Utah Quarterback and Receivers vs Arizona State Secondary
It's Travis Wilson or bust for the Utes, and it should be. He's the best option for Utah at the quarterback spot and has proved his metal in the last two games in taking the Utes to two last second victories. It's not always pretty and the stats aren't gaudy, but it's hard to argue with the results in the win column. The loss of Dres Anderson for the season turns a receiving corps that has largely underperformed this season and looked like one of the worst in the conference into a group with a few solid guys, but no elite level players. Dres' production this year wasn't great, but he was still drawing a lot of attention and double teams. His absence is a huge blow to the passing game. Kenneth Scott, Kaelin Clay, Tim Patrick, and maybe Kenric Young will have to step-up.
The Arizona State secondary has found itself in the last few weeks (the quality of opponents' offense has helped). They're giving up 225 yards per game through the air, but have allowed only 9 touchdowns passes with none coming in the last 3 games. Safety Damarious Randall leads the team in tackles with 66, has 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 3 pass breakups. You'll see him all over the field. Free safety Jordan Simone is second on the team in tackles with 60 and leads the team with 2 interceptions. Corners Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown are both big bodied kids at 6-1, 192 pounds, and 6-0, 205 respectively. Brown has an impressive 6 pass breakups this season.
Edge: Arizona State
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Arizona State Linebackers
Devontae Booker has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Utes last four games. Without Dres Anderson at wide receiver, the task of hitting that century mark will become a whole lot tougher the rest of the way as opposing defenses blitz and stack the box to stop the run. Big concern for Booker is his fumbling, as he had two fumbles on the same possession inside the USC 10 yard line. Turnovers could prove costly against the Sun Devils. Westlee Tonga re-emerged as a target for Travis Wilson to throw the ball to. Tonga is a sure handed receiver and will have to carry some of the weight of the passing offense that was carried by Anderson. ASU won’t give him as many open looks as USC did, but first downs are a valuable commodity for the Utah offense.
ASU prides itself on its aggressive defense under Todd Graham, and tackles for loss and no-yardage plays play a big role in that, similar to what we’ve seen with the Utes. Against Washington, ASU had 13 tackles for loss. Their linebacker corps has shifted its identity using both size and speed, very similar to Utah’s backers. Over the last two weeks, ASU has used 230-pound junior Antonio Longino at WILL linebacker in place of true freshman 210-pound D.J. Calhoun, helping the Sun Devils get better production out of its second level.
Straight up running probably won’t work against a stacked Arizona State box, but if Utah can dial up plays to the edges and get Booker or Bubba Poole the ball on those swing passes in space, Utah’s speed might break through.
Utah Offensive Line vs Arizona State Defensive Line
Maybe the most improved position group from the beginning of the season till now has been the offensive line. The once thought weakness at both tackles has actually turned into somewhat of a strength, as LT Jeremiah Poutasi and RT J.J. Dielman have been very good in Pac 12 play. The biggest question mark this week for them is the status of center Siaosi Aiono, who missed about 1/3 of the USC game with an apparent knee injury. It's unclear if he'll play, but if he doesn't then look for Hiva Lutui to take his place. Lutui had a good game against USC and had a key block that sprung the Devontae Booker TD run. The rotation at both guard spots between Isaac Asiata, Leka Uhatafe and Junior Salt appears to be a good decision as well, as that position has gotten much better since the start of the season.
The Sun Devil DL terrorized Utah last season, as Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Ganon Conway and Davon Coleman practically lived behind the Utah line of scrimmage. Good thing is that was the last time they had to face any of those guys. All 4 ASU defensive linemen graduated and that left a big hole on the Sun Devil D. Replacing those guys are Mo Latu, Demetrius Cherry, Jaxon Hood and Marcus Hardison. ASU runs a 3-4 defense so their defensive line features bigger defensive ends than most teams, and that makes them pretty stout against the interior run. They don't however provide much of a threat with their pass rush as just two defensive linemen have registered sacks this season, Marcus Hardison with 4 and back up Edward Boateng with 2.
Arizona State Quarterback and Receivers vs Utah Secondary
Utah's secondary may be the biggest question mark on the team, and it's been that way for most of the season without Tevin Carter. Carter is proving to be the most important Utah defensive player on the season, simply because what he does impacts all other secondary positions. His speed and ability to play the pass and stop the run is second-to-none on the team and having him on the field changes everything for the secondary. Utah is going to have their hands full yet again this week with the best WR Utah will see this season, Jalen Strong. Strong may just be the first WR taken in the 2015 NFL Draft and he lives up to that hype. Their second leading receiver is D.J. Foster, one of the top RBs in the conference. Strong and Foster account for 53% of the receiving yards ASU has produced this season, and also have 9 of the 18 receiving touchdowns. RBs catching a lot of passes is something Utah hasn't seen much of this season, and will force the secondary and LBs into making plays they aren't accustomed to. Taylor Kelly coming back from injury certainly didn't look like the Taylor Kelly we saw last season, and though their receiving numbers are down from last year, this ASU squad poses a serious threat to a banged-up and inexperienced secondary, especially if Carter can't go.
Edge: Arizona State
Arizona State Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
You can say what you'd like about Utah's Devontae Booker and USC's Buck Allen, but DJ Foster is best over all back in the Pac-12. He's one of only 2 FBS players this season with 600+ rushing yards and 300+ receiving yards so far this season which makes him a major threat for Utah's linebacker corps. While Utah has performed well against some of the league's best running backs on the ground, they have struggled covering backs out of the backfield. Foster leads the team with 24 rushing first downs of ASU’s 53 total rushing first downs this season and is second on the team with 17 receiving first downs for a team-leading total of 41 first downs. In short, Foster is a featured weapon for the Devils and a tough assignment for Utah's run stopping-focused linebackers.
Arizona State Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
Arizona State has a decent line. Nothing spectacular, but they're solid. Senior left tackle Jamil Douglas is the leader and one of the best in the conference. LG Christian Westerman is likely out on Saturday and will be replaced by sophomore Stephon McCray. As a group, they've given up 18 sacks through 7 games and paved the way for 185 yards per game on the ground. A couple of upperclassmen in Nick Kelly, Vi Teofilo, and Tyler Sulka round out the group from center down to right tackle.
There really isn't much to say about the Utah defensive line that hasn't already been said. They're as good as you'll find in the confernce now that the interior linemen have stepped up their play and shown more consistency with Lowell Lotulelei stepping into the starting lineup. Orchard and Dimick should be in Taylor Kelly's mug all night.
Utah’s special teams has been a weapon all season long, which is why it was surprising to see the kickoff coverage give up a touchdown to USC. Tom Hackett is averaging 47.0 yards per punt while leading the nation in punts downed inside the 10-yard line (13). Andy Phillips is 14-16 on field goals with a long of 50, earning himself the nickname “Automatic Andy”. And while Kaelin Clay hasn’t taken a kick back to the house in a while, he did have a nice 51-yard punt return against USC.
Arizona State punter Matt Haack is averaging 43.4 yards per kick this season, with eight of his 28 punts downed inside the 20. Kicker Zane Gonzalez is averaging 9.3 points per game thus far this season, tied for 21st nationally and fourth in the Pac-12. Gonzalez has kicked five straight field goals and been successful on nine of his last 10 attempts. ASU is averaging under 2 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kick return.
James Cella, Andrew Gorringe, Robert Jackson, Jayson Jones, and Brian Swinney contributed to this report.
Game Matchups: Utah at Arizona State
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