Utah Offensive Line vs Arizona State Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
Utah's offensive performed much better against BYU than it did against Utah State the prior week. There is still plenty of room to grow and get better, but at least the signs were there on Saturday night that Utah may have found the 5 players that they want on their line for the remainder of the season. Utah's biggest concern on the line at this point is run blocking as the Utes struggled to get guys to the second level against BYU and their run totals suffered as a result. Utah started true freshman Jeremiah Poutasi at right tackle and he performed admirably. He faced a smart, fast BYU front-seven and held his own all night surrendering zero sacks to the Cougars. Utah also returned junior guard Jeremiah Tofaeono from injury. This week the starters should remain the same with Brenner at LT, Tofaeono at LG, Stevens at C, Jones at RG, and Poutasi at RT and we'll get a chance to see if their experience and improved effort together last week can be carried forward into Pac-12 play.
Arizona State Defensive Line
The ASU front four is stout. Carl Bradford, Will Sutton, Jaxon Hood, and Junior Onyeali are dangerous each in their own right and together have combined to create a good pass rush that has played well against the run at times too. Bradford has stood out at the "Devil" end position in the first three games with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Onyeali, the opposite defensive end, was the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year in 2010. He's got 3 tackles for loss so far in 2012 as he settles in after missing most of 2011 to injury. Tackles Will Sutton and true freshman Jaxon Hood are a very good duo in the middle. Hood has recorded 7 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss in his very young career while Sutton, the most experienced player on the line, has 3 sacks and 5 tackles for loss leading all players on the d-line. The line allows 148.3 yards per game on the ground and an average of 3.4 yards per carry.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Arizona State Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
John White's ability to play against BYU was in question all week. Word coming out of practice throughout the week was that he was ready to go and "100%" but when kickoff rolled around White was nowhere to be seen. In his place the Utes used a mixture of their three reserve backs Jarrell Oliver, Kelvin York, and Lucky Radley and their combined production was very poor. You can decide for yourself how much credit you want to give to the BYU defense, but in the end some of the blame falls on the backs. White should be back in the lineup against the Sun Devils this week but with the severity of his injury still unknown it's hard to predict how much of an impact he'll have. I anticipate seeing the backups in the game much more than normal even if White gets the start, so they'll need to step their game up in order to give the Ute run game the boost that it needs when they enter the game. Utah's tight end position continues to be a strength for the team. Week one saw Jake Murphy explode, week two it was David Rolf, and against BYU Westlee Tonga made a big impact with his one-handed touchdown grab. It's safe to say this group is dangerous and defenses will have to pick their poison when trying to defend them.
Arizona State Linebackers
This unit is the strength of the ASU defense. Outside "spur" linebacker Chris Young has been a beast in the first three games of the season. He leads the Sun Devils in tackles with 24 averaging 8 per game and has a whopping 6 tackles for loss, good enough for 10th in the nation. He'll be around the ball all evening on Saturday and will demand special attention from the Ute offense. On the opposite side, Brandon Magee is a very talented OLB as well. Magee has game-changing abilities when he's not battling injuries. He had 12 tackles and an interception against Missouri, his second INT of the season, and has returned another INT for a score already this year. MLB Steffon Martin has started all three games in the middle and is the weakest linebacker in the group by far. He's recorded just two tackles in three games and has failed to live up to the high expectations heaped on him after having an impressive fall camp.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Arizona State Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Jon Hays called it "déjà vu", but I'll call it excellent preparation and determination with a little bit of experience sprinkled in. Hays was asked to step up this week and replace Jordan Wynn as Utah's starting quarterback after Wynn medically retired with a shoulder injury suffered against Utah State and he did just that. Hays stood-in for Wynn in a similar situation last season and I think it's safe to say his 2012 campaign is off to a much better start than his 2011. The offense may not have been flying up and down the field against BYU but Hays did a great job of protecting the ball and he made some very impressive throws when he had the opportunity. He finished the game with two touchdown passes and zero turnovers, numbers Ute fans would be happy to see each and every week. Dres Anderson was the star wideout against the Cougars from a group that did little throughout the game. Dres got behind the BYU secondary twice and caught the touchdown pass that ultimately turned out to be the game-winner. Dres will need help from fellow receivers Devonte Christopher, Kenneth Scott, Luke Matthews and others this week if the Utes hope to display a more dangerous passing attack against Arizona State.
Arizona State Corners and Safeties
The ASU front seven are without question the strength of the defense. The corners and safeties on the other hand are talented yet not on par with the rest of their defensive teammates. Strong safety Alden Darby is the player to watch from this unit. His 17 tackles put him among the top players on the team this season and his 2 interceptions are tied for the most on the team. Starting corners Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor have a combined 11 tackles and 5 pass breakups and have yet to intercept a pass in 2012. Senior free safety Keelan Johnson has added 2 pass breakups and 18 tackles of his own but like Carr and Irabor has not yet recorded an interception. The ASU secondary is allowing just 147.3 yards per game, fewer than the team allows on the ground, but they haven't yet been tested by a high-powered passing offense and probably won't get that test this weekend against the Utes. Still, I like Utah's chances against this group with their weapons at wideout and the improved play of Hays.
