano said. “I trusted that Trenton was going to execute exactly  what I wanted.”

With the win, ASU improves to 3-5 on the season and 2-3 in Pac-12 play, and their bowl hopes remain alive with four games left in the season.

The Ohana

“To me, football is football, but when you see smiles on your kids’ faces and they’re having fun, that means more to me than anything else.” - Shaun Aguano

The Result

Before he made his first career start, Bourguet prayed on the field with his brother Coben, a walk-on wide receiver. Coben told him it was just another game. They had been playing this game since they were little kids. The field is the same size. Just go ball.

He did just that.

After Colorado went three-and-out to open the game, Bourguet went to work marching the Sun Devils down the field. He completed all four passes on the drive that ended with a four-yard Valladay touchdown run.

Colorado managed aa field goal on their next drive to close the gap to 7-3, but Bourguet and the ASU offense again flew down the field. This time, Bourguet found Conyers for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 14-3 ASU.

“Getting on the field and looking at how they were playing defense, I kinda had a feeling that me and Messiah (Swinson) were going to have a big day,” Conyers said. “I put my faith in T, and he went out and did that, and I was able to make plays with him making throws.”

After completing his first nine throws on the day, Bourguet and the Sun Devils couldn’t keep it up early in the second quarter and punted for the first time. The Buffaloes then put together a strong ground game, including a 25-yard Deion Smith run, to set up a J.T. Shrout to Montana Lemonious-Craig seven-yard touchdown pass.

ASU responded quickly. Some sharp Bourguet passing got ASU into Colorado territory, before the offensive line opened a huge hole for Valladay, who ran untouched for a 42-yard score.

“Feel the wind. Run like hell,” said Valladay of his thoughts on the run. “When you see a hole that big, that’s a lot of running backs’ dream.”

The teams traded punts before Colorado was able to strike again. Jordyn Tyson burned ASU cornerback Timarcus Davis downfield and Shrout found him for a 58-yard score.

With the half winding down, Bourguet got the Devils moving again, finding Elijhah Badger and Conyers separate 26-yard gains. That set up Valladay for a one-yard score to give ASU a 28-17 halftime lead.

The second half ended with both teams trading punts, before ASU resumed their offensive success. Bourguet and Conyers connected on a five-yard touchdown pass to cap a nine-play drive that increased ASU’s lead to 35-17. Colorado added a field goal late in the quarter to trim the lead to 15, and had a chance to add more, but a Shrout pass on a flea flicker was intercepted by ASU safety Chris Edmonds.

Early in the fourth quarter, the night’s hot tandem struck for a third time, with Conyers winning a jump ball for a 20-yard touchdown.

“He’s a mismatch problem,” Bourguet said of Conyers. “He’s big, but he’s also fast and has great hands. Just trying to give him a chance on a 50-50 ball.”

“I love it when I’m one-on-one,” Conyers said. “Once he threw it, I thought I can go get this one.”

Undaunted, Colorado struck back. The Buffaloes put together a 14-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a one-yard Smith score to close the gap to 42-27 with just over eight minutes left. Things got a little nerve-wracking minutes later when Tyson returned an ASU punt 88 yards to make it a one-score game with 3:48 left.

Instead of needing points, ASU now needed to burn clock, and Bourguet was able to get the job done.

“I have the players’ trust,” he said. “And I trust in them too.”

Highlighted by a key 13-yard reception by tight end Messiah Swinson, ASU was able to run out the clock and secure the win.

The Critical Moment

ASU was in control...but not totally. Late in the third quarter, they held a 15-point lead, but were now driving into ASU territory. On a first down from the ASU 37-yard-line, they decided to get tricky.

But ASU was ready for them. Sun Devil cornerback Isaiah Johnson noticed something and turned to safety Chris Edmonds, warning him that a trick play was coming. Having been beaten by flea flickers earlier in the year, the play was on the Sun Devil defense’s radar.

After catching the toss back, Shrout unleashed a deep pass that hung in the cold Colorado air.

“It felt like a punt, the ball was in the air for so long,” Edmonds said.

The safety made the interception, ending the Buffaloes’ last and best threat of the night.

The Offense

What a difference a week makes. A new quarterback, a new playcaller, a new tempo, and a whole host of “Most since...” type stats.

ASU’s 557 yards? Most since 2018. Bourguet’s 435 yards passing? Most by an ASU player since 2014. Conyers’ three touchdowns? Most since...well, ASU’s media relations department is pretty sure that’s never happened.

“The plays haven’t changed; the tempo changed, the play calling changed,” Aguano said. “The kids bought in and they trusted the changes that I made, and I’m grateful for that.”

