TEMPE – For all of fall camp and the 2023 season, sophomore quarterback Jacob Conover looked on as three quarterbacks ahead of him took the first and second-team reps.
Yet this week, he and transfer quarterback Drew Pyne stood side by side, going through throwing drills as the Sun Devils prepared for Saturday’s final Pac-12 opener against USC at Mountain America Stadium. Both quarterbacks took first-team reps in order to prepare like Saturday’s starter – a feeling Conover hadn’t experienced since transferring to ASU.
Although coach Kenny Dillingham said Friday Pyne would start, Conover knows because of the frailty that comes with the quarterback position, his name could be called, too.
Conover was listed fourth on the depth chart when the 2023 season began. However, after ASU’s historical loss at home against Fresno State last Saturday, Dillingham announced that quarterbacks Jaden Rashada, Trenton Bourguet, and Pyne were questionable, with Rashada, who started the first two games of the season, sidelined for four to six weeks. Conover split first-team reps in practice with Pyne this week and will be available if needed Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Conover said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m just going to prepare like I am going to be the starter.”
Pyne and Conover competed for the start against USC throughout the week. For Conover, the most significant lesson he has learned is not to compare himself to what Pyne is doing but to work together to help the team the best way he can.
Against Fresno State, Conover entered the game in the third quarter after Pyne exited with a muscular injury. Bourgeut had also left in the first quarter with a lower leg injury. Conover finished 6-for-16 and 89 yards with two interceptions. Despite only completing 37.5% of his passes, Conover did everything he could in the eyes of Dillingham.
“Jacob did a nice job coming in after getting no reps,” Dillingham said. “His interceptions, one of them he’d like to have back, and another one was just him forcing the ball in a game where we didn’t get anything going. So I got a lot of faith in Jacob if he takes the field.”
Conover’s appearance in Mountain America Stadium Saturday wasn’t the first time he played in that building. He was the starting quarterback at nearby Chandler High School in Tempe, where he led the Wolves to three straight 6A state championships at ASU’s football stadium.
“It’s kind of funny that it’s playing out that way,” Conover said. “The last game I started was at ASU in high school, and now we’re coming back full circle.”
At Chandler, Conover threw for over 10,000 yards and 102 touchdowns in his career. In high school, he was a consensus four-star recruit and ranked the No. 10 pro-style quarterback in the country in 2019, according to 247Sports. He continues the long legacy of successful Chandler quarterbacks, including Brett Hundley, Bryce Perkins and Mikey Keene, who started at quarterback for Fresno State in Saturday’s contest.
Rick Garretson, Conover’s high school offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, described him as mature beyond his years and a leader who was never afraid to put himself out there. Now, with a chance to play Saturday, all Conover can do is make the most of it.
“I told him the other night (after the Fresno State game) that all you can ever ask for is an opportunity, and here it is,” Garretson said. “So prepare your best and make a good impression.”
After high school, Conover took two years before starting college to make a mission trip to Asuncion, Paraguay, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He committed and played three seasons at BYU from 2020-2022 once he returned.
At BYU, Conover played primarily in a backup role but first appeared in 2021 against Utah State after starting quarterback Baylor Romney got hurt. He went 5-for-9 and threw for 45 yards to beat the Cougars, 34-20. Last December, he announced he was transferring to Arizona State.
I’m coming home! ? FORKS UP!!! pic.twitter.com/JtbK7mcOgw
— Jacob Conover (@JacobConover17) December 7, 2022
Pyne is listed as the starting quarterback on the depth chart for the week, but Conover has been able to take reps for the first time all fall. Dillingham said Conover has already shown improvement this week now that he has gotten more reps in practice and is preparing like a typical game week.
“That’s all any quarterback can ever ask for; it doesn’t matter who it is,” Garretson said. “I don’t think anything will rattle him. He’s a calm, collected kid. He’s more athletic than he’s given credit for. He knows how to keep his eyes downfield, and he makes things happen.”
Even if Pyne starts on Saturday against USC, Conover will be ready for whatever opportunity comes his way if the need arises.
“There’s been little miracles in the sky that I’m supposed to be here,” Conover said. “I’m trying not to look in the past. Let the past be the past, but learn from it and be in the moment.”
(Video by Reece Andrews/Cronkite News)