Utah vs. Arizona State - Game Preview

The Utah Utes host PAC-12 division foe Arizona State in Rice Eccles Stadium on saturday.

Facts and Factors:
Utah (2-2, 0-2 Pac-12) hosts Arizona State (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) on Saturday, Oct. 8 starting at 1:30 p.m. MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah has not opened conference play 0-2 for the first time since 2007. That season, Utah won eight of its last nine games.

ASU leads the series 16-6 (4-3 in Salt Lake City). Utah and ASU have not played in Salt Lake City since 1977—a 47-19 Sun Devil victory when both teams were members of the Western Athletic Conference.

When Utah has the ball:
Utah's offense enters Saturday's matchup averaging 27.3 points per game. Schematically, everything we thought we knew about Utah's offense has been wiped clean. Junior QB Jon Hays takes the reins of Utah's new offense, designed to showcase the new starter's strengths. Onlookers can expect to see much more shotgun formations from the Utes, with a variety of run plays.

Arizona State's enters their game against Utah with a stout defense that has allowed just 20.6 points per game. The Sun Devil Defense has 14 sacks on the year to go along with 24 tackles for loss. ASU has also been effective at forcing turnovers, recovering 6 fumbles, and 7 interceptions on the season. Knowing that Utah has a green QB at the healm, look for the Devils to come after the inexperienced signal caller with heavy pressure, and multiple formations.

Jon Hays (6'1, 212) will get his first start at QB after joining the Utes for fall camp. Hays is a junior college transfer who has previously committed to Nebraska Omaha, but landed at Utah after their football team folded. Hays is a mobile quarterback with a strong enough arm to make all the necessary throws in Norm Chow's offense. Hays greatest strength is his leadership ability. His teammates rave about Hays' toughness and determination. In 2 quarters of football, Hays completed 10 of 17 passes for 157 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.

With Hays operating out of a shotgun on throwing situations, expect Utah's WRs to work the middle of the field with dig routes and slants. Devonte Christopher leads a talented group of wideouts that should be able to create separation against ASU's secondary. Christopher is averaging 83 receiving yards per game, and has surpassed 100 yards receiving in both of Utah's conference games to date. Opposite of Christopher is Dres Anderson who leads the team with 16.3 yards per reception. At Tight End, Dallin Rogers, Jake Murphy and Kendrick Moeai are all expected to rotate, and there have been games when each player has performed admirably. If ASU sends pressure at Hays, this group of TEs will need to have a big day for the Utes.

On the Offensive Line, Utah will get a huge boost by the return of RT Tony Bergstrom. Bergstrom will be joined by Center Tevita Stevens, and OG/OT Sam Brenner who has been Utah's most consistent lineman to date. Senior LT John Cullen is likely to occupy the other tackle spot, though his performance this season has been inconsistent and disappointing. Still, when Cullen is on his game, he's as good as any lineman the Utes have. Junior Miles Mason and Sophomore Latu Heimuli will likely rotate at the remaining guard position. Utah's offensive line will face their biggest test of the season with Arizona State's pass rush. If the Ute line can give Hays time to find open receivers, Hays is capable of making enough plays to win. If ASU can get to Hays, Utah will once again struggle to convert on 3rd down situations.

As ill fortuned as many Utah fans feel over the loss of Jordan Wynn, Arizona State feels worse. Nearly every position group for the Sun Devils has at least one major injury. While injuries change the landscape that the game is played on, it is a part of the game, and Arizona State has answered the challenge better than Utah thus far. On the defensive line, ASU lost DE Junior Onyeali to injury, but Davon Coleman and Jamaar Jarrett have stepped up well. In the secondary, ASU lost their all-conference CB to a season ending injury during fall camp, but again, Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr have stepped in respectably at Corner.

The Sun Devil defense is unquestionably led by their talented linebackers. All-American candidate Vontaze Burfict leads the team with 4 sacks. Burfict is an intimidating presence on the field, who will announce his presence through pre-snap trash talk, and bone crushing hits. While Burfict is arguably the top LB in America, some argue that other Sun Devil LBs are having even better seasons. LB Colin Parker leads ASU with 33 tackles on the season. This talented group of linebackers have made ASU one of the nation's premiere 3rd down defenses, a factor that Utah will have to overcome in order to have a chance at a victory on Saturday.

