1. ASU must have a multi-dimensional offense. If the Sun Devils don't have offensive balance, which includes a healthy run game or at a minimum an ability to be successful on run replacements such as its wide assortments of screens and other quick game throws, there will be too much responsibility on the shoulders of senior quarterback Mike Bercovici and his offensive tackles on the road against a quality opponent in a hostile environment. The Utes disguise coverages and blitzes as well as any team in the league and have a more pro-style approach to defense that will become especially problematic if ASU isn't able to get itself into managable third down situations. It has to have success on early downs via a broad offensive capability.
2. Bercovici must avoid interceptions. This is shaping up to be a potentail low scoring affair with ball control and field position being of extreme importance. Utah is tied for the Pac-12 lead with 12 interceptions and is second overall in turnovers generated at 17. Cal's Jared Goff might be the best quarterback prospect in the country much less the Pac-12, and he had five interceptions -- not all being his fault -- just last week in Salt Lake City. The Utes do a really good job of disgusing and changing looks at the line of scrimmage and pre-snap in an effort to prevent a quarterback from getting into rhythm and tricking his eyes into think he's seeing something that isn't real. ASU has been great defensively against Utah in recent seasons and it's a good match up for its defense this year as well, which will be strongly aided by Bercovici taking care of the football. Utah lacks the big play potency of USC and UCLA, so if it has to sustain full field drives to score it will be more challenged.
3. ASU's special teams needs to match Utah. With its special teams trending in the right direction ASU has to have another very good performance Saturday against Utah because the Utes are the biggest test there is. Punter Tom Hackett is a field position nightmare for opponents, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt against ASU the last two seasons combined. His rugy style cross-field punts present as a major challenge for returners' decision making and De'Chavon Hayes will be tested in this regard. Kicker Zane Gonzalez has been great for ASU at getting touchbacks and preventing good starting position for opponents and that has to continue. Punter Matt Haack is having his best season by far for the Sun Devils and has to keep Utah's quick and shifty Britain Covey from getting return opportunties. Finally, ASU has to avoid a big play breakdown on a trick play. Utah is famous for its ability to trick defenses on special teams.
4. Utah's star running back must be kept in check. Last season in the game between these two teams -- when they were each 6-1 and ranked in the Top-20 -- Utah gave the ball to its star running back Devontae Booker 37 times but he only had a long of 16 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. That was an enormous success even though he finished with a misleading 146 rushing yards on the night. The Utes had just six first-half points and 97 yards of total offense because of how well ASU's run pressure bottled up Booker. The game plan and first point of emphasis won't be different for ASU this year. Booker averaged 28 carries per game, which is way more than anyone else in the league. As he goes, so goes the Utes' offense. ASU has consistently held opponents' top rushers well below their season averages and this game is perhaps its biggst test yet. Booker is an NFL starter caliber running back. ASU relies heavily on solo tackles, with the three leading solo tacklers in the league. When Booker makes one of them miss, given ASU's pressure heavy approach, it can result in the big play the Sun Devils have to avoid.
5. Containment of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is key. When you take out the sacks, last year Utah quarterback Travis Wilson had 70 rushing yards including a team-best long of 32 yards which enabled Utah's first touchdown of the game, which didn't come until the third quarter. At 6-foot-7 and 233 yards, Wilson is deceptively mobile and is a player who looks to run, not extend plays to pass, when he doesn't see an open receiver in the pocket. He commits to breaking the pocket and gets vertical and this can be especially problematic for pressure-heavy defenses that don't get to Wilson and leave themselves more exposed with fewer bodies to bring him down when he's scrambling. He has the ability to get a number of drive-extending first-downs this way and ASU's got to avoid that.