Utah Defensive Line vs Arizona State Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
What a display this unit put on against the Cougars. If you weren't a believer in the strength and skill of the Ute defensive line prior to the game against BYU you should be now. Star Lotulelei proved on just about every snap why he's a projected top-ten pick in next year's NFL draft. He blew up the Cougar linemen each play and although he didn't finish with a huge sack total or gaudy numbers his presence in the Cougar backfield on almost every play helped the Utes frustrate Riley Nelson and the BYU offense. Star was joined in effort by the Kruger brothers Joe and Dave as well as youngster Nate Fakahafua - combined the four made 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. Trevor Reilly, Seni Fauonuku, and Tenny Palepoi also spent time on the line and all were effective in their roles. Utah will need this group to keep up their high level of play this week against ASU.
Arizona State Offensive Line
Starting on the line for the Devils are left tackle Evan Finkenberg, left guard Jamil Douglas, center Kody Koebensky, right guard Andrew Sampson, and right tackle Brice Schwab. None on this line were up for any Pac-12 all-conference teams or national awards watch lists, but they've performed much better than local and national analysts had predicted. Finkenberg is the best lineman on this Devil line without a doubt. His skill and experience will make him a tough matchup for Joe Kruger all night. Inside, however, Koebensky is in his first year starting at center for the graduated Garth Gerhart and will be put to task against Star Lotulelei. Although he's had success so far through three games he has yet to face a player as good as Star. I don't expect ASU to have as much success running the football as they've had this year and the Ute D-line should be able to create pressure similar to what we saw against BYU on many of their running and passing downs.
Utah Linebackers vs Arizona State Running Backs and Tight Ends
Senior linebacker Boo Anderson got his first career start last week and he didn't disappoint. Though he's been forced to fight through injury for much of his career his experience with the defense and his leadership skills made him one of the best players on the field for the Utes. Utah got great production against both the run and the pass from linebackers Anderson, Trevor Reilly, and Dave Fagergren. V.J. Fehoko and LT Filiaga made individual plays as well but both struggled against the pass giving up multiple completions throughout the game. This unit isn't the weakness many expected it to be before the season began and in fact it seems to be getting better as the season goes along, but there are areas that each player needs to continue to work on in order to take this unit to the next level. Look for Boo Anderson to get another start at middle linebacker this week.
Arizona State Running Backs and Tight Ends
The ASU run game has been very effective this season despite somewhat poor performances from talented senior running back Cameron Marshall. Marshall has all-conference abilities but so far has only managed to 81 yards through 3 games which is good for fourth on the team. Marshall is being overshadowed by newcomers D.J. Foster and Marion Grice who have combined for 275 yards and 7 touchdowns. Grice is the best of the bunch; his 5 touchdowns and 6.8 yard per carry average lead the team even though he, Foster, and Marshall all have received a similar amount of carries. In the passing game watch out for Chris Coyle, the H-back/tight end combo player who is fantastic catching passes out of the backfield. Coyle leads the team with 239 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns and he will be a very difficult player for the Utah linebackers to cover. Halfback DJ Foster is also a weapon the Sun Devils love to use out of the backfield so keep an eye out for him and his speed in the passing game.
EDGE: Arizona State
Utah Corners and Safeties vs Arizona State Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
After three games Utah's secondary isn't getting the attention it probably deserves thanks to the stellar play of the Ute defensive line. Against BYU the Utes were forced to start two former walk-ons over injured and suspended Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen, two former Freshmen All-Americans. Quade Chappuis and Tyron Morris-Edwards stepped in and performed admirably in their teammates' stead and now this week the Utes will get their starters back. The infusion of Blechen back into the lineup adds another game-changing type player to an already very powerful defensive unit. Blechen can play the pass and run equally well and is always around the football when it's most important. With Blechen and Rowe over the top corners Moe Lee and Ryan Lacy now have two very good ball-hawks behind them helping patrol the skies for errant passes down the field. Watch out for nickel corner Reggie Topps. He had a fantastic game against BYU and is now listed as co-starter at corner with Moe Lee as well as starter at the nickel position.
Arizona State Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Brock Osweiler leaving ASU for the NFL put the Sun Devils in rebuild mode one year earlier than they expected. Junior Taylor Kelly won the job after a long fall camp battle with backups Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici. Kelly is listed as the starter and plays the majority of the reps, but Eubank is used often as an athletic change-of-pace guy who can throw and run. Eubank has made an appearance in all three games this season throwing for 2 touchdowns and running for two more. Kelly has 674 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air with 2 interceptions and though he's the second leading rusher on the team he has yet to rush for a score. Wideouts Rashad Ross and JJ Holiday have been a huge disappointment for ASU fans this year. Though both are upper-classmen they aren't playing as such and have been a bigger problem in the passing game than the two young quarterbacks have been. Utah's corners and safeties should be able to dominate this part of the game as ASU will likely keep most of their passing game short using athletic backs in space to create big plays. If Utah can limit the pass game as expected and keep the trick plays and deception of Michael Eubank to a minimum the Sun Devils will be forced to beat the Utes on the ground which is something they should have a tough time doing.
Unit Matchups - Utah at Arizona State
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