The up-tempo approach was immediately apparent and successful.

“It was the tempo,” Conyers said. “A lot of us had to get used to the tempo during the week, but as we hit Saturday, we executed really well.”

“I thought we had to have a change in that,” Aguano said. “That tempo helped us keep that defense off balance.”

Bourguet brought a poise and command to the offense that was reminiscent of his three-touchdown effort off the bench three weeks ago against Washington. His play rewarded his coach’s faith in him.

“I trusted his decision making and anticipation,” Aguano said. “I knew he was comfortable with the system that I incorporated.

“When we had talks about the RPO or passing game, he understands exactly what I was looking for. His progressions were quick. His anticipations were quick. When you have almost a coach on the field at the same time understanding exactly what the schematics are that I want to get done.”

Bourguet went early and often to Conyers and Swinson, the team’s top two tight ends, who did not receive a single target in last week’s loss to Stanford. On Saturday, Conyers caught six passes for 108 yards and Swinson added three for 55.

“Our tight ends were underutilized in some instances,” said Aguano. “I think they’re athletic enough and big enough. So I wanted to make sure that there were mismatches and that you saw them all over the field. There were mismatches we could take advantage of.”

Badger continued his hot October, setting new career-highs with eight catches for 137 yards. Bourguet also found Bryan Thompson for six receptions and 76 yards, and Gio Sanders added five grabs for 22 yards.

While the passing game will get the glory, the ground game was strong. Valladay ran for 118 yards on three scores.

It makes it easy having a back like X and Daniyel (Ngata) in the backfield,” Bourguet said.

Granted, the success did happen against Colorado, one of the worst Power 5 defenses. But the tempo, utilization of the team’s playmakers, and efficiency from the quarterback position were sights to behold. If ASU is to make a late-season run at a bowl berth, they’ll need to maintain this offensive identity.

“It makes it harder on defenses because they want to key on X and you want to play one high, but then if you play one high, I got a tight end running the seam,” Bourguet said. “And if you press Badger, I’m going to take the go ball. We have answers for everything.”

The Defense

A week after keeping Stanford out of the endzone, ASU’s defense struggled against a poor Colorado offense. The Buffaloes scored 27 points on offense, their most in 10 games. They also gained 359 yards.

The run defense was stout early, but as the game went on, gave up too many significant runs to a ground attack that had been inconsistent during the season. Against the pass, ASU surrendered several big plays, including the 58-yard touchdown.

But when needed, the unit rose to the occasion.

ASU tied a season-high with six tackles for loss. Edmonds made a key interception. Ed Woods had three pass break ups. It wasn’t pretty, it’s wasn’t their best effort, but against Colorado, it was good enough.

But the Sun Devils know the same effort won’t result in a win when the face offenses coming up like UCLA and Arizona.

“Every time we step on the field, we got to feel like we’re the best and keep playing like that,” Edmonds said.

The Top 3

Here are three Sun Devils who played well against Colorado.

QB Trenton Bourguet: His debut went about as well as anyone could have hoped, with 435 yards and three scores. He’s now in the driver’s seat to play savior for the season.

TE Jalin Conyers: In his second season with ASU, the tight end had been waiting for a chance to show what he can do. He shattered his previous career highs with his monster performance, showing an ability to win jump balls, run over defenders, and pick up yards after the catch.

“I feel like I have worked for this, and I’ve tried to do everything I can to get to this point. Tonight, it finally flourished for me.”

RB X Valladay: Don’t let the Bourguet-to-Conyers connection overshadow the great season Valladay is putting together. He topped 100 yards for the fifth time to go along with his three scores.

The Question: QB, playcalling, or opponent?

The offensive explosion against Colorado was a heartening sight for any Sun Devil fan. So how much can be attributed to the insertion of Bourguet into the starting lineup, Aguano’s playcalling, or the fact that ASU faced a poor Colorado defense?

It’s part of all three, and we’ll learn just how much each factored in next week when ASU faces a quality UCLA defense. But seeing the poise and command shown by Bourguet in an attack that utilized all of ASU’s offensive weapons was a long-overdue development for a offense that had underachieved for most of the season.

The Next Step

ASU will return home next week for a battle against UCLA. The Bruins entered the week ranked No. 12 in the AP poll and defeated Stanford 38-13 to improve to 7-1.

The Extra Point

  • On his second quarter touchdown run, Valladay hit 4,000 career rushing yards. He’s just the 123rd player in FBS history to reach that milestone.
  • Bourguet became just the sixth player in ASU football history with 300+ passing yards in first career start.