Unit Matchups - Arizona State at Utah

Arizona State's linebackers are good, but do they have the upper hand on Utah's run game? Can Utah's defensive line overpower their Sun Devil counterparts? InsideTheUtes breaks down the game unit-by-unit to show you who has the advantage in Saturdays big game.

Utah Offensive Line

Utah's offensive line struggled mightily against Washington. After helping John White IV rush for 174 yards against BYU, the Utah run game was only able to produce a paltry 17 yards against the Huskies. The line also allowed an unusual amount of pressure on pass plays surrendering 2 sacks and numerous hurries. Starting right tackle Tony Bergstrom didn't play against Washington due to injury (knee) but will return this week against Arizona State. The Utes have played 10 different offensive linemen this season due to injury, so the return of Bergstrom should add some stability to a line that has been unstable since the season opener. Bergstroms return will move Sam Brenner back to his natural position at right guard and should help Utah's run game to that side of the field.

Arizona State Defensive Line

On the season the ASU defense has tallied 14 sacks, 8 of which have come from 7 different players on the defensive line. This is a talented line that matches up favorably against Utah. These guys are very deep, very athletic, and play well together as a group. Jamaar Jarrett leads the line with two sacks and he'll go head to head with John Cullen. On the opposite side, Davon Coleman, who replaced starter Junior Onyeali because of injury, will face off against Bergstrom at right tackle. On the inside Will Sutton, Bo Moos, and Oliver Aaron will face a decent Utah interior line strengthened with Bergstroms return. Miles Mason's lack of experience may give him problems against Sutton and Moos.

EDGE: Arizona State

Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends

Talk about a roller-coaster year for John White. In the season opener White averaged 7.9 per carry and rushed for 150 yards. Week 2 his stats fell to 2.8 per carry and just 56 yards. Against BYU the following week White was once again brilliant. He averaged 7.9 yards per attempt and rushed for a season-high 174 yards and three touchdowns. Last week Washington kept White in check all night limiting him to just 35 yards and only 2.5 yards per carry, both season lows. Tight end Dallin Rogers caught a TD against Washington, but injuries to Kendrick Moeai and Jake Murphy may limit this group against the Sun Devils. Both players are listed as questionable.

Arizona State Linebackers

Vontaze Burfict is a mean, aggressive, hard-hitting play-making middle linebacker. Pick your favorite defensive descriptive term and it probably fits Burfict. Burfict is feared by offensive players all around the conference because of his punishing hits and is known for his extremely bad attitude. If he has a downside it's that at times he runs too hot. He is often flagged for personal fouls because he rarely stops at the whistle. He's good, though, and he can dominate a game. Burfict is best against the run and pressuring the quarterback. He'll be all over John White on Saturday and will make life miserable on the Utah running game. Moeai and Murphy will need to play if Utah wants to challenge outside linebackers Shelly Lyons and Colin Parker through the air. If both miss, expect this to be a unit dominated by Arizona State.

EDGE: Arizona State

Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers

When Jordan Wynn didn't lead the Utes onto the field to start the second half of the Washington game, the worst fear of all Utah fans was officially realized. Utah was thin at multiple positions when the season began, but none more so than at quarterback. Without Wynn Utah is forced to turn the offense over to Jon Hays, the inexperienced JC transfer who went 10-16 for 156 and an INT in the second half against Washington. The Utah wide receivers will be heavily relied upon to make plays and to take the pressure off of Hays. Devonte Christopher and Dres Anderson continue to impress each week on the outside. Christopher finished the UW game with over 100 yards for the 2nd time in 3 games, while Anderson found the endzone for the second straight game.

Arizona State Corners and Safeties

IF the Arizona State defense has a weakness, this would have to be it. That's not to say this is a weak group, but they don't quite match the intensity that the defensive line and the linebackers bring. The starters at corner and safety are all 5'11" and shorter so the Utah receivers should have an advantage in size. Christopher and Anderson are both good enough to beat their counterparts Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr at corner as long as Hays can get the ball to them. Hays will be under pressure from the front-7 for the better part of the day. The Utah receivers are going to have to work hard to make things easy for Hays by beating the corners and safeties and finding open space on the field.