When Utah's offense is on the field, the primary battle to watch will be between ASU's linebackers, and Utah's Running Game. ASU is capable of shutting John White and crew down completely, but if we've learned anything about a Kyle Whittingham coached team, they are most dangerous with their backs against the wall. Utah's OLine will play a critical role in getting to the linebackers on running plays.

When ASU has the ball:
ASU enters Rice Eccles Stadium averaging 35.4 points per game, behind the stellar play of QB Brock Osweiler. Despite starting only a few games in 2010, Brock Osweiler has led a resurgent Sun Devil attack that features the 27th ranked passing attack, averaging 285 yards per game.

At QB, Brock Osweiler (6'8, 220) is big enough to throw effectively from the pocket, yet mobile enough to get out of the pocket and run. The former Gonzaga basketball recruit will run the ball 7 times per game. Osweiler has shown a knack for big plays, though he also has shown a tendency to throw interceptions. Osweiler has 10 TD passes on the season, and 6 INT (3 last week vs. Oregon State).

On the outside, ASU's receivers have a knack for taking a simple pass play, and turning it into either a big gain, or a big first down. Jamal Miles is a big play waiting to happen, while Aaron Pflugrad always seems to find himself in a gap. Utah's CBs will likely get up into this group of WRs in attempt to disrupt timing and eliminate open field space. However, if ASU opts to work the middle of the field with slants and digs (impossible to defend one-on-one in man coverage), Utah's LBs will have to do a better job in pass coverage.

Up front, the Sun Devils are thin and beat up. All-Conference C Garth Gerhart is out, and LT Evan Finkenberg is doubtful. ASU already is not an overwhelming rushing team, ranking just 68th in America in total rushing yards. Expect ASU to air it out against Utah, though it's possible they may follow Washington's example and pound the Utes.

Utah's defensive front should hold up well against ASU, as long as the offense can move the ball reasonably well on offense, giving the defense much needed rest which was missed during the second half of the Washington game. DT Star Lotulelei should draw double teams from ASU's patched up Offensive Line. Utah will need to improve its tackling…against UW, the Utes missed 15 tackles. Ultimately, Utah will have to force some turnovers in this game, providing the offense with some short fields to work with.

Special Teams:
Kicker still seems to be an area of concern for the Utes. Coleman Peterson is 13/14 on XPs on the season, but is just 4/6 on FGs, and continues to kick the ball with low trajectory. At punter, the Utes will use a combination of Sean Sellwood and Nick Marsh. Both have shined at times this season, and both have flopped at times. Marsh is averaging 44 yards per punt, while Sellwood is averaging 40.

Returning kickoffs for the Utes have been Reggie Dunn, Ryan Lacy and Charles Henderson. Utah had high hopes for Dunn as a kick returner this season, but with only 5 attempts on the year, Dunn hasn't had many attempts to break one open (average of 24 yards). Ryan Lacy had been back deep with Dunn, though after his fumble on last week's opening kickoff, his status is in question. If Lacy doesn't return kicks, expect to see more of true freshman Charles Henderson. The talented freshman also returns punts for the Utes, a role that Henderson has thrived in. With 7 returns on the season, Henderson is averaging over 11 yards per return.

For Arizona State, their punting game hasn't exactly been stellar either. Josh Hubner has averaged nearly 41 yards per punt on the season. At kicker, the Sun Devils have had even more struggles that Utah. Alex Garoutte is 3/6 on kicks this season.

The Sun Devils are loaded with talent on their return groups. Jamal Miles has both a kick return for a touchdown this season, and a punt return for a touchdown. Miles is averaging 28 yards per return on kickoffs, and a remarkable 19.3 yards per punt return. Rashad Ross is also a talented returner, with averages of 29 yards per return on kickoffs, and over 19 yards per return on punts.

Intangibles:
The weather report for Saturday calls for scattered rain showers, and cold temperatures. The temperature around kickoff should be about 60 degrees.

Utah is 100% focused on Arizona State this week. While ASU claims to be equally focused on the Utes, players are sure to notice that beyond the Wynn-less Utes waiting are the Oregon Ducks.

Prediction:
Arizona State 21, Utah 17

This game is not likely to the blowout that many expect. Utah's defense should still be one of the better units that Arizona State will face this season. In order to have a chance at winning this game, Utah will need to win 2 of the 3 major areas (offense, defense, special teams), and will need to force a couple of turnovers. Utah's offense may be able to convert 1 sustained drive into a touchdown, but their second touchdown will come with help from defense or special teams. This may come in the form of a non-offensive touchdown, or simply a turnover that results in positive field position for the Utes.


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