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Fork Report: Sun Devils upend Utes for back-to-back Pac-12 wins

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) passes the ball against Utah in the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Was it a fluke?

In a word, No.

Arizona State followed up its win over then-No. 4 Washington with a dominating performance at Utah, winning 30-10 in front of an announced crowd of 45,863 at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

And once again it was the Sun Devils defense leading the way.

ASU (4-3, 3-1) intercepted Tyler Huntley four times, including a pick-6 by Jay Jay Wilson, and held Utah to a season-low 110 rushing yards in winning back-to-back games for the first time this season.

The victory also ended a trio of losing streaks: two straight to Utah, seven straight on the road and nine straight on the road in the Pac-12.

The Sun Devils led 9-0 after the first quarter, 16-0 at halftime and 23-3 entering the fourth quarter.

Demario Richard and Manny Wilkins had touchdown runs, while Brandon Ruiz kicked three field goals.

Richard (93 yards) and Kalen Ballage (75) combined for 168 of ASU’s 205 rushing yards, the second time in three games the offense has topped the 200-yard mark.

Overall, the Sun Devils outgained Utah 345-265.

Wilkins passed for 140 yards, completing 19-of-29 attempts. He was intercepted once.

At 3-1, the Sun Devils are off to their best conference start since 2014 when they opened 5-1.

THE GOOD

A trio of field goals accounted for the Sun Devils’ scoring in the first quarter. Ruiz made kicks from 47, 40 and 30 yards; the second successful kick was setup by J’Marcus Rhodes’ interception of Huntley. For the ASU defense, they have now picked off opposing quarterbacks three times this season, the first two coming Week 1 against New Mexico State.

Finishing off a drive that began at the 6-yard line, Richard scored from one-yard out for his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and more importantly extend the Sun Devils lead to 16-0 at the 40-second mark of the second quarter. It was ASU’s longest drive of the season, at least in terms of yards (94). Richard gained 32 yards himself on five rushing attempts.

Total domination by the Sun Devils in the first half. ASU outgained Utah 255-93 with 172 of those yards coming on the ground, where they averaged 6.6 yards per rush. Richard gained 75 yards on 14 carries for a 5.4 yard average, while Ballage had 62 yards on seven carries for an 8.9 yard average. Last week, the Sun Devils rushed for 40 yards against Washington.

So, Wilkins fumbled and then he didn’t (his left knee was down when reviewed) plus a pair of defensive ejections for targeting penalties, including one on third down which resulted in an automatic first down, equaled a Sun Devil touchdown in the second half. It was Wilkins who rushed from one-yard out to extend the lead to 23-3 at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter.

Making his first start on defense, Wilson, a former tight end, intercepted Huntley and returned it 20 yards for a pick-6 and 30-3 Sun Devils lead at the 7:31 mark of the fourth quarter. It’s believed that Wilson is the first ASU player since Rudy Burgess to start on offense and defense in the same season. In 2006, Burgess had four starts at receiver and two at cornerback.

THE BAD

Coming out of the locker room, the Utes looked like a very different team, especially rushing the football. Held to 34 yards on the ground in the first half, Utah gained 33 yards on its first possession of the second half. Moss had 27 of those yards. He had only 15 at halftime. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, the drive stalled and Utah was forced to kick a field goal.

For the third time this season, and the second off a tipped ball, Wilkins was intercepted. It happened on the first play of the fourth quarter as Wilkins’ pass went through the hands of N’Keal Harry and into the arms of Kavika Luafatasaga. The Sun Devils had just turned the ball over immediately after they—Christian Sam—picked off Huntley for the third time.

STAT OF THE GAME

4: Entering the game with only two interceptions in six games, the Sun Devils picked off Huntley four times, one in each quarter

HE SAID IT

“What you see each week is just the fruits of our labor. We controlled the line of scrimmage. We were dominant today,” said head coach Todd Graham, who improved to 27-4 when holding the opposition scoreless in the first quarter since arriving in Tempe.

NOTED

Harry started his 19th game and now has a reception in all 19 of those games after his first-quarter four-yard catch.

Jalen Harvey appeared to hurt his right leg/knee in the first quarter; he walked off the field and into the locker room.

A.J. Latu missed the game (foot injury); he had started five games at defensive and then last week at Devilbacker.

The Sun Devils have 16 interception returns for scores since 2012, tied with Ohio State for the most in the country.

With the victory, the Sun Devils earned consecutive wins in Pac-12 games for the first time since the 2015 season.

With the victory, the Sun Devils earned their first conference road win since defeating No. 7 UCLA on Oct. 3, 2015.

With the victory, the Sun Devils earned their first win in Salt Lake City since 2013, when they rallied to a 20-19 win.

UP NEXT

The Sun Devils return home to host USC on Saturday, Oct. 28. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.

It’s the first of two straight games at Sun Devil Stadium.

ASU has lost two in a row and three of five to USC, which entered this week leading the Pac-12 South with a 4-1 record.

The last time ASU beat USC at Sun Devil Stadium was 2013, 62-41 the final; an outcome that ultimately cost then-head coach Lane Kiffin his job.

Overall, ASU trails the series 12-21, including 7-10 at home, dating back to 1978.

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