EDGE: Even

Utah Defensive Line

1 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, 20 total tackles. Those were the stats from the Utah defensive line against Washington. The line is supposed to be the strength of the Ute defense but they clearly underperformed in the loss. Running back Chris Polk gashed the defense for nearly 200 yards rushing, consistently ripping his way through the front-four. Derrick Shelby recorded the lone sack from the d-line in the Washington game, which is something that needs to get better for Utah to be competitive against the Sun Devils.

Arizona State Offensive Line

Injuries may have a major impact on the play of this unit on Saturday. The Devils will be without starters Garth Gerhart at center and Evan Finkenberg at left tackle losing arguably their two best offensive linemen. Joe Kruger will benefit from the loss of Finkenberg, but don't be surprised if the Utah coaches move Shelby to the right-end position to lineup over the replacement tackle. They may feel he offers a better speed/skill matchup advantage and will do their best to exploit it. I also expect to see Trevor Reilly and others offering pressure over that side of the line to try and give Utah the best possible chance to slow down the run game and get to the quarterback. Star Lotulelei and Dave Kruger will bring heavy pressure up the middle and should be able to get into the backfield against the replacement center. If Utah has an edge on defense, this is the area they can exploit.

EDGE: Utah

Utah Linebackers

Chaz Walker and Brian Blechen led the Utah defense with 12 tackles each against the Huskies. Walker is a mainstay at the top of the tackling leaderboard finishing 1st on the team last season and currently leading this year as well. Blechen grows more comfortable each week in his new role at linebacker and always finds ways to be around the ball in both the run and the pass game. His athleticism gives Utah a good matchup against opposing tight ends. Matt Martinez, Boo Andersen, J.J. Williams, and Trevor Reilly added tackles, a sack, and an interception to the stat line for this unit, and all will be tested against the ASU pass game on Saturday.

Arizona State Running Backs and Tight Ends

At tailback, Cameron Marshall and Kyle Middlebrooks give Arizona State a dual-threat approach to the run game. Marshall is a bruising runner that loves to lower his shoulder and hit somebody. Don't sleep on him in the pass game though; he has soft hands and can be tough to bring down with a full head of steam. Middlebrooks is the flash of the ASU running game. At just 5'8" he is easily lost in a backfield only to pop up speeding around the outside. Arizona State loves to get their backs out in space, so the OLB's, particularly Blechen, will need to pay extra attention to the swing-passes thrown out of the backfield. The Sun Devils use these passes almost as an extension of their run game getting the ball to their playmakers at full speed creating one-on-one tackling situations in open space. Their ability to make players miss often results in big gains on 1st and 2nd down. The primary weakness of the Utah linebackers over the past few seasons has been their ability to cover guys in the flats, which could play right into the hands of the Devils.

EDGE: Even

Utah Corners and Safeties

The best way to describe this defensive unit is quiet strength. They haven't made huge plays or scored touchdowns, they haven't been flashy, but they have refused to give up the big play. Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy at corner have become reliable cover guys able to play on islands in Sitake's heavy man-to-man defensive scheme. Their ability to lock-down opposing playmakers at receiver has allowed the rest of the defense to take chances, blitz more often, and has given Utah the ability to bring their safeties up to help in run defense. Sitake has been shuffling a lot of players in at safety, so expect to see a variety of names up top. Eric Rowe, Quade Chappuis, Michael Walker, and Keith McGill will all see plenty of time on the field Saturday.

Arizona State Quarterback and Wide Receivers

At 6'8", quarterback Brock Osweiler is the tallest quarterback in the NCAA. Osweiler loves to get the ball out of his hands quickly leaving defenses scrambling at the snap trying to cover their quick routes out of the backfield. When defenses over-commit to the flats, Osweiler has weapons at wideout that know how to make teams pay. On the season Osweiler is completing 68% of his pass attempts, but his biggest weakness is his tendency to throw interceptions. His 10-6 TD-INT ratio will likely be what keeps Utah in the game. The corners will have their hands full, though. Jamal Miles, Gerell Robinson, and Aaron Pflugrad are three of the most difficult receivers to defend in the Pac-12. Miles is the only player in the NCAA to have caught a touchdown, thrown for a score, and returned both a punt and a kick for a TD, Robinson has caught a touchdown pass in three straight games, and Pflugrad is a stat machine having caught 25 balls for 375 yards and 4 TDs already this season.

EDGE: Arizona State

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