ASU brings momentum into important matchup with Utah

Oct 19, 2017, 5:04 PM
Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) signals a first down against Washington during the firs...

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) signals a first down against Washington during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State football team is coming off its biggest win since the 2015 upset over the seventh-ranked UCLA Bruins in Pasadena, and its first win over a top-five team since 1996.

Coincidentally, that 38-23 win over UCLA also marks the last time this program was able to emerge victorious on the road against a conference opponent.

The Sun Devils hope for another Pac-12 road win Saturday against Utah. They’ll have momentum on their side.

A victory over then-ranked No. 5 Washington was huge for the program, capped by fans spilling onto the field to celebrate with the athletes they cheered to victory, but that’s in the past now.

“That’s the first thing we open up the deal with, forget about the last game,” coach Todd Graham said. “Right now we’re where we want to be. All we have to do is figure out how to win this week and then go to the next week, it’s like a single elimination tournament.”

The squad will have to break another streak in order to defeat the Utes.

“2015, yup,” Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins said. “I’m well aware. It was UCLA.”

The Sun Devils have struggled on the road against conference teams. The losing streak in those situations stands at nine, including the 34-24 loss to Stanford this season.  

The team also lost on the road to non-conference opponent Texas Tech this season.

“Going on the road, the biggest thing is focus,” Graham said. “You’re in a hostile environment. That’s why it’s so hard to play out here. That’s a great atmosphere, that’s a great home-field advantage. It’s hard, it’s the hardest thing to do. You have to be twice as focused, twice as prepared and you cannot put yourself in adverse situations.”

The ability of this team to come back to earth and focus after such an emotional high will be the question many have leading up to kickoff at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. It’s a valid concern, and Wilkins recognizes the danger in dwelling on the victory.  

“Being poised and staying grounded,” Wilkins said. “Of course enjoy the win, anytime you win a football game like that it’s great. Having fans rush the field, I’ve never been a part of something like that, so to experience that, it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life. It’s just about moving on and learning from my mistakes.

“When you watch film, don’t watch it for the enjoyment of you guys winning the football game, go watch the film and see how many mistakes we made.”

The Utes are known for their discipline and physicality and will be hungry for a home win after dropping their last two games to USC and Stanford, both top-25 teams, by a combined four points.

Before those two losses, Utah began the season with a four-game winning streak behind a stifling defense that ranks in the top three of virtually every defensive statistic in the Pac-12.

“They’re very aggressive,” Wilkins said. “Their DBs are tall, lanky and very athletic. They’ve got a really fast nickel guy, their front seven is always good there at Utah. The biggest thing about that program is they have those guys so disciplined. You know that when you play Utah you got to buckle your helmet up a little bit tighter. Put some air in your helmet, because they’re going to bring it.”

The Sun Devils have fallen to Utah in two consecutive meetings, which matches Utah’s longest winning streak against ASU when it won back-to-back from 1964-1966. The Utes’ 49-26 victory last season was its largest margin of victory over ASU in the school’s history.

“In my opinion, we are a lot better football team this year than we were last year, in every way,” Graham said.

They will need to prove that as the season goes on, and Graham knows one win, no matter how big, doesn’t make a season.

“You got to go out and be consistent. You get evaluated at the end of the season, it’s how it works. That’s what I love about it. You either win, or you don’t.”

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ASU brings momentum into important matchup with Utah