The Utah Utes will pay a visit to to Arizona State this Saturday in a critical and undoubtedly nail-bitting Pac-12 conference clash. ASU is riding a streak of 10 straight victories over the Utes in past meetings, but this time the stakes are higher.
As it stands, both teams are at one loss each and are vying to be the Pac-12 South champion. So, while last week’s matchup against USC may have been an important proving point for Utah, this week Arizona State is the team to beat. The rest of Utah’s season will require them to keep their nose to the grindstone, to say they least.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham commented that even though the team is now bowl eligible with the win against USC, they are still hungry.
“It’s a competitive group, one of our mantras is never be satisfied,” he said. “I don’t sense at all in any shape or form that these guys are satisfied. That was one of our goals going into the season, but we have more.”
Overall, the Utes look pretty good. Defensively, they are a force to be reckoned with and their special teams are some of the best in the country, and the adequate offense putting up enough points to win games. Where last season, things weren’t exactly lining up for the Utah football program, now the pieces are falling into place.
Utah’s offense is led by formerly benched quarterback, Travis Wilson, who threw for 194 yards against USC. Wilson also put up 143 attempts without interception, which happens to be the longest streak of any quarterback this season. Wilson’s lack of fear when it comes to running and his skill at avoiding turnovers are what keep the Utes offense stable.
Of course, the Utes offense wouldn’t get very far, if it weren’t for the workhorse coming out of backfield, running back Devontae Booker. Booker has recorder 844 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on 246 carries. He is the only non-quarteback on the team averaging more than 100 total yards per game.
The Utes will certainly be at a loss from here on out due to the absence of wide receiver Dres Anderson, who succumbed to a season-ending knee injury. Anderson currently leads the team with 355 receiving yards.
The Sun Devils’ offense is ranked No. 21 in the country. The offense requires a strict passing game lead by wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who is one of the best receivers in the nation right now. Strong has put up 52 receptions, 744 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season.
D.J. Foster is a versatile player out of Arizona State’s army of running backs. Foster has 628 yards, six touchdowns and 424 receiving yards on the year. Taking on the Utes defense will be a true test. Foster and Strong together are great offensive treasures for the Sun Devils.
ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly missed a big chunk of the season due to a foot injury. In the Sun Devils’ last game against the Washington Huskies, Kelly took a big hit near the end of the game and only threw for 180 yards. Kelly remains questionable for the matchup against the Utes.
This is a game that will be interesting to watch defensively. Arizona State may have buckled against UCLA earlier this season but has held each of its last two opponents (Stanford and Washington) under 300 total yards and to just 10 points. They are sixth in the Pac-12 in total defense at 405.9 ypg and fifth in points allowed at 25.3 ppg.
The Utes have a shining defense on their side as well, as they are behind only Stanford and Oregon State in the Pac-12 for total defense at 276.9 ypg. Utah is most notably second in the league for scoring defense with 21.6 ppg, while sitting at the very top with sacks (35), and third in tackles (66).
Look for Utah to put pressure on the passer and on the scoreboard. They are hungry for this win, but the Sun Devils are going to make them work for it.
*Section Photo credit to Ronald Martinez, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Rick Scuteri, Associated Press