In a game meant to celebrate the Arizona State senior class, Utah gifted ASU two turnovers within the first five minutes of the game, yet in the end, the Sun Devils were the ones handing the Utes a victory with self-inflicted wounds on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
ASU's offensive line was specifically unable to handle the pressure of Utah's defensive front seven, with a total of 42 negative or no gain plays from scrimmage as the Sun Devils surrendered 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins threw two interceptions and the turnover advantage the Sun Devils once had early in the game disappeared.
"I think obviously the negative plays, especially the sacks were a big issue," ASU head coach Todd Graham said. "In saying that I think (ASU offensive coordinator) Chip (Lindsey) is doing a great job, I mean we just got stalled up front. They whipped us up front is what my impression was just watching the game and we had to do some innovative things and we were in the game."
On defense, the Sun Devils had multiple breakdowns in the secondary, were penalized for pass interference repeatedly in the second half, gave up 296 passing yards to Utah junior quarterback Troy Williams, and gave up three touchdowns alone to Utah wide receiver Rae Singleton. The last time Utah had a passing performance with more yards came when former Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw for 297 yards against ASU in 2015.
“I think we did a lot of things that were self-inflicted,” ASU junior linebacker Marcus Balll said. “We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. They definitely had a good game plan. They had a good game plan and they stuck to it. They did some things, you know scheme and stuff, but I think down the stretch we had some self-inflicted wounds that cost us. I didn’t even know they had two yards at (the end of the first quarter), but I think overall we did a good job of stopping the run, but they took some early shots on us. And down the stretch, took some early shots on us. Whether or not we had some bad calls tonight, as far as penalties that got called tonight, it’s besides the point. We had self-inflicted wounds and it cost us down the stretch.”
With the 49-26 loss Thursday night at Sun Devil Stadium, ASU drops to 5-5 overall, 2-5 in the Pac-12, losing its fourth-straight game and again missing an opportunity to earn bowl eligibility. The Sun Devils play No. 4 Washington next week at Husky Stadium before finishing the season in Tucson with the Territorial Cup against Arizona.
No. 15 Utah improves to 8-2 overall, 5-2 in the conference. The Utes play Oregon and Colorado to end the year, with their game against Colorado slated to decide the winner of the Pac-12 South if USC loses to No. 4 Washington on Saturday.
“Frustrating," Graham said about the loss. "We’ve had our misfortunes this year and we have the opportunity next week to play the No. 4 ranked team in the country and then also win the Territorial Cup so we have a lot to play for and we have a lot to coach for.”
On Thursday night at Sun Devil Stadium, both ASU and Utah were coming off their respective bye weeks and had a chance to heal, yet the Sun Devils were unable to fully recover with injuries on both sides of the ball.
ASU senior linebacker Salamo Fiso was dressed out, yet did not play after getting injured with 13:52 left in the fourth quarter in ASU’s game against Washington State. ASU senior offensive lineman Stephon McCray and sophomore offensive lineman Sam Jones did not play due to injuries. Redshirt freshman defensive linebacker Malik Lawal was injured in the first quarter of the game and was in a sling on the sidelines by the third quarter.
ASU junior running back Demario Richard did not play in the first quarter, but got the first snaps for ASU in the second quarter. Richard had six carries for two yards.
ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins, who missed the Sun Devils’ 54-35 loss to Oregon on Oct. 29 due to injury, started the game for ASU. He was 4-of-10 passing for 142 yards and one interception in the first half. In the second half, Wilkins was 15-of-21 passing for 164 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
Wilkins' second interception of the night proved the most costly, as shown by the dismay of fans who promptly left the stadium immediately following Utah's score.
"Those (two interceptions) are just completely mental errors on my part," Wilkins said. "You know, the two errors I just can't do."
Utah sophomore safety Chase Hansen picked off Wilkins and returned the pass 34 yards for a touchdown with 5:46 left in the fourth quarter, giving Utah the 42-26 advantage. The Utes padded on extra points with 3:09 to play off of a 40-yard rushing touchdown by Utah senior running back Joe Williams.
Joe Williams finished the game with 15 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
ASU freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry led the Sun Devils in the receiving game with eight catches for 114 yards and junior running back Kalen Ballage led ASU in the rushing game with 15 carries for 46 yards. Last year, in ASU’s 34-18 loss to Utah, the Sun Devils had 15 rushing yards. The Sun Devils had 41 rushing yards total Thursday night, which accounts for the 11 sacks taken by Wilkins on the night.
Five of the 11 sacks were produced by senior defensive end Hunter Dimick, who set the Utah single-game record for sacks Thursday night.
At halftime, ASU was only down 21-20 to the Utes, but Utah got out to a fast start in the second half, with Joe Williams scoring an 82-yard rushing touchdown to give Utah a 28-20 lead with 9:41 left in the third quarter. That marked the 14th touchdown of 30 or more yards given up by ASU this year, and the Sun Devils would later extend their nation-wide lead in this category.
ASU responded with senior wide receiver Tim White catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from Wilkins with 2:02 left in the third quarter to bring ASU to within two points, 28-26. The Sun Devils failed in their two-point conversion attempt and Utah scored a touchdown on its following possession, making it a two-score game, 35-26.
If ASU would have made the extra point behind the leg of senior placekicker Zane Gonzalez, the Sun Devils would have only needed a touchdown to tie the game, but instead, failed to even reach the red zone after Utah's score.
ASU started the game off trying to take advantage of Utah mistakes, getting the ball twice in the Utes' territory in the first quarter off two turnovers. The first turnover was a fumble on the first play from scrimmage after Troy Williams didn’t expect the snap which hit him in the facemark. ASU redshirt freshman defensive lineman George Lea recovered the fumble.
On ASU’s following possession, Wilkins threw an interception in the end zone to junior free safety Marcus Williams, negating any momentum the Sun Devils could have gotten back after Utah’s opening turnover. On Utah's next possession, ASU sophomore safety Armand Perry forced a fumble from Joe Williams and senior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola recovered for the Sun Devils at Utah's 48-yard line.
The Sun Devils got out to a 10-0 lead after a 24-yard field goal by Gonzalez and a two-yard rushing touchdown by Ballage.
Ballage's touchdown out of ASU's signature Sparky formation, but it was set up by a great throw by Harry on a reverse pass. However, ASU's lead didn't hold for long. Utah came storming back with a 14-13 lead over the Sun Devils after redshirt freshman wide receiver Siaosi Wilson caught a 27-yard touchdown pass over junior cornerback Maurice Chandler.
Harry then had a 31-yard touchdown rush to give ASU a 20-14 lead with 3:36 left in the second quarter after dropping the football on a lateral, and then breaking through the entire Utah defense to get into the end zone. Utah answered with a 17-yard touchdown catch from Singleton, who was wide open after a busted play by ASU senior defensive end De'Chavon Hayes, to go into halftime up 21-20.