Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Arizona State Secondary
This is the week that Troy Williams NEEDS to get back on track against a poor Arizona State secondary. The Utah quarterback has thrown at 50% or lower in 4 straight games and just an average of 150 yards in those contests. Williams has 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on the season, but those numbers should improve this week with a full complement of Utah receivers at his disposal. Tim Patrick should be 100% this week and he'll be a matchup problem for ASU's defense. The expectation is for Cory Butler-Byrd to be back this week. His speed will be a necessity in turning 8 yard grabs into 60 yard touchdowns against the Sun Devil defense that has a penchant for giving up the big play. With Raelon Singleton, Tyrone Smith, and Demari Simpkins all emerging more each week, the Utes should have a field day through the air.
It's kind of weird to look at Arizona State's secondary and say that they're terrible. On paper, it would look that way as the Sun Devils are dead last in the country in yards per game given up through the air, but that's because they bring a lot of pressure from that secondary. Safety Marcus Ball leads the team in tackles, and that should let you know how often he's playing near the line of scrimmage. He has 59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception in 2016. Armand Perry has 41 tackles, but lacks statistics outside of that. Kareem Orr has 43 tackles and 4 pass breakups with Maurice Chandler rounding out the group. As a whole, they give up over 397 yards per game, which is dead last in the country. Utah should have a field day through the day.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Arizona State Linebackers
The Utah running back stable should be close to full health, which should help take a lot of the load off of Joe Williams. With 683 yards in his last 3 games, Big Joe has been an absolute beast of a player, but he's had to do it on 98 carries. That kind of workload isn't sustainable. Enter Zach Moss, who Whittingham said is 100%. He'll add the big back the Utes can use to punish the ASU defense. Throw in the possibility of Troy McCormick return and Utah's running back situation looks pretty good. Evan Moeai at the tight end spot should be a key player on Thursday as both a blocker and a receiver. His ability to help pickup bitzers and get himself open for quick balls will be imperative.
The Sun Devils do a great job of slowing the run, although it does come at the expense of their pass defense. At 116 yards per game on the ground and 3.5 yards per carry, they've been quite impressive. Salamo Fiso, arguably ASU's top defensive player, is likely out this week. He's played only 5 games this season, but has been a terror in doing a bit of everything for the Devils. Christian Sam will likely start in his place, but he's registered very few stats this season. LB DJ Calhoun also does a bunch for Arizona State with 53 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks on the year. He's a big-time playmaker. Villiami Moeakiola plays the spur position, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety role. He's third on the team with 43 tackles and is one of the leaders in pass breakups in the conference with 8. Koron Crump will get run at the devil backer spot and has a team leading 9 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
Utah Offensive Line vs Arizona State Defensive Line
Utah's offensive line bugaboo? It's still the procedural pentalties, and that needs to be cleaned up. With this being game 10 though, it might just be part of who they are. Lo Falemaka may return to the center position this week, but it would make more sense to roll out Nick Nowakowski instead so you're not throwing a green Falemaka in there against ASU's attacking defense. Sam Tevi will be back at the right tackle spot and that adds depth with Jackson Barton able to head back to the bench and be the first guy off of it. Isaac Asiata and Leka Uhatafe should be able to keep doing their thing. Most importantly for Utah this week is going to be communication, knowing who is taking who, and being able to pick up the multitude of blitzes that the Sun Devils are going to throw at them.
The Arizona State defensive front is pretty good. They're not great, but they're pretty productive. Tashon Smallwood is the big boy inside and has 6 tackles for loss and 2 sacks on the season. He'll line up next to Alani Latu, who is a bit undersized, but across from him is Jo Jo Wicker who has 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The Sun Devils have 27 sacks on the season, one of the top numbers in the country.