TEMPE, Ariz. – He was a mysterious man. The only clues to his identity were his last name, “Herrera,” on the back of a maroon and gold jersey, a look at Arizona State’s roster for his number 18 that revealed two players not named Herrera.
However, Hunter Herrera actually existed. Just listed under a different number on ASU’s roster. And the jersey change made sense as Herrera was warming up along with Arizona State’s other active quarterbacks before they faced USC on Saturday night, as the Arizona Republic reported that the kid was injured during a depressing 29-0 loss to Fresno State last week had only hastily put on his jersey – forced into potential action due to a drastic wave of injuries.
Suddenly, Herrera — by all accounts a standout quarterback at Citrus Valley High — was ASU’s third quarterback. Freshman Jaden Rashada was out and potential backup Trenton Bourguet opted out, leaving ASU to rely on the health of Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne or turn to fourth BYU transfer Jacob Conover. Or, hell, Herrera.
“We don’t know the QB situation right now,” USC linebacker Eric Gentry said Tuesday, “but we’re really ready to play football and just see what happens.”
The situation Saturday was Pyne, fortunately for ASU healthy Saturday, a quarterback who had provided notable impetus to the USC defense when Notre Dame came to town last season. But he couldn’t get anything through the air in Arizona State’s first quarter – he went 0-for-3 for exactly 0 passing yards – due in part to the corresponding injury bug that had decimated ASU’s offensive line and left the Sun Devils without one Success was enjoyed for much of their planned front opening of the season.
Despite ASU’s streak of bad luck, USC received a mostly clean bill of health heading into Mountain America Stadium on Saturday. In addition to the return of linebacker Mason Cobb, the Trojans’ defense received another health boost with the return of defensive lineman Tyrone Taleni, who did not play this season.
Amid all the excitement over the Trojans’ transfer portal overhaul on the defensive line, Taleni’s recovery had largely flown under the radar – but the Western Samoan native was a key interior contributor for USC in 2022. He started and finished in the final nine games of the season tied for second ahead of the Trojans in tackles for loss (7.5). Taleni had been dealing with a plantar fascia injury, coach Lincoln Riley said, and his recovery accelerated during the off week.
“We’re excited to have him back, another big body in there,” Riley told the media on Thursday. “Another guy, I think, a little bit along the lines of Stanley (Ta’ufo’ou) and (De’Jon) Benton, a couple of those guys that we really think have really improved.”
For the rest of the year, however, it will be difficult for Taleni to assert himself again in the Trojans’ combination of nose tackles and interior attack. Georgia transfer Bear Alexander has dug in at nose tackle while Stanley Ta’ufo’ou and Jack Sullivan have rotated in and out.
Another good sign for USC: Junior cornerback Jacobe Covington and freshman wide receiver Makai Lemon, both of whom were undressed in the Trojans’ last game against Stanford, were active Saturday against ASU. Lemon seemed like an ideal redshirt candidate in a crowded USC receiver room, but Riley still has one game to work with after Saturday to make that decision — and Lemon is making the most of the limited first half in Tempe and come up with something A huge onside kick return in the second quarter put USC in great